"Mindfulness" is a buzz word we're hearing a lot about these days. But what is mindfulness and how can it help your body, your energy level, your productivity and your overall health and happiness? And is mindfulness the same thing as meditation? I train a lot of successful, stressed out, busy professionals. And when I first bring up the idea of a “mindfulness practice” most of them scoff. “I’m too busy to think about that.” I’ll tell you what I tell them: “Frankly, you’re too busy NOT to.”
Today’s Stressful Situation
Thanks to today's fast-paced, technology-centric world coupled with sedentary lifestyles, we are bombarded constantly with low and high levels of mental, physical, emotional and physiological stress. These chronic stresses are inhibiting our bodies' natural self-repair mechanisms that fix broken proteins, kill cancer cells, retard aging and fight infections (don’t believe me? Learn more from Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD). We are the most overweight, underactive generation in history existing on diets of processed foods and suffering from drill searegent mindsets. We're walking around under-slept like zombies and are beating the $@#!*% out of our adrenal glands and it’s actually destroying our productivity.
Beyond making us miserable, what is all this doing to our bodies and brains? Here are a few common symptoms of chronic stress. Scary stuff.
Loss of lean muscle and strength
Accumulation of fat, especially around the abdomen
Increased risk of osteoporosis and bone deterioration
Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
Reduced libido and sexual side effects
Sudden absence of menstruation
Don’t Mind If I Do
Sufficiently scared? Good. Because the solution can be pretty simple. All this stress and distraction are cluttering our brains making us adrenaline-addicted multitasking robots. And it makes us miserable, sick and actually less productive. That’s where mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is about going off autopilot and reaction mode and being aware and tuned in to your body, your environment or your task. It’s noticing and paying attention to thoughts, feelings, behaviors, physical stimulus and the world around you in a world where we are so distracted by emails, texts, 18 different tabs open on your Internet browser, colleagues interrupting, client calls, thoughts about what you’re doing later that night, flashbacks to the fight you had with your significant other that morning, fears about whether you’re going to make partner this year, etc, etc.
Added bonus, in addition to helping you get stuff done more efficiently and keeping you from ripping your hair out, mindfulness can also help release ‘happy’ chemicals like dopamine in the brain, lower blood pressure, improve digestion and reduce physical pain.
Mindfulness is related to but different from meditation. Mindfulness is the awareness of “some-thing,” while meditation is the awareness of “no-thing.” Mindfulness is the art of bringing your awareness to the present moment. Meditation is about focusing inward and achieving a different state of consciousness. Mindfulness is like super food for the brain and meditation is like a supercharged power nap. Both are great.
Ok, I’m In. But How Do I Do It?
Mindfulness can seem like a big, insurmountable zen-like achievement that only Buddah himself can tackle. Not so. Here are three simple ways you can start a mindfulness practice in as little as one minute/day.
Do Just One Thing At Work - Blasphemy, I know. I’m practical. I know you have a boss clamoring for you, clients calling, emails coming in. But try. Just TRY once a day to give yourself permission to focus on just one thing - like writing an important email or deliverable - and shut out all other distractions. Turn off your email and cell phone, go somewhere you won’t be interrupted and for a period of time (maybe just 30 minutes) you will allow yourself to only focus on that one thing.
Put Your Phone Down at Social Situations - Ever notice when you’re at dinner with friends or at home with your family everyone’s phone is within reach and every few minutes folks keep glancing down? It’s a compulsion. We all do it. At your next social gathering with friends or maybe just one night a week at home to start try putting your phone outside of hand’s reach and see how it changes your mood, your interactions and your physical sensations.
Try a One Minute Mindfulness Meditation Anytime, Anywhere - The next time you are overwhelmed or notice you are drowning on autopilot try a quick and simple exercise. For one minute simply shut your eyes and practice noticing what’s around you. Notice and experience sounds (typing, sirens, wind blowing, whatever), physical sensations (Are you cold? Is the sun hot on your skin?), smells (good and bad). Don’t overthink it. Just check in with the world around you and your own physical sensations.
Mindfulness is a skill
Mindfulness can be practiced at any time no matter where we are or who we are with by simply trying to be fully engaged in the here and now. Easier said than done. Learning to be mindful is like learning any other skill. Think of it like exercising a muscle that you’ve never really worked out before. It takes consistency. It's mindfulness practice, not a mindfulness perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect. Sometimes your focus will wander or you’ll “relapse” and check an email when you meant to focus on writing your brief. That’s OK. Keep practicing.