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Everyone’s been there: You’re in a conversation or at an event, but your mind is somewhere else. You’re dwelling on something that happened yesterday, thinking about something you have to do tomorrow, or planning the details of an upcoming trip. Learning how to practice mindfulness will not only help you pay attention and focus in the present moment; it also offers long-term benefits including reduced stress, clearer thoughts, and increased focus.
What does mindfulness mean, and what are some techniques that can help you more effectively focus on the present? Keep reading for a complete guide.
Let’s start with a mindfulness definition: In short, it’s the state of being conscious or aware of something. In more practical terms, mindfulness means being fully engaged and aware of what you’re doing, thinking, and feeling in the present moment—all without judgement or negative thoughts.
A lack of mindfulness, on the other hand, may look like this: You’re in the middle of a situation, conversation, or event, and you can’t keep your mind from wandering. You daydream or multitask, or simply go through the motions without intentionally thinking about your actions—like mindless scrolling through your social media feeds.
Practicing mindfulness helps you learn how to stay in the current moment and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. You can use a range of everyday activities, from meditation to breathing methods, to improve your ability to practice mindfulness.
Why Is Mindfulness Important?
To understand why this is important, it’s helpful to look at the harms of mindlessness. Spending too much time dwelling on the past, planning for the future, or simply daydreaming—especially when these types of thinking include negative thoughts—can drain you and make you more susceptible to stress and anxiety.
By learning how to practice mindfulness, you can improve your mental health, boost your attention span, improve your sleep, and experience a wealth of other benefits.
Over the past several years, the benefits of mindfulness have been studied extensively. Those benefits are so convincing, in fact, that many universities, law schools, and employers have started teaching mindfulness techniques to their students and employees. Some of the proven benefits of mindfulness include:
- Reduced stress
- Better working memory
- Increased focus
- Less emotional reactivity
- Relationship satisfaction
- Boosted immunity
- Reduced anxiety
- Prevention and treatment of depression
- Improved cognition
Everything you do can be practiced more mindfully, especially when you consider the mindful definition: being conscious or aware of something. You can be mindful when you drink coffee, brush your teeth, drive to work, or exercise.
However, learning how to be mindful in those situations requires practice. That’s where mindfulness meditation comes in. Mindfulness meditation helps you practice focusing on the present moment. On a basic level, practicing mindfulness meditation typically involves going somewhere quiet, closing your eyes, and paying attention to what your body is doing. What sensations are you experiencing? How are you breathing? If (and when) your mind begins to wander, bring it back to the current moment.
While it seems simple, effectively practicing mindfulness meditation can be challenging, so it is helpful to explore different kinds of meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Types of Practices
There are many different types of mindfulness techniques you can use to learn how to practice mindfulness, including:
- Meditation, which can include sitting, moving, or guided meditation
- Deep breathing/breathing exercises
- Guided imagery
- Journaling or list making
- Sensory exercises, like listening to music or exploring a food
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Learning anything—including how to be mindful—requires practice. The following mindfulness exercises can help you learn how to be more focused and present in your everyday life.
1.Body Scan Meditation
Lie on your back with your arms to your sides and palms facing up. Moving from head to toe (or toe to head), focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body—toes, heels, ankles, shins, knees, and so on. Pause at each body part, taking a moment to embrace any sensations you feel (e.g., pain, warmth, tension, etc.) at that very moment. Don’t try to change what you’re feeling; this exercise is simply about becoming aware of your body in the present moment.
2. Square Breathing
Square breathing is a great mindfulness based stress reduction technique that can help you feel calmer and more clear-headed. First, imagine a square. Inhale for four counts, visualizing a dot moving along up the left side of the square. Hold that breath for a slow four counts as the dot moves across the top of the square. Exhale for four counts as the dot moves down the right side of the square, and then rest for the last four counts as the dot moves back to the starting point. Then, start again.
3. The Raisin Exercise
The purpose of this mindfulness exercise is to learn to pay attention to what’s in front of you. Take a raisin—or another food with a unique texture, taste, or smell—and pretend you’ve never seen it before. Slowly and deliberately, explore the raisin with each of your senses. What does it look like? How does it feel? What does it smell like? How does it taste? This will help bring your mind to the present moment and what’s right in front of you.
4. Exhausting a Place
This exercise, termed by French writer George Perec, involves intentionally listing things you’ve never noticed before in a familiar place. Simply choose a place—like your kitchen, bedroom, or a park you frequent—and take at least 10 minutes to look for and write down things you’ve never noticed. You might observe small dots on your light switches, interesting swirls on the wooden knobs of your dresser, or the precise number of electrical outlets in the room.
5. Mindful Listening
Listening to certain songs can bring back vivid feelings or memories. With this exercise, you can train your mind to listen with a neutral, present awareness. Simply select a song you’ve never heard before, without judging it by the genre or artist. Close your eyes and get lost in the music. Listen for each individual instrument. Be present in the music.
6. Five Senses Exercise
You can perform this quick mindfulness based stress reduction technique anywhere. Wherever you are, take a moment to notice something you are experiencing with each of your five senses. Notice the following:
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can feel
- Three things you can hear
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste
Keeping a daily journal can help you slow down and focus on your thoughts in the present moment. It is especially helpful to use specific journaling prompts for mindfulness (like “What am I feeling right now?” or “Where am I right now?”) as they will propel you to record specific thoughts, feelings, and sensations that you are experiencing in the moment.
The ability to practice mindfulness may not come immediately, but as you begin to use these practices and techniques, you’ll start noticing an enhanced ability to focus, relax, and live in the moment.
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