By Isaac Rowlett
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably seen or heard the term “mindfulness,” most likely accompanied by a photo of a cross-legged silhouette meditating on an idyllic beach. If you’re like me, you’re probably skeptical: Is this just another health fad that will go the way of diet pills and bloodletting? Does it really “work?” Most importantly, what is it?
Let’s start with a quick definition: Mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” One of the most common techniques for achieving mindfulness is meditation.
Setting aside some of the exaggerated claims and junk science surrounding mindfulness & meditation that have emerged in recent years, there’s at least some scientific evidence to support the impact of mindfulness & meditation on reducing anxiety, pain and depression. Many have also found the practice helpful in mitigating stress and increasing focus.
As someone who has made the transition from a skeptic to a practitioner, here are few tips I’ve picked up about how to practice mindfulness:
1. Put your own oxygen mask on first. You can’t be an effective partner, parent, colleague, or friend if you don’t prioritize your own well-being. You must accept the value of self-care in order to even begin experimenting with mindfulness, as it requires taking a break from everyday demands to focus exclusively on yourself.
2. Try meditating. Although mindfulness can come in many forms, meditating is one of the most common. If you haven’t meditated before, there are plenty of free apps available to help you dip your toe in the water.
3. Jot down your thoughts afterwards. Journaling complements meditation well, as it allows you to capture and organize the thoughts and feelings you unearth as you become more aware of what’s going on in your head. It can also help you to determine underlying sources of stress and potential paths forward for problems where you’ve gotten “stuck.”
4. Set a schedule. One of the hardest parts about practicing mindfulness is making the time. I recommend setting aside a brief period of time in the morning or evening, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes a couple of times per week, to meditate. Put it on your calendar. Ask your partner or a friend to be your accountability partner. Bottom line: make it a priority, or it won’t happen.
5. Talk about it. Mindfulness takes many forms, and discussing the concept with friends, family and colleagues can help you to learn more about the concept and how others stay mindful.
I don’t blame you if you’re still skeptical. I didn’t try meditating until I had read accounts from more hardened (former) skeptics such as FiveThirtyEight’s Chadwick Matlin. What’s nice about mindfulness, though, is that – unlike diet pills and bloodletting – there’s no downside to trying it.