If you’re learning about mindfulness, perhaps you’re curious whether mindful living will improve the quality of your life. So why is mindfulness important, and does it make a difference? There still may be many misconceptions about mindfulness, such as it’s a Buddhist practice, or it requires sitting in a lotus position for hours. Regardless, it is becoming more widely accepted—and for good reason.
It’s true, as one New York Times article pointed out, that mindfulness has not been proven as the panacea to our society. However, as you will see by the brain research, mindfulness does have definite benefits: greater emotional awareness, better self-regulation, decreased stress and anxiety, refined focus, and, therefore, greater productivity. It really is mind over matter!
Or as David Rock wrote for Psychology Today, being mindful can save you from cutting yourself and make your beer taste better:
“A series of studies have found that these two circuits, narrative [storyteller] and direct experience [mindful], are inversely correlated. In other words, if you think about an upcoming meeting while you wash dishes, you are more likely to overlook a broken glass and cut your hand, because the brain map involved in visual perception is less active when the narrative map is activated. You don't see as much (or hear as much, or feel as much, or sense anything as much) when you are lost in thought. Sadly, even a beer doesn't taste as good in this state.”
Study after scientific study finds evidence that mindfulness is doing something to our brains, and most often, that something is drastically positive.
Neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar’s MRI studies show that mindfulness improves focus, empathy and compassion, and emotional regulation. Even Fortune 500 companies such as Google, General Mills, Nike, and Apple are encouraging mindfulness practice in their companies. They are embracing its mental attentiveness: “mindfulness allows for more stable and controlled attention in routine contexts where individuals are prone to errors due to attention lapses. Mindfulness may reduce errors by reducing such lapses,” says the article Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review, published in the Journal of Management.
For more on mindfulness at work, see our blog about “How to Make Employee Evaluations More Effective and Meaningful”
Are you still not convinced that mindfulness is worth the effort? Until you experience the benefits of being mindful for yourself, you may be unable to fully appreciate the difference it can make. The clarity, resilience, focus, and calm that studies find hold the power to make mindfulness a vital practice in your life.
One incredible advantage of mindfulness is the ability to overcome negative and critical self-talk. Many people struggle with an overactive mind and a harsh inner critic. Mindfulness allows a person to increase self-awareness and their observation skills to retrain the mind, replacing mind chatter with more positive and encouraging self-talk. Once the conscious observer is steering the mind to more constructive thoughts, mindful living becomes far more enjoyable.
Related reading: “Find Inner Peace through Self-Acceptance”
The Importance of Mindfulness in Daily Life
You may be skeptical, but neuroscience validates mindfulness.
MRI technology allows scientists to study and see the specific results of mindfulness on the human brain. Looking inside the brain—and its specific regions—explains the positive effects people feel after practicing slowing down and being mindful. Though more definitive research is vital for mindfulness to become more widely accepted (maybe even prescribed), the research to date demonstrates that the way we think can change the organ we think with.
The findings are optimistic. Today’s studies and scientific research point heavily toward mindfulness strengthening the portions of our brain that regulate focus, emotional intelligence, self-perception, and memory.
You be the judge. Pick one of the mindfulness exercises below and practice it at least once a day for one week (more often, if possible). Then, see if you don’t feel a little calmer and a tad happier.
Dive deeper: "What Is Mindfulness and Why All the Hubbub?"
"Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present.
He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the
passing life in remembering the past." ~Henry David Thoreau
MINDFULNESS PRACTICE #1: Mindful Attentiveness
How to Practice Mindfulness:
Simple Exercises to Increase Inner Peace and Greater Self-Awareness
Pick something in your environment and observe it carefully for one full minute. Examine it closely, appreciating its beauty. Allow yourself to relax. Let everything fade away except for the object of your focused attention. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the observation of your chosen object.
Things you could choose for the above mindfulness exercise:
- the wood grain on your desk
- your child playing
- a breeze blowing through Aspen trees
- your favorite flower
- an ant creeping across the sidewalk
MINDFULNESS PRACTICE #2: Mindful Listening
Stop for 30 seconds. (You can spare 30 seconds in your day, right?) Close your eyes and carefully listen to all the unique sounds in your environment: the birds singing outside your window, the fan from a heater or air conditioner, the slight hum of the lights, a fire crackling, or the water cycling through your dishwasher. Screen out everything but what you hear. This exercise is a wonderful practice when you first wake up in the morning before getting out of bed.
MINDFULNESS PRACTICE #3: Body Awareness
Sit comfortably in a chair. Close your eyes and scan your entire body from your head to your toes. Every time you find some tension, consciously release the stress as you breathe slowly in and out. It will only take a few minutes to complete the exercise. Remember to go slowly. Your body and mind will be grateful!
You might be wondering, "What can I expect to notice if I practice a mindfulness exercise faithfully and consistently every day for a month?"
First off, the changes are subtle at first and different for everyone. However, it's common for a person practicing mindfulness regularly to begin to be more present to each moment. They become more engaged with the people in their life and have a heightened awareness of what they say and how they say things. Sometimes their surroundings come alive. (Without mindfulness, it's typical for people to be thinking of other things and tuning out their environment most of the time as they move through their day.) When you become more mindful, sometimes colors, smells, and scenery are more vivid; details stand out that you previously missed.
Internally you may feel your mind slowing down with an increased mental spaciousness like you're more comfortable in your own skin. Life's challenges tend to not upset you quite as much when being more mindful, so there are fewer knee-jerk reactions. In general, increased mindfulness enhances how we experience the world.
Thanks to emerging research and advanced MRI studies of the brain, we can now see how mindfulness changes the physical brain. Whichever resonates with you more—your brain changing or a greater feeling of self-awareness—the gap between emotion and science is converging over mindfulness.
Regardless of how you look at mindfulness, it’s unanimous that healthy brain habits and mental health enhances the quality of life.
More on mindfulness: “Renew Your Life and Work with Everyday Mindfulness”
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