Seven Practices For Developing Mindfulness
From a young age we’ve had it drilled into us that the key to success in life is hard work and discipline.
I’ve long believed, however, that the necessity of discipline within our lives has been somewhat overstated and that as adults there are other alternative “pull” strategies that allow us to do the things we do best by compelling us to do them.
While the “push” strategy of discipline can be helpful for achieving excellence in your endeavours there are multiple other means of doing so in an easier manner.
You achieve best practice when your values are engaged and when you practice behaviors that are an expression of those values until they become habits of the heart. Nowhere is this truer than when establishing the habit of mindfulness.
Over the years, I’ve found a number of additional practices that have contributed to my becoming more mindful. I try to practice them every day and recommend them to you as a set of guideposts to becoming more mindful.
1. LEARN TO BE ALONE
The importance of sociability is continually stressed in the modern world but it is equally important to put aside a few moments of the day for peace and solitude. In a world where we are constantly connected to others through technology, taking a few minutes each day to allow the mind to settle can be enormously beneficial due to the slowing down of the electrical impulses generated by your brainwaves. Within this subtly altered mind state you are more likely to experience the creative inspiration or intuitive insight that comes from accessing your multiple intelligences.
In addition to taking a few moments of solitude it is advisable to set aside some time every day to practice meditation. This is particularly important at the start of the day as it will affect how you perform for the rest of it. Meditation is a form of preparation for the challenges of the day and allows you to balance and clarify your mind to meet them.
Regular exercise leads to a whole range of health benefits that include improved mood and emotional well-being as well as the more evident fitness benefits. You don’t need to be an elite athlete to make exercise part of your life. Studies have found that even walking and nonaerobic exercises, like strength, flexibility training and yoga can have a marked effect on emotional well-being. Walking can also be a formal meditation practice as it can help to develop a sense of mindfulness through maintaining open awareness. My Walking Meditation MP3 is a useful guide if you are interested in giving it a go.
4. CONNECT WITH NATURE
We are all part of the natural order and maintaining contact with nature is vital if we want to enjoy physical and emotional well-being. Within an urban environment I often find it immensely useful to simply walk or sit in a park and observe my surroundings. This connecting with nature serves as a grounding experience where my priorities can become clearer and I can think more creatively.
5. ACT COMPASSIONATELY
Approaching life mindfully involves approaching experiences with an open and non-judgmental mentality, which invariably leads towards a kinder and more understanding outlook when dealing with others. Indeed, the psychologist Dacher Keltner believes that the impetus for compassion is actually hard coded into our DNA and that we are indeed “born to be good.” Mindfulness naturally expands our circle of care and by working to improve the lives of others we can experience a more fulfilling and richer life, enhanced by these acts of generosity.
6. EAT HEALTHILY
Our understanding of nutrition and diet has deepened to such an extent that we know that eating correctly isn’t just a matter of getting enough to eat. An inadequate diet can have serious negative consequences not just on your physical but also on your mental health, such as adversely affecting clarity of mind and mood. The Australian trainer and psychologist James Durigan recommends avoiding refined, processed and manufactured food and instead sticking to whole food that come from nature and which are free from harmful toxins, pesticides and refined sugars. You should also pay attention not only to what you eat but how you eat as well. Taking the time to eat more slowly and mindfully enables a greater connection with the senses and communicates a greater appreciation for the flavours of what you eat.
7. BE GRATEFUL
Having an appreciation for the opportunities that are available to you in life can sometimes be difficult, especially in circumstances where you are dealing with the inevitable disappointments and setbacks of life. This loss of perspective can be further compounded when you compare your life to those of others who appear to be in more favourable circumstances. An antidote to these feelings of envy and our own deficiency can be found in the words of Shantideva, an 8th century Buddhist monk. He made the point that all of us have both “leisure and endowment”, that we have been gifted with a combination of freedom, time, intelligence and education that are rare gifts in the scheme of things. We should be mindful of these “gifts” as they give us the opportunity to live a better life if we are only willing to take advantage of them. We should all be grateful for the small but important things that we can take for granted in our lives. Mindfulness can help this appreciation by focusing our mind on the present moment and all the favourable circumstances that have led to it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Martyn Newman Ph.D., D.Psych., is a clinical psychologist specialising in Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness. His new book, The Mindfulness Book: Practical Ways to Lead a More Mindful Life, was released in the UK on the 22 September 2016. To order click here.