Be mindful for a more balanced life

How
many times have you found yourself on the beach or watching the sunset, but
actually daydreaming about somewhere else, in the past or future? How much of
your day do you spend being ‘present’ and completely aware, i.e. in the here
and now? Most of us spend our lives like this, contemplating something that has
passed, or something to come, but not being present in the moment, and the next
moment, and the one after that.

By
not being mindful we miss out on so much; the feel of sand beneath your feet, a
flower, a smile, the smell of freshly cooked food, or the taste of our lunch as
we bolt it down at our desk or in front of the TV. At work, concentrating on
the task at hand takes longer, and you’re more likely to make mistakes, if your
head is distracted. In fact, many Fortune 500 companies are now providing
mindfulness training and consider the practice beneficial to their business.

Research
has also shown that mindfulness is a technique that can help to reduce stress
levels, depression and the ability to deal with chronic pain.

According
to scientist, writer and meditation coach Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness means
paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment,
non-judgmentally.

How thoughts affect your emotions

Although
it originates from Buddhism, mindfulness is a practice that can sit outside
Buddhism or any religion/set of beliefs. Thoughts automatically come into our
minds, sometimes triggered by something we observe or sometimes they just
appear. This is normal, but we often attach meaning or emotions to the thoughts
which can in turn affect our mood and behaviour, producing more thoughts and so
on. Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, suddenly we can
find ourselves in a completely different place simply by choosing to follow a
train of thought. By being present and mindful, we are not allowing ourselves
to attach ourselves to any thought that may come into our mind, i.e. not judging
our thoughts, just observing them.

Applying Mindfulness to life today

Maybe
you’ve had the experience of having a thought of shouting at a colleague, for
example, or wanting to hit out when they’ve upset you. You are aware of the
thought, but if you judge yourself (‘I must be a bad person if I could think
that’) you may start to feel bad about yourself, perhaps depressed or anxious,
which may then distract you from your work and sorting out the initial problem
with your co-worker.

The
mindful approach is to notice the thought as it is, not judge, and simply let
it go. A useful exercise is to step back from your thoughts and imagine them as
clouds in the sky floating by, or thoughts in train carriages that go past.
‘That’s a thought about my co-worker, that’s a thought about my boss, that’s a
thought about my daughter’ etc. Try it now as you’re reading this — you will
probably find that other thoughts intrude and demand your attention, but again,
don’t judge and notice them.

Being
mindful in this way takes lots of practice, but allows us to focus on what is
happening right now in this moment, whether it’s giving our full attention to a
work task, or watching our children play. The payoff is, we don’t let our day,
our years slip away without always thinking of the next thing, and we are more
efficient with the time we have. Although a simple technique, being mindful
takes real practice, but it can really help us achieve that all-important
work-life balance.

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