In honor of WHO’s World Mental Health Day, we’re bringing you this guest post by one of our “kindness experts”, Melbourne-based clinical psychologist Emily Toner, who has a few tips on how you can use meditation to increase your mindfulness and, in turn, your ability to #GetKind for yourself and others:
Have you ever read a book and after several minutes you realize that you have no recollection of what you just read? Or eaten a meal and not recalled the taste, or even eating it? Perhaps you have been in a conversation with someone and realized halfway through that you haven’t heard a word they said. These are all examples of being mindless — or on autopilot.At these times, it’s as if our bodies are in one place and our mind in another. If you think about it, to be able to think, reminisce and plan things in our minds while simultaneously doing something else is a pretty amazing skill to possess — and it’s what distinguishes us from other animals. However, research into mind wandering suggests that this skill may come at a cost to our happiness.
Researcher Matt Killingsworth from Harvard University studied mind wandering in over 8,000 people from over 80 countries. He found that on average, people were mindless approximately 47% of the day. That’s almost half our lives! He also found that when someone’s mind wandered to unpleasant thoughts they were, not surprisingly, less happy than when they were being mindful. Interestingly however, he also found thatwhen a person’s mind wandered to pleasant thoughts (i.e. daydreaming, reminiscing) they were no happier than when their mind was thinking about what they were doing, in fact they were slightly less happy (Killingsworth, 2010).
This is a pretty interesting finding, and suggests that mind wandering is inherently linked with unhappiness. As you can imagine, not being present in one’s own life has many consequences. Research suggests that too much mindlessness decreases our well-being, negatively impacts our relationships, and leads to increases in errors, mistakes and productivity. It is also closely associated with the experience of depression and anxiety, which almost always involve excessive mind wandering into the past and the future. Thankfully though, there is an antidote.
The antidote comes in the form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the opposite of being on autopilot. It occurs when you are thinking about what you are doing (or feeling) in the present moment — mind and body connected. Informal mindfulness practice involves paying attention to what you are doing in your life as you are doing it. Any activity can be a mindful activity: mindful emailing, mindful talking, mindful listening, mindful eating, mindful showering, mindful walking, are just a few. There’s also the formal practice of mindfulness, known as mindfulness meditation, where you are encouraged to sit and connect to the present moment via your senses, observing your experience as it changes from moment to moment. Ancient Eastern mindfulness practitioners would argue that there is no better tool to strengthen your mindful awareness than meditation.
To get the most from your mindfulness practice, it appears important to not only understand the importance of paying attention to the present moment but also how to pay attention. Some important attitudes when practicing being mindful are curiosity, being non-judgmental and accepting of whatever arises, and importantly being kind — kindness and self-compassion appear pivotal to this practice. During the course of one mindful activity or one meditation, you may find your mind wanders 100 times! This is a normal and integral part of the practice, but it is also where kindness comes in.
When you try this for yourself, you may notice that beating yourself up or getting annoyed at your wandering mind only leads to more tension in the mind and body and more angry thoughts. There is a nice phrase that describes this phenomenon: ‘What we resist persists’. In this way, adopting these attitudes of curiosity, acceptance and kindness in your self-talk: “Ahh… there goes my mind again! That’s okay, it’s busy today…” is likely to really take your mindfulness practice to the next level, allowing you to feel more present to your life and very possibly happier as a result. Is it time to start being more mindful?
Recommended (learn to meditate) Apps: Smiling Mind, Headspace, Buddhify 2,1 Giant Mind
Recommended Video: All it Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes, with Andy Puddicombe (TED).
About the Author:
Emily Toner is a Melbourne-based Clinical Psychologist and Mindfulness and Wellbeing Consultant who gets very excited talking about mindfulness and it’s benefits. For more information about Emily, visit www.emilytoner.com.