Switching off the Autopilot
Have you ever found yourself suddenly at work, and can't remember how you got there? Or noticed that all the food on your plate has gone, but can't remember eating it? We sometimes find ourselves operating on autopilot.
Being on autopilot means that we are not engaged in what we are doing in the moment, and are therefore missing out on life as it is happening. Mindfulness acts as an antidote to this disengagement as it reminds us to pay attention to our everyday activities.
Try this. When you brush your teeth in the morning, make your morning cup of coffee, or commute to work, observe what is happening around you – what you can see, hear, smell and feel. Allow yourself to be fully aware of your senses in each moment, no matter how mundane. The ordinary moments may feel a little less, well, ordinary.
Forgetting about the Past and Future
Where is your mind most of the time? It's right here, you might say - or is it? Most of us spend a lot of time dwelling on memories of the past and worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. When we’re at work, we fantasise about being on vacation; on vacation, we worry about work.
Mindfulness helps break this habitual thinking by bringing us back to the present. The past is over and the future has not happened so right now, life is just as it is.
It doesn’t mean that we let go of all our creative musings, reflections on the past or abstract thinking. But by being aware, we can choose to disengage from these thoughts and focus on the present moment, or engage and use the creative functions of our minds.
Responding, not Reacting
Reactions are learned, habitual actions that we do without conscious awareness. Have you ever chased the driver who has cut into your lane? Or yelled at your co-worker when they’ve made a mistake? These may have been moments when you reacted impulsively, rather than responded thoughtfully.
Reacting this way causes unnecessary stress. When we are emotionally triggered by something that was said or someone else’s actions, we may do or say something on an impulse that we may come to regret later.
Practising mindfulness enables us to pause, even in the midst of a difficult situation. That pause gives us a choice in how we wish to react. Instead of lashing out in anger or furrowing your brows in annoyance, stop, take a breath, recognise the emotion you’re feeling and ask yourself – how do you wish to respond?
Exercising a Mindful Attitude
Mindfulness is about cultivating an awareness of ourselves and our present experiences, and accepting them exactly as they are, even when they're uncomfortable. Judgements include our ideas and opinions, likes and dislikes. By practising mindfulness, we learn to recognise when we are being judgemental.
We then can choose to observe events as they may actually be with acceptance, rather than through the filter of our judgements. When we first start to practise mindfulness, we may notice a constant stream of judgements. Rather than engage and pursue these thoughts, we can practise being curious, observing our experiences as if for the first time.
No moment is the same as the previous one. By being curious to this possibility, we may see familiar experiences with new eyes. At the same time, we learn to let go of our previous thought, emotion and situation, so that we can appreciate the next thought, emotion and situation exactly as it is. As we explore our understanding of the present moment, mindfulness practice reminds us to be kind and patient with ourselves as we foster a new relationship with our thoughts, emotions and experiences.