Have you ever been driving and reached the destination without being sure how you got there? Or have you been in the middle of a conversation when you realize you have not been paying attention to the other person this whole time?
Naturally, our minds will run off sometimes. When we are experiencing increased sadness, stress, and anxiety, our focus tends to go to ruminating on past events or fretting about future “to-do’s” and “what if’s.” However, when we do this, we are focusing on things we cannot control and end up missing the moment that is right in front of us. In return, we are left feeling like we are missing out on our life or in a fog. Practicing mindfulness allows us to gain control over our focus. We can intentionally be in the present moment and can learn to do so without judgment or letting our perceptions skew how we experience the moment.
While being in the present moment sounds easy enough, this can be a particularly challenging skill. Below are six steps based on skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in what to do to be mindful and how to do it.
When observing, we want to purposely pay attention to experiences going on within and outside of us. We want to be as objective and observant without adding judgment. An easy way to do this is by using our five senses. Pick a color and observe objects that have that color. Notice what sounds you can currently hear and what textures you feel. Observe thoughts as if you are on a train going past each one—without getting stuck on any particular thought.
Acknowledge and describe the experiences without adding judgment to them. For example, rather than thinking, “Why am I always an anxious mess?”; we could rephrase it to, “I am experiencing the feeling of anxiety.” On a rainy day, instead of saying, “It’s so gloomy out” or “I love the sound of rain”; we would say, “There are currently clouds and rain.” Continue practicing this. Try focusing on the facts; identify the who, what, when, and where of the experience.
Do your best to not distract yourself. This requires a bit of letting go of our barriers and fully being in the moment with whatever is occurring. Be willing to go with the flow and accept whatever occurs in the present as is.
This part is important to mindfulness and is often forgotten. We are only paying attention to the facts. We can acknowledge our experience, wishes, and emotions without judging them. When we add judgment, we are putting on an imaginary lens that distorts the moment. It is okay if you are having a difficult time with this. If you notice you are judging, rather than being judgmental toward yourself, acknowledge it and redirect your focus back to observing and describing.
We want to do our best not to multitask when trying to be mindful. If you are cooking, focus on cooking. If you are in a conversation with someone, only focus on that conversation. We want to avoid distractions. If you notice yourself becoming distracted, redirect your attention back as many times as you need to. Similar to any skill you are trying to master, it takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Be aware of your goals in the situation and do what is most effective to reach that goal. Take the initiative and use the skills you have to act in a situation the best that you can. We tend to see this most useful when we are stuck in a conversation where we are focused on being “right” instead of being effective.
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