The concepts and practices of mindfulness have become mainstream in the 21st century. You hear the term everywhere: in self-help books, podcasts on the topic, and a myriad of documentaries on the practice. There’s a good reason: it’s a powerful practice that can enhance your physical and emotional well-being.
Mindfulness is not a new idea; in fact, it dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, said:
The ancient Romans had the Stoics, ancient China had Confucius. Ideas and practices for living a more conscious and deliberate life has been. Being a master of your emotions and self-actualization was a common goal among the learned people thousands of years ago.
Mindfulness is Lost for 1,000 Years
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the western world fell into the Dark Ages. For a thousand years, the early teachings were lost. It was somewhat revived during the Renaissance. The idea of humanism, that every human being’s life had value arose. Yup, that was a radical idea in the 1500s!
The Industrial Revolution also undermined the ability of most people to live mindfully. Who would want to “live in the moment” working 14 hours at a factory in horrendous conditions?
The 20th century brought 2 world wars and an Economic Depression. Ideas like meditation and “flow” were discounted as self-absorbed ideas saved for the elites.
It Comes Back!
Slowly, starting in the 1960s many concepts that have evolved into what we know today as mindfulness started to take hold. Hippies proposed love, peace and acceptance of differences in others.
By the 21st century meditation, yoga, feng shui and other practices bloomed. In 2006 The Secret was published. It promised that you could achieve anything you want in life, basically just by thinking about it. Not exactly true, but securely on the path to a more mindful life. You DO have to think about what you want in order to achieve it!
The concept of living mindfully has spawned a huge industry. There are apps. New books are published every day and meditation classes abound. If you type “mindfulness” in the search bar of Amazon there are 40,000 results!
What is Mindfulness?
So what exactly is mindfulness? Simply stated, it’s the practice of being aware and engaged in the present moment. Mindfulness is also accepting your reality now, as opposed to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It’s stopping to smell – and touch – and see – the roses.
Fostering the ability to accept your thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgemental way is another key component. This state of mind, over time, helps to change negative thought patterns. We all have a habit of talking to ourselves in a way we would never talk to those we love.
“How could you forget your keys in the car? You’re so careless!”
“Why can’t a (fill in the blank)? I’m just stupid.”
It’s so common that most of us don’t give it a second thought. But these mean comments add up and create self-doubt instead of self-love. We should be treating ourselves in an accepting and forgiving manner, just like we do with our family and loved ones.
Mindfulness re-trains your self-talk and thought patterns to create a healthier and happy outlook.
Is Mediation the Same as Mindfulness?
In a word, no. Meditation is the act of sitting quietly and clearing your thoughts by focusing on your breathing. That’s my simple definition; there are a ton of ways to meditate. You can take courses, buy books and watch videos to become expert in the genre.
Mediation is an exercise that leads to a more mindful life. It teaches you to relax and stay in the moment. Clearing your thoughts washes away negative and obsessive inner dialogue. These are all components to achieving mindfulness.
In order to life a more rich and mindful existence daily meditation is great. It’s like trying to eat healthy, eating more vegetables is one component but other habits are needed as well.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness for Mature Adults?
The benefits of a more mindful life are plentiful at every age. I teach my high school students tips and practices. Many of them respond well and indicate it helps them. They are better able to focus. Some have indicated that they’re more aware of their emotions and better able to control them.
The positive outcomes in those of us over 55 are different but just as powerful.
Between 10% to 20% of mature folks suffer from anxiety. Many become more fearful as they age. These problems are lessened in adults who engage in mindfulness.
After 8 weeks of mindfulness exercises decreased feelings of loneliness in seniors, according to a study published in 2012.
Cognitive decline is inevitable as we age. This decline was lower in adults who meditated and practiced other mindful exercises. Attention, memory and cognitive function were improved.
Overall happiness comes from living in gratitude and acceptance. You can improve your state of being through mindfulness.
Studies have shown that a great deal of your happiness is in your hands. Approximately 50% is hereditary, only 10% is affected by life circumstances and a whopping 40% is in your control. Unfortunately, many passively live in the 60% and don’t exercise their ability to change the 40%. Mindfulness will make you happier through overt actions, in others words maximizing that 40%.
Irritable bowel syndrome, which is exacerbated by stress can be controlled using mindfulness according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Digestive problems can also be mitigated. Many life stressors tend to attack the stomach (think ulcers for example). Lowering stress will lessen or eliminate these gut problems.
High blood pressure is another culprit of aging. Again, it’s affected by stress and anxiety. Using techniques that calm you and make you happier will have a positive effect on your pressure.
How to Start Your Mindfulness Journey
Have I convinced you yet?! Are you willing to commit to giving this mindfulness a whirl? How about if you try it for 6 weeks? Are you in? I hope so. It’s helped me tremendously with life’s struggles. I enjoy the good things more and handle the bad things better.
Assess Your Present Happiness Level
The very first thing I do with my students, and I think will help you as well is to ascertain your present level of contentment. Really stop and consider your day-to-day feelings and reactions.
Take this quiz from Yale University to assess your present state of happiness. It’s a quick series of questions. Simply click on the “begin survey” tab in the borrow right-hand side of the screen.
Your final score will be calculated on a scale of 10. If you score a 10 you’re ecstatic, the lower the number the more room for growth exists.
The score is broken down into the following areas:
- Positive emotions = 7.67
- Engagement = 6.33
- Relationships = 7
- Meaning = 6.67
- Accomplishment = 7.33
- Health = 6
- Negative emotions = 6.33
- Loneliness = 9
- Overall Well-Being = 7.06
This allows you to really see where you’re strengths and weaknesses lie. Save your results. Then take the survey again after 6 weeks to check your progress.
State of Flow
Flow is a positive mental state that occurs when you’re completely absorbed in an activity. You often lose a sense of time when engaging in these tasks. I’m NOT talking about social media here, which can put many people into a mesmerized state where they obsessively scroll for extended periods.
The best moments are not when we’re passively allowing life to happen to us. It’s when we’re involved in projects and hobbies that stretch our mind or body. It can be playing an instrument, gardening or doing a crossword puzzle.
Identify activities that put you in a state of flow. When was the last time you were so engrossed in something that you looked up and hours had passed?
That’s a state of flow. It’s an excellent way to start to live mindfully. Figure out what rings your bells and aggressively include it in your week. Write it on your calendar.
It’s time to focus on yourself. It sounds selfish, I know. But if you improve your level of peace and happiness you’ll send those good feelings out to everyone you interact with. You’ll be making the whole world a better place! Does that sound selfish to you?!
Begin by paying close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling strong emotions. As you go through the day notice—really notice—what you’re sensing in a given moment, the sights, sounds, and smells that ordinarily slip by without reaching your conscious awareness.
Recognize that your thoughts and emotions are temporary and do not define you. This step can free you from negative thought patterns.
Find tiny moments throughout the day to reset your focus and sense of purpose
Activities That Stimulate Mindfulness
There are many simple ways to begin living your life in a mindful way. It’s simply a matter of slowly, step-by-step making small changes to our thoughts and actions.
Here are some ideas to build the mindfulness habit in your day-to-day life:
1. Practice meditating each day. Start with 5 minutes for a couple of weeks and slowly increase to 10 or 15 minutes.
2. Write down 25 things that make you happy, little and big. It could be as simple as a particular tea or coffee. Then pencil in as many as you can on a calendar. Do this every month to ensure you’re consciously engaging with people and activities that light you up
3. Plan your flow activities into your week.
4. Try new hobbies in order to find new pleasurable activities. You may have to venture a little out of your comfort zone. That’s good! You may not enjoy everything you try; that’s okay!
5. When you go for walks change your path. Go in a different direction. Look carefully at the houses, gardens, trees, etc. Smell the air. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel your body moving. Practice being aware of your surroundings.
6. Clean your home with a new scent of cleanser. Mix up the routine – if you normally do bathrooms first do them last. Notice your body movements as you clean. Feel the stretch of your arms and legs. Take note of how nice the room looks after you’re done.
7. Practice gratefulness. Every day stop and identify 3 things that you’re grateful for. They can be large or tiny things. Maybe your toast at breakfast was done perfectly, acknowledge and enjoy it.
8. Stop several times a day to notice your emotions. Did someone honk their horn at you while driving? How exactly do you feel? What body parts are affected by your emotion? If you finished a task pause and study your mind and body. Do you feel satisfied? Are you smiling, is your breathing slower, your heart rate calmer?
9. Drive a different route on your way to work or shopping. Take in the new surroundings.
I hope this overview of mindfulness and how to achieve it was helpful. If you simply make a few small changes in your habits you can more fully embrace each day of your life.
I know there are those of you out there rolling your eyes at me; I see you:-)
For us baby boomers these concepts are not what our parents taught us. They were more practical. The idea that what’s in our heads matters is really a new phenomenon.
But think about it. If you want a strong body exercising is necessary. In order to increase our wealth financial knowledge and practices are needed. Increasing the intimacy of our relationships requires communication and effort.
Why can’t the same be true for increasing our overall happiness? Doesn’t it make sense that taking the time to think about what makes us happy increases the likelihood of success? And changing habits, just like eating healthy and exercising, can improve our lives?
Most people go through their entire lives acting and reacting without ever stopping to reflect on their actions and reactions. They get up, go to work, eat, see friends but are not present. They’re thinking about something else.
It’s absolutely free and takes only a few minutes a day to try out this new way of living in the world. Why not give it a try? You might like it!