Mindfulness: What, How, and Why
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware in the present moment without worrying about the future or reflecting on the past. Meditation is a form of mindfulness, but it can be so much more. Mindfulness is a lifestyle and way of going through life. So how does one go about practicing mindfulness in their day to day?
The what and how of mindfulness consists of six components that can be practiced daily.
What Skills of Mindfulness
There are three activity levels of Mindfulness, which are referred to as the “what skills.”
The first “what skill” is when we take the time to simply observe what is happening in the present moment. It involves tuning into your bodily sensations as well as your surroundings and is the simple act of paying attention. In the words of Dr. Marsha Linehan, observing is the act of “wordless watching.”
A good way to practice the observe skill is to utilize the five senses. This is a form of mindfulness called grounding and it can take less than five minutes. Observe with your ears, eyes, nose, touch, or taste.
The next “what skill” is to describe what is being observed. During a describe practice, words are now being applied to the experience. The trick to mindful description is to name the facts. There is no good or bad. There is no because or blame. Simply describe.
Returning to the grounding technique here are some examples of what you can describe: noise levels, color, smell, texture, or flavor. In addition you can describe the actions of the people around you. Are you noticing any internal emotions or thoughts? What are they? Describe only.
The last “what skill” is more active. It is mindful participation. We have all had the experience of zoning out during a class or during a conversation, myself included. Zoning out is the opposite of mindful participation. Full participation involves an attunement of what is happening in the here and now. It is a way to fully immerse yourself in an experience or activity.
Mindful participation demonstrates that mindfulness can be practiced during any activity. Examples include a mindful workout where you tune in to how your breath or muscles feel during the workout. Mindful driving involves being fully aware of your surroundings, instead of allowing your mind to wander. Any and every activity you can think of can be done mindfully.
How Skills of Mindfulness
The “how skills” speak to the manner in which the above activities are done.
This one is a challenge. It is natural to place judgment and label something as good, bad, ugly, pretty, etc. This happens a lot with our emotions. “Bad” emotions include anger, sadness, or jealousy. “Good” emotions include happy, joyful, or excited. All emotions are neither “good” nor “bad” they are simply reactions. Mindfulness as an act of refraining judgment can involve learning to accept all emotions. It is the practice of sticking to the facts.
Next time you feel overwhelmed with an emotion, practice nonjudgment by accepting the emotion as neither good nor bad.
One mindfully is the act of focusing on one thing at a time. In other words, no multi-tasking. It is very tempting to multi-task when there is so much at our fingertips (Email, Twitter, Facebook, and Gaming apps to name a few). Focus concentrating on one task at a time.
Try limiting distractions by turning off notifications on your phone and laptop for at least fifteen minutes a day. Practice putting your phone away when working on a task and participate in the task wholeheartedly.
When practicing mindfulness, identify a goal of how to use the time. Perhaps you want to focus on one of the three “what skills.” Everyone is different, so experiment and find out what works well for you. Check out the link below for ideas on different activities to try.
Why Bother Trying?
For those who practice consistently there are many benefits to mindfulness including:
Increase of positive emotions
Enhanced immune system
Decreased anxiety and depression
Reduction in physical pain symptoms
Improved attention and concentration
Better awareness of self and others The key is consistency. It’s no different than working out consistently to lose weight or build muscle. One workout won’t cut it. However, mindfulness can easily be incorporated into your daily habits. Instead of grabbing your phone to pass the time try mindfully observing what is happening around or take a minute to simply focus on your breath.
References and External Links
Linehan, Marsha L. DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets (2015) 2nd edition, The Guildford Press, New York, NY.
Linehan, Marsha L. DBT Skills Training Manual (2015) 2nd edition, The Guildford Press, New York, NY.
Mediation Video from Calm
30 Mindfulness Activities to Find Calm at Any Age from Healthline
Mindful Exercises from Dialectical Behavior Therapy