Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention without judgment to the thing that’s the most important for you to be effective in the present moment.
It may sound complicated, but in certain situations, you’re probably being mindful already without noticing it.
For example, I’m being mindful right now. Here on my desk are cards I need to send out, a CD that’s supposed to remind me to call a friend, and of course my computer with my e-mail program, the Internet, and the potentially infinite number of distractions it offers. Even the parakeet is chirping for attention. But the thing that’s most important for me to be effective right now is writing this blog. So I intentionally focus on it. When something distracts me, I bring my attention back.
Your senses bring more information into your brain than your conscious mind can possibly absorb. Your nervous system is constantly filtering out low-priority information. Typically, your mind is occupied to some degree with chattering thoughts; sometimes called “the monkey mind.” It is perfectly normal to experience mind chatter. Chattering thoughts may recede into the background when you’re concentrating on a project. They may grow to overwhelming proportions when you’re bored or have nothing to do.
Your job is to observe these thoughts, and yet continue to bring your attention back to the most important thing, the thing that will make you most effective in this moment.
When you pay attention without judgment, without listening to the monkey mind’s complaints or criticisms, you increase the capacity of your conscious mind. Then when you intentionally return your attention to the most important thing, you have extra capacity for new and valuable information that will help you be more effective.
To get the best information about how to manage yourself in the present moment, all you have to do is intentionally focus on your body’s signals, including your thoughts and emotions, and recognize their ebb and flow.
Watch the Ebb and Flow
It’s a fact of life that things always change and pass. Even a headache is not steady state. If you can put off grabbing the ibuprofen for a few moments and just observe, you’ll find your headache gets stronger one moment, weaker the next, and then back to stronger or maybe something in between. It ebbs and flows.
The better you get at listening to the ebb and flow of what’s going on in your body—whether you’re hot or cold, confident or unsure, tired or raring to go—the better you’ll get at recognizing and meeting your own wants and needs.
If you’re like most people, you probably use food at least on occasion to manage your discomfort, both physical and emotional. You might even have come to depend on food to keep your nervous system stable, balanced and comfortable. The more extreme your discomfort, the more vulnerable you become to compensate with emotional eating.
So avoid the extremes! When you listen to your body’s messages throughout the day, you’ll be aware of when you’re getting hungry, lonely, angry or tired so you can intervene and take care of yourself before any of these conditions become overwhelming. Become mindful so you can get the information you need to manage your discomforts effectively.