Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment, exactly as it is. It is really hard to be anxious if you are completely focused on the present moment – what you are sensing and doing RIGHT NOW … and NOW … and NOW.
This is different than what we usually do when we are anxious: get stuck in our heads and think about everything that could go wrong. Our anxious brain likes to hang out in the unknown future and think about all the bad things that could happen. An anxious brain is very creative and can come up with the most amazing worst-case scenarios! Our anxious brain also likes to obsess about the past and dwell on regrets.
When we do this, we can’t notice the pleasant experiences all around us.
For example, imagine you are learning how to sail. As you are getting in the boat, you decide that you are going to focus on the present instead of worrying about what will happen at school tomorrow. You feel the warm sun and cool breeze on your cheeks. You look up and watch the sail catch the wind above you. Maybe you smell the salt water and hear the seagulls as they circle above. As the boat increases speed you enjoy the rush. All of your senses are alive and focused on the present moment. This is sailing in a mindful way.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
— Jon Kabat-Zinn
It would be just as easy to have this experience and not be present and mindful. You might be thinking over and over about the test you have on Monday or worrying about why your friend didn’t call you back. You wouldn’t notice the pleasant feeling of the sun on your face. You wouldn’t appreciate the thrill of the wind. You may even get home and not remember very much about sailing or even feel like it was like a dream.
A Few Simple Mindfulness Exercises
When you catch yourself being caught up in worries about the future or guilt and regret about the past, just notice that it is happening and simply and kindly say to yourself, “Come back.” Then take a calming breath and focus on what you are doing right now.
Another helpful mindfulness trick is simply to notice what you are experiencing right now through three senses – sound, sight, touch. Take a few slow breaths and ask yourself:
- What are three things I can hear? (clock on the wall, car going by, music in the next room, my breath)
- What are three things I can see? (this table, that sign, that person walking by)
- What are three things I can feel? (the chair under me, the floor under my feet, my phone in my pocket)
Think of these answers to yourself slowly, one sense at a time. It’s impossible to do this exercise and not be present and mindful!
This meditation helps bring you more fully into the present moment, by simply noticing and allowing whatever physical sensations are present in your body.
This meditation involves focusing on your breath to help settle your mind.