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3 Ways To Include Mindfulness Into A Busy Day

Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a topic often discussed in therapy. Given the explosion in interest in mindfulness, many people have heard of mindfulness even if they haven’t practiced it. For the uninitiated, mindfulness is “the practice of giving complete and non-judgmental attention to one’s present experience” (Collins, 2023). Mindfulness practice may take many forms; and as it is simply about paying attention to the present moment, mindfulness can be practiced in any number of ways. The applications of mindfulness are equally broad. It is common to use mindfulness as a form of stress management, as can be seen through any number of mindfulness-focused apps. It may be used as part of high-performance coaching, sports psychology, or as a therapeutic technique to help alleviate psychological distress.

Am I Doing It Right?

When we discuss mindfulness in therapy, it is common for people to say they have tried it and they “can’t do it” or it “doesn’t work”. If we unpack this a little further, often misconceptions exist about what mindfulness is or what it’s supposed to “do”. To provide some clarity, it may be helpful to talk about what mindfulness is not. 

Often when we think “I can’t do mindfulness” or it “doesn’t work”, what we mean is that we still feel uncomfortable emotions or continue to have thoughts racing through our minds. Mindfulness is not a tool to rid ourselves of unwanted thoughts or emotions. This is a common misconception. Rather, mindfulness provides us with the capacity to directly experience and accept uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. It is acceptance of these negative experiences which may lead to a decrease in distress associated with them.

Being mindful is not a form of distraction. Distraction is defined as something that “divides the attention, or prevents concentration” (Collins, 2023). In contrast, when we are being mindful we pay attention and accept our entire experience just as it is. This doesn’t mean we become consumed by our negative experiences. Instead, we accept our negative experiences and engage in activities that give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose.

Lastly, mindfulness is not a fix-all for mental health issues. For those in psychological distress, mindfulness may form just one part of a package of interventions to help alleviate suffering. As with all psychological interventions, mindfulness may not be suitable for everyone. Mindfulness may work well for some people, while for others it may have no effect or may lead to negative consequences. 

The Mindfulness Beach Ball

My clients often find the beach ball analogy a helpful one to better understand the concept of mindfulness. Imagine you are in a pool with a large beach ball, and the beach ball represents all of our thoughts or emotions. When we struggle against our thoughts or emotions, it’s like trying to push the beach ball under the water. We can often manage this for a short time, but it takes energy and effort. Inevitably, the beach ball eventually pops up from underneath the water.

Rather than expending the extra energy and effort to push the beach ball under the water, it may be more helpful to sit back and observe the beach ball floating on the surface of the water. The beach ball may float away, it may float close to us or it may float behind us. We practice letting our thoughts and emotions come and go, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. It is our attempts to struggle with or control the emotion which often makes them more unbearable.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Not convinced that mindfulness may be helpful? Below are three potential benefits associated with regular mindfulness practice:

1. Mindfulness may help to combat mindlessness

Many of our thoughts, actions and at times the emotions we experience occur outside of our conscious awareness. One of the benefits of engaging in therapy and practicing mindfulness is that it may help to bring them into conscious awareness. Being more aware of our thoughts, actions, and feelings may help to provide insight and provide us with the space to do something differently, rather than continuing with our well worn patterns.

2. It may help us to live in the moment

It may help us to live in the moment. Many of the clients I work with find it challenging to be present, particularly whilst at home with their loved ones. They may ruminate about their day at work, or worry about potential future events. Whilst both worry and rumination may be helpful in small doses, engaging in either of these excessively may lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Excessive worry and rumination may make it challenging for us to remain present. One of the skills that we work to strengthen through mindfulness is our capacity to pay attention. Through mindfulness, we can practice shifting our attention away from thoughts about the past or the future and attend to what is happening here and now.

3. Being mindful may help to reduce the internal struggle

When we experience uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, it is common to want to avoid these feelings or push them away. While these strategies all have a role from time to time, if we use these strategies all the time they may make the emotions more unbearable. It is often the internal struggle against the emotion which makes it more unbearable and difficult for us to manage. Attempting to avoid or push emotions away, may create an internal struggle against the emotion. Practicing mindfulness may help us to drop the internal struggle, providing some extra space for us to decide how we want to act in the moment.

Three Ways to Include Mindfulness Into a Busy Day

I work with a lot of really busy people. Finding time to include mindfulness into their already busy day can feel like a real challenge. Below I’ve provided three tips which may be helpful for including mindfulness practice into a busy day.

1. The mindful pause

We can take a mindful pause anytime we have a brief moment available, for example where we have a minute free in between back to back meetings. It is simply an opportunity to stop, take a deep breath, notice and name how we are feeling; and then to set an intention for whatever is coming up next in our day. 

2. Cognitive defusion

Cognitive defusion is a mindfulness-based process which may help us to mindfully pay attention to our thoughts. We can do this by adding “I’m having the thought” or “I notice I’m having the thought” before each thought that we have.

3. Habit stacking

Habit stacking is the act of pairing an activity we already do regularly during the day with another activity we’d like to do more often. An example of this is where we may practice a mindfulness exercise each time we fill up our water bottle throughout the day. As we do this, we may practice some deep breathing or, notice and name how we are feeling.

Including brief and regular opportunities to be mindful throughout our day, may be a helpful way to manage our thoughts and emotions. This in turn, may enable us to be more present and to reduce how stressed we feel.

If you’d like support to learn mindfulness, contact us or schedule an appointment today.

References

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: tiny changes, remarkable results : an easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. New York, New York, Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Collins English dictionary (2023) Available from: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/distraction [Accessed 13 August 2023].

Collins English dictionary (2023) Available from: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/mindfulness [Accessed 13 August 2023].


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