Updated: Sep 30, 2022
Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to your physical environment (sounds, physical sensations), as well as, paying attention to your emotions and thoughts. Mindfulness can be practiced during a sitting meditation, but it doesn’t have to be practiced that way. Mindfulness can be something we do in the middle of the day to support better focus, lean into our emotions and disengage from our thinking.
Obviously, some amount of thinking is necessary for us to get though our day. We need to plan, make decisions and weigh risks. However, sometimes our thinking is detrimental to our mental health and even to our physical health. Rumination, for example, is reliving an event that took place in the past and picking it apart in our minds. Much research shows engaging in rumination is a slippery slope and often leads to anxiety and/or depression. Being mindful of your rumination episodes allows you to wake up from this cycle and move yourself into a healthier state of mind.
Additionally, catastrophic thinking happens when we entertain worst-case scenarios. This type of thinking can activate our nervous system and trigger us into flight or flight. Much research shows that spending unhealthy periods of time in fight or flight has a negative effect on your physical health, especially on your cardiovascular health. Mindfulness of catastrophic thinking allows us to reorient ourselves and practice exercises to soothe our nervous system.
It is easier than one might think to begin being mindful of one’s thinking. One way to immerse yourself into the practice, is to take one day and check in with yourself each hour. Ask yourself, during this past hour what type of thinking was I engaged in the most? Rumination, worry, catastrophic thinking, planning, fantasy, decision-making, problem-solving, daydreaming, etc. You’ll probably find your thinking is mostly about the past or it is mostly about the future. What category do you fall into? One is not better than the other, but being mindful of how you spend your time in thought, will help you better understand the nature of your own mind. The more aware you become of your thinking the more apt you will be to shift your attention to something more calming or effective. You might consciously take a few minutes to simply listen to the sounds in your environment, or notice how your emotions affect you physically. It doesn’t take much, but it does take some dedicated effort to stop every so often to become aware of your thinking.