Are You Mindful or Mind-Full?

I recently sat in a workshop on Mindfulness led by a psychology colleague. Later, while chatting about her work, she said how stressed she felt and that her head was overloaded with the stuff she had to do. I couldn't help myself and quipped, “Sounds like you are more mind-full than mindful”. We both laughed. You've probably noticed an upsurge of interest in the benefits of Mindfulness, so I’ve devoted this Tip to the topic.

Time travel

Here's a personal example of mindfulness. Last week I caught a taxi home from the airport. Normally I sit in the front, but this time I chose the back seat as I needed to spread out and finish writing some hand outs for a workshop. The taxi driver kindly offered to turn on an interior light so I could see more clearly. I thanked him and settled into my work. I could faintly hear his Indian music playing in the background. The next thing I knew he was asking how I wanted to pay. To my amazement we were parked outside my house. The 40 minute drive from the airport had felt like five minutes. This sense of timelessness can happen when we are relaxed and mindful, rather than tense and mind-full.

Being mindful can also mean paying close attention to what is happening around you with a sense of enjoyment, like you are watching the opening scene of a movie. For instance, when I observe my puppy running around the park playing with the other dogs. Another approach is to close your eyes and watch your thoughts pass by as though they are floating down a river and you are a spectator on the riverbank. Some people might call this a form of meditation.

There are many ways to practice being mindful. The formula includes paying attention and doing something that requires mental concentration, feeling safe and relaxed, and accepting what is happening. This should not be confused with being passive. When we are mindful we are likely to be operating at our most creative and constructive. Recent research has also revealed that the regular practice of mindfulness assists people to be less biased and make better decisions.

Avoiding GAFs

On the other hand, when we are mind-full we are filled with thoughts that are neither useful or constructive. These often lead us to make poor decisions so let's call them GAFs which stands for Guilt, Anger and Fear.

Guilt is what we have or have not done, that we regret. Perhaps we think we could have tried harder or shown more self-control. These are the expectations we have of ourselves.

Anger on the other hand is what has happened that we don’t like. It comes from our unmet expectations, often of others. The more entitled we feel, the more these angry thoughts are going to fill our minds.

Fear is the imagined doubts and uncertainties of what could go wrong (and make us look stupid), but probably won’t. That is why FEAR is appropriately referred to as False Expectations Appearing Real.

Tips for being present

Here are three tips to help you move from being mind-full to mindful.

1. Take constructive action. The most effective way to eradicate guilt and feel more confident is to take positive action. For instance taking responsibility for fixing something. Start small. Baby steps are best. Guilty thoughts thrive when we sit around brooding in self-pity. Take action and they’ll take off.

2. Don’t be a Diva. Divas think they are more important than everyone else. If you are more accepting of others and ask what they need to perform at their best, you’ll find those angry, agitated thoughts start to dissipate. Be grateful. The truth is life owes us nothing, so everything good that happens is a bonus!

3. Name the fear. Call it out for what it is. Fears are like insecure bullies. They strut around in our head trying to intimidate us. But if we uncover and challenge them for the imposters they are, they skulk off. Almost every fear we have will not eventuate if we approach situations in a mindful manner.

I thought I’d close with a quote from Master Oogway (from Kung Fu Panda), “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift that’s why it’s called the present”. I couldn't think of a better definition of mindfulness!

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