Practical Mind Tools: Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness has taken off in a big way in recent years from medical psychology field as part of mental wellbeing therapies including mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to the corporate world, where numerous mindfulness based courses are popping up to improve productivity and enhance business success. What is mindfulness and how can it be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to wellness and success?

For me the elegance of mindfulness is the simplicity of the concept; paying attention to the current moment.  That means switching off from your ‘auto-pilot’ mode and paying attention to your current thoughts, feelings, or the world around you without judgement. Although mindfulness goes in hand in hand with meditation, unlike meditation, the beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced at any time by anyone and without any prior knowledge or skill set.

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Mindfulness example: Mindful showering

Next time you take a shower, pay full attention to taking a shower and try and use all your senses to pay attention; feel the water on your skin; sense the temperature of the water; smell the soap or shampoo; hear the water trickle down and watch the lather of the soap. Whatever you do, pay full attention to having the shower. Chances are half way though your mind will start to wonder and think about plans for the rest of the day or the chores that you need to get done still, but try to gently bring it back to the present moment and focus once again on your senses and paying attention to what you are doing.

Mindfulness is not actually a new concept; along with meditation practices it is rooted in two and half thousand year old eastern traditions. The reason for recent popularity is perhaps due to numerous medical and psychology studies into the practice which has shown benefits for those suffering with mental ailments including stress, anxiety, depression and medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic pain. By practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, you can improve your stress levels (mindfulness has shown to decrease the levels of the stress hormone cortisol), improve attention span, memory, mental reliance and much more as it has even proven to change the actual structure of your brain.

Mindfulness example: Mindful eating

By far this is one of my favourite mindfulness exercises and this is to eat a chocolate mindfully! Pick your favourite bar of chocolate and aim is to savour it and eat it mindfully as you can. Look very closely at the wrapper in your hand as you open it; smell the chocolate; feel the texture of the chocolate in your hand; feel the texture as it melts; take a small bite and savour it in your mouth; try and taste all the subtle notes of the chocolate from the sweetness to the slight bitterness of the chocolate. The more time you take to eat the chocolate, the better.

Of course, one of the most popular methods of practicing mindfulness is mindful-meditation and there are loads of good books, websites, blogs,  and even mediation apps that take you through this practice. Some of my favourite are:

  • BOOK: Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – by Prof Mark Williams (Author) and Dr Danny Penman (Author)
  • APP: Headspace Meditation App

Having read about mindfulness and meditation about 10 years or so ago, I have only been getting to grips with mindfulness in the last few years. One of the reasons for my slow uptake is the fact that even though mindfulness is the easiest concept to understand, it is the hardest concept to put in practice, but like anything in life, it becomes easier with practice and the more you practice the better you will become to paying attention to your life. After all practice makes ‘profound changes’! (see previous post!)

“You learn something every day if you pay attention” Ray LeBlond

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The Science of Gratitude

“It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy” – author unknown

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is a feeling of thankfulness; an expression of appreciation or it can even be described as an emotion, a feeling of happiness that comes from appreciation. Some may describe gratitude as an attitude, a mood or even a personality trait, often those who practice gratitude regularly having better resilience to adversity, increased well-being and increased general happiness.

In Law of Attraction, it’s one of the key enablers of happiness and a powerful process in purposefully creating the life you want. Gratitude features in most world religions, from Christianity to Islam and even features heavily on most self-improvement books. It is generally accepted in the field of positive psychology that being thankful to what you have is one of the top enablers to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Many studies have linked practicing gratitude to increased well-being and reduced states such as stress and depression. This is not really much of a surprise. Knowing what you have, and appreciating it, helps to acknowledge how fortunate you are. It gives you a different perspective than always wanting more and more. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting more, but starting that process from a place of gratitude will set you up on a more positive point.

Gratitude and Positive psychology studies

One of the popular ways to practice gratitude, and to really enjoy the benefits of gratitude this should be an on-going practice, is to keep a ‘Gratitude Journal’; writing down the things you are grateful on a regular basis. A research study by Emmons & McCullough found that keeping “counting one’s blessings” journal, a conscious focus on blessings, can lead to improved psychological and physical functioning. In this particular study, they examined the practice of gratitude by asking participants to keep weekly or daily journals and had control groups who kept journals of hassles and events of the week / day. Those who participated in gratitude journal writing had substantial and consistent improvement to well-being and general feeling of life satisfaction.

Studies such as the one conducted by Dr Martin Seligman, where the participants in his studies embarked on writing a gratitude letter to someone who they never really thanked properly for their kindness and delivering the letters personally, led to huge increases in happiness scores and effects lasted as long as a month. Other studies have focused on relationships and how gratitude can impact on them. A study by Sara Algoe (University of North Carolina) found that grateful couples not only had more satisfaction in their relationships, but more likely to be in their relationships nine months later.

Gratitude and Law of Attraction

When you have a universe that is responding not just to your actions, but also your thoughts and feelings, gratitude can play a powerful part in creating a fulfilling life. But how does Law of attraction respond to gratitude? Essentially it comes down to having higher energy levels and being in positive frame of mind. So in a ‘like attract like’ universe, you will attract higher energy situations leading to more happiness. Gratitude creates abundance as gratitude is a thought or feeling of having ‘enough’ as opposed to ‘not having enough’. In law of attraction, a mind-set of not having enough will lead to attracting a life of not having enough, a life of scarcity.

One of the tools in ASK; BELIEVE and RECEIVE process is to write each of your wish or intension as thanks as though you have already received what you have wished for (‘I am so grateful for …….’). This creates a positive feeling and a higher energy point for the universe to respond to. The catch here is that you really have to BELIEVE what you are ASKING for will be RECEIVED or manifested.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ― Meister Eckhart

Gratitude: Practice makes it perfect!

How do you practice gratitude? There are many tools and techniques that so many researchers and great thinkers have come up with and here are my favourite few.

  1. Gratitude journal – writing down what you are grateful for on a daily / weekly basis. 3 to 5 points is often enough but the key is to keep it up regularly.
  2. Thank you note or letter – just like in Dr Seligman’s experiment, writing a note to someone for their kindness. Studies have shown you don’t even have to deliver the letter, but writing it in the first place has benefits.
  3. Showing your appreciation and saying thank you (and meaning it!) – The word ‘thank you’ can go a long way in cultivating positive relationships, whether that is with your partner or your colleagues. How about telling a loved one why you are thankful for having them in your life.
  4. Being Mindful – noticing and appreciating the small things in life; a beautiful sunny day or a smile from a stranger. When you become mindful and take notice of moments, you get a profound appreciation for the bigger picture, which is often your life in general.
  5. Gratitude prayer – for those who are religious as well as those who haven’t quite made up their mind, a prayer or counting your blessing intrinsically can help to practice gratitude.

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