What is “mindfulness,” anyway?

Many people confuse mindfulness with meditation and Eastern religions. Mindfulness is a skill gained by training your mind to observe life situations in a less emotionally charged way. It is a mental skill that gives you a less-cluttered perspective. It lowers daily stress and is particularly helpful when making important decisions under duress.

Mindfulness is an intentional choice to focus on the present. It takes practice to hold your attention fully to your immediate experience. If you were taking a shower, for instance, you might comfortably go through the motions. But your mind would be elsewhere, rehashing a fraught conversation. Or planning a weekend activity. Try taking a shower while mindfully remaining in the present. Train your mind to notice the sensation of the water, the scent of the soap. Pay attention to each part of your body as you wash it, observing as if never seen before. If your thoughts wander, gently refocus your attention back to the here and now. Notice how calm you feel

Mindfulness also involves acceptance and kindness. Being mindfully present in a social situation, you learn to view interchanges without judgment. Observe each experience as if it were occurring for the first time. What happens is neither good nor bad. It’s just people doing the best they can. This practice leads to acceptance of others. And acceptance of yourself as you are. You don’t spend time mulling over past grievances or anticipating ill intent. Such thoughts only foster depression and anxiety. Instead, a mindful approach helps you accept “what is” about a situation. Then, if you want to change things, you can make emotionally calm choices about what to do next.

Medical studies looking at complementary therapies show that people who develop mindfulness skills experience improved physical health. They also have reduced anxiety and depression. Plus, mindfulness increases learning, memory, attention, and empathy. Books, podcasts, classes, or videos are effective ways to train your mind and increase your mindfulness skills.