To be mindful is to be awake and aware in the present.  This means that you are focused on what you are doing, when you are doing it.  It includes being aware of your body, your posture and how your body feels doing different things. It is also being aware of thoughts and emotions moment by moment, not analyzing, comparing or judging your emotions and thoughts, but noting them. It is being aware of what's happening around you and how you are reacting to it.

 

Think of a professional athlete or musician, a really good teacher or a good Jeopardy player on TV.  These people have dedicated much of their lives to being good at what they do and a big part of this is being in the moment, not letting their mind drift off to...whatever.  Coaching is largely directing players' attention back to the task at hand.  Think of what coaches are constantly saying, "Concentrate!", "Focus!",  "What were you thinking!" and especially "Stop thinking!". 

 

To be good at baseball, playing an instrument, or at life requires a certain amount of focus and attention.  It's the opposite of the way most people live; lost in thought, about future or past events and largely unconscious of their surroundings, body posture and stressful thought patterns.  It's a lack of mindfulness that allows you to sit for hours on end with poor posture, to work longer and harder than you should and to eat unhealthy foods in great quantity, never stopping to notice if you are full.

Thinking and awareness are opposites.  A high level of deep thought results in a very low awareness.  This is why someone deep in thought may not hear you when you speak to them.  Conversely, a high level of awareness results in little or no thought.  Imagine that you are watching a concert by your very favorite musicians and someone asks you a question.  You will probably tell them to ask you later because you realize that by thinking about their question you will loose some of your awareness, and it is the awareness of every detail of the concert that is giving you so much satisfaction. 

 

Both thought and awareness are important and necessary for a successful life.  Let's say, as an approximation, that awareness should take 50% of our time and thought 50%.  What I see however, is that most people are aware 5% of the the time and in lost in thought 95%.  

 

Disciplined thought leads to problem solving.  Undisciplined thought is big part of anxiety, stress and depression.   The problem is that most people have a constant stream of thoughts in their head leaving little room for awareness.  Awareness is so important for creativity, relaxation and a sense of peace.  So, when driving your car really focus on being a driver. When cooking, focus like Chef Ramsey is watching you.  Total focus can also result in being "in the zone" and this is one of the most pleasant, stress free and rewarding experiences in life. 

Practicing awareness while doing nothing is called meditation and for many people it may be more difficult than being aware while doing something.  Total focus/awareness while say shaving gives you something concrete to intently focus on. Meditation is a bit different since you are doing nothing except sitting still.  Now the focus is on breathing and simply being.   Just like any other skill it takes time to become good at it, so be patient with yourself.    Breathing...being..., "how boring", you might be thinking.  Well, think about this, most of us as children played hide and seek, which is actually a great introduction to mindfulness.  Do you remember being the one hiding and how all thought stopped while you focused all of your attention on your surroundings?  Hearing every sound in the house including your own heart and breathing. Meditation is actually similar to hide and seek, it was not boring then and it doesn't have to be boring now.

 

                                                       Mindfulness Exercise

  1.  Sit comfortably and upright, back straight and arms in lap.

  2. Eyes and mouth closed

  3. Take a few deep breaths, forgetting your cares.

  4. Commit to using this time for awareness of body and surroundings, not thought.

  5. Especially focus on breath entering and leaving your nostrils.

  6. Do not try to change anything you notice, accept as is.

  7. If your mind takes off in thought, acknowledge that, then go back to awareness.

  8. You can also do a mental body scan if you want.  Start at toes and working up the feet. ankles, legs all the way to the top of the head with a heightened awareness of the levels you are focusing on.

  9. If you become bored, distracted, frustrated or overwhelmed, realize that these too are just sensations.  Observe them as you do all others and return to awareness.

  10. Practice for 10 minutes or more if possible.  Do once or several times per day.