Ever arrived at your destination without knowing how you got there? That’s being unmindful. Here we explain why that matters and how to change it to increase your well-being and performance.
When we go about our daily routines and not deliberately pay attention to what we’re doing, our brain switches to default mode. This is the ‘automatic pilot’ part of the brain where we can get lost in our thoughts and worries. We can have a shower, get dressed, eat our breakfast and drive to work in default mode. At the moment we switch on our active brain, we wonder how we got to work.
Research shows that spending too much time in default mode can have a negative impact on our well-being. Experiencing the world through our thoughts rather than our active senses, are related to increased stress, anxiety and depression.
The opposite of default mode is mindfulness, being in the moment, concentrating on the task were doing and using our active part of the brain. When we’re mindful, we try to be in the present moment without any judgment. Although mindfulness is an old Buddhist practice, modern research now shows it is associated with health and well-being results like:
- Decreased stress & anxiety
- Decreased burnout
- Increased immunity
Mindfulness has also been related to increased performance through improved short term memory and the ability to process information information more quickly and accurately. When we’re mindful, we also become calmer and keep our emotions better under control. It increases our ability to 100% concentrate on a chosen object or a mental state. These are some of the reasons why mindfulness is also used as an intervention technique to increase your Mental Toughness.
Being mindful is easy for moments, tasks and activities we’re enjoying and love doing. It is harder to stay mindful when we’re in the traffic jam again after the weekend or when we’re engaged with a boring task. However, we also need to show Mental Toughness in the form of commitment, emotional control and concentration for the boring tasks in our life or in our job.
By practicing mindfulness during the day, we can actually grow our active part of the brain and train our attention muscle, hence increase our Mental Toughnessand performance. What follows are some simple tips to build mindfulness in your day. Making these a routine can have great results for your own mental well-being and performance:
- Mindful routine: we have many daily routines we execute in default mode. We put our shoes on, do the dishes, wash our clothes, drive a car or write an email. Choose one routine and use your senses to notice and feel what you’re doing. I’m mindful when I brush my teeth.
- Mindful walking: when you go for a walk, observe the shape of the clouds, feel the sensation of your feet touching the ground, or the wind blowing in your ear. Or take a moment to look at a tree or a leave in every detail.
- Mindful listening: in a conversation, try to really listen. Stop thinking about what your answer is going to be. Try and hold yourself back. Observe the person you’re listening to. Watch their eyes and facial expression in every detail. Hear every word. A great exercise to do with your children.
- Mindful eating: when you eat, don’t watch television or a smartphone. Eat your food deliberately and use your senses to experience the food. Observe colors, shapes and smell. Be curious where it came from and how it grew.
- Mindful breathing: the great thing about our breath is, that it is always with us. Take 1 minute or a micro moment to just focus on your breath. If you catch yourself in thoughts or worries, gentle re-focus again on your breath. In that moment you’re mindful. I practice this sometimes when I wait for my takeaway coffee and always when I travel by plane.
- Mindfulness meditation: for more formal training, I use a free apps like Smiling Mind or Calm to practice mindfulness meditation. This is often focused on breathing exercises, but includes other techniques as well. You can track your results over time.
If you find it challenging to be mindful and need inspiration or an example, just watch a child play. See how they are totally in the moment, absorbed in their activities. Somewhere along the way most adults lost that. The good news is we can change it back and reap the benefits for our mental health, well-being and performance.