By Simone Figueroa, Co-Founder and President, U-Thrive Educational Services
Over the last decade the term Mindfulness has become a “buzzword” but what does it actually mean? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of mindfulness in the western world, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” This definition is very rich in meaning so let’s take a moment to unpack it in a way that makes sense. The ‘particular way’ in which we pay attention is very important and can be broken down into 3 parts:
- On purpose – means that we have the intention to be mindful and are being purposeful in becoming more mindful.
- In the present moment – is the focus on a point in time — the unfolding present moment. Much of our stress comes from ruminating over past experiences or worrying about future outcomes that may not even happen.
- Non-judgmentally – is the attitude we bring to our mindfulness practice and everyday life experiences. The critical voices in our head pass judgment on everything we encounter hundreds, if not thousands of times a day. A kinder alternative to judgment would be to bring curiosity and a beginner’s mind to what we are experiencing. By approaching our life with curiosity we assume a more impartial stance, in which we can distance ourselves from triggering thoughts and habitual, reactive patterns.
“Learn to step back from your ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes. This begins to create space to see things with greater clarity.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Perhaps even more simply put, mindfulness is being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were any different. Now that we have a better understanding of mindfulness, what can we do to cultivate more of it in our daily lives?
#1 Take 3 deep breaths on the hour every hour
Our breath is one of the most precious gifts in the world because if we’re breathing, we are alive. The breath is something that happens automatically and unconsciously, every second of every minute of every day. But if we bring our attention to the breath, it can be one of the easiest ways to quickly drop into the present moment. Plus, we always have it with us and it doesn’t require us to get anything outside of ourselves! Using the breath as a mindfulness tool can take many shapes and forms but one easy, simple way is to take three, deep, conscious, intentionalbreaths every hour. This is a way for us to get out of our heads, into our bodies, and calm down the nervous system. I recommend setting a phone alarm at the top of each hour to serve as a reminder. Once we get into the habit of doing this, it can become second nature and we might find ourselves taking a deep breath or two without being prompted to do so. Right now it is especially important to connect with our breath to mitigate the higher levels of stress that many of us are experiencing. With work-at-home orders we’re around our partners, children, and other family members significantly more, and many of us are also facing increased demands in the roles we serve. Use the breath as a valuable tool to help manage stress.
#2 Bring awareness to one routine daily task
We can often find ourselves on autopilot when completing routine tasks such as brushing our teeth, showering, drinking coffee, etc. We can use these moments as an opportunity to be mindful. Rather than simply going through the motions, try spending an extra minute or two with one of these routine tasks and engage all your senses. For example, if you choose brushing your teeth, pay attention to things like the smell of your toothpaste, the sensation of the toothbrush on your teeth and tongue, the sound of the toothbrush moving back and forth, the sound of the water running, etc. Use this as an opportunity to be fully present and not think about your to-do list for the day. You might be surprised to find joy in the simplest of moments. Try to bring yet another element of mindfulness to these tasks, which is to view them with curiosity and invite a beginner’s mind as if it is the first time you’re doing that task. Bringing a curious attitude and paying attention to the details of our experience takes us out of autopilot and into presence.
#3 Be Mindful of Media Consumption
It is important to stay informed and abreast of what is going on in the world; however, the media can be a tremendous source of angst and stress, especially right now in these uncertain times. I invite you to bring awareness to your media consumption. How do you feel after watching the news? Is there a more neutral source you can be obtaining your news from? How often are you watching the news and for how long? Can you reduce your visual intake and rely more on the written word in print-media? Can you filter your sources to be sure you are receiving credible information? Be mindful of your media intake and the effect it has on your thoughts, emotions, and physical well-being. Pay particular attention to visceral reactions such as tightness in your throat, chest, or abdomen, and any accompanying thoughts and emotions. Often the tell-tale signs of stress are felt in the body before they even register in the mind.
About the author
Simone Figueroa is the Co-Founder and President of U-Thrive Educational Services, an organization that brings mental and emotional wellness programs to college students to help them manage stress, become more resilient, and thrive throughout their undergraduate experience and beyond. Simone graduated top of her class from Columbia University with a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology in Education with an emphasis on Mind-Body Medicine and completed her undergraduate education at the University of Florida with a Bachelors degree in Finance, Cum Laude. During her studies at Columbia University, Simone took a year long practicum in Positive Psychology and became fascinated with and quickly saw a need for Positive Education, which led to the start of U-Thrive Educational Services. Simone lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, Isaac, and her dog, Diesel, and has a passion for traveling, being active, hiking, and spending quality time with family and friends.