Step by Step 2 - Mindfully

Steps to Improving the Present Moment

Little by little, step by step

2

Dr Nicole Stokoe

 

 

This moment, right now, is here in front of you. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Make the most of it.

 

But how do we ‘make the most of it’?

We have been created with the most incredible minds. They are capable of conscious thought, planning, imagination, problem solving, memory, communication and learning to name but a few of our mind’s skill set. That means that in any given moment, we can be back in the past with our memories, in the present problem solving or planning ahead and putting together our ‘to do’ list. Although we may be physically present in the current moment, we can be far away somewhere else in our minds. For example, I wonder how many times your mind has and will drift off to other places and topics whilst reading this article? Or have you ever been introduced to someone but completely missed their name because your mind was curiously interested in looking at their clothes and features? How many times have you set off on your normal daily journey, arrived at your destination and then realised that you have no real sense of what just happened – however, you have solved that problem with ‘Fred’ and you have finally aced the chorus to that song you have been singing along to for the past two weeks.

To complicate matters further, we are now in an age where we have instant uninterrupted access to our friends, family, knowledge and information through our phones, tablets and computers. Not only can we be away within our minds but we can take our minds away through the screens we carry everywhere with us.

I invite you to ask yourself, what is it you remember now and will take with you into the future? This time last year what do you remember? Was it the most recent facebook status update? Do you remember what ‘to do’ list you were creating in your mind? Or do you remember an experience, event or situation? For the vast majority of people, it will be the latter. It is the experiences we are in at the time that we take with us and remember in the future. I wonder how many of these moments get lost and missed even when we are standing right in the centre of them.

We are so often mindlessly distracted that we miss out on the very memories of our futures. Life unfolds in the present.

Part of the challenge is that our minds have been created to be curious. Imagine that your mind is similar to a 5 week old puppy. If you set the puppy down in new surroundings what would it do? Would it sit still and pay thoughtful attention? Very unlikely! The puppy will be dashing around the room, nose in every corner, bag, nook and cranny looking for the next point of interest. Even when the puppy’s attention is caught for a moment, it is easily distracted and his attention pulled away. Sitting still is simply not an option! Well, not without some compassionate, kind but firm training. Our minds are the same. They are curious and playful and without guidance and training will dash off in every possible direction they can. But with some compassionate firmness they can learn to be more present and grounded in the moment.

It is not to say that our minds shouldn’t be curious and playful – that’s what makes humans so creative afterall. It is more about finding a helpful balance. Sometimes it can be helpful to let our minds drift off to other places, to be imaginative, to be creative, to problem solve and be curious. However, sometimes it is more helpful to guide our minds towards a more present, centred and grounded place because the mind’s curiosity has become unhelpful. For example, how helpful is it to have the same ‘problem’ going round and round in your head at 3am when there is very little you can do about it? How helpful is it to be worrying about things at work when you are at a special family event?

Living in the moment is the art of living mindfully. Mindfulness is the state of active, non-judgemental intentional attention to the present moment. It awakens you to experience and that experience will awaken you in return. Being able to live more mindfully, in the moment, without judgement has been scientifically researched and shown to reduce anxiety (e.g. Vollestad, Nielson & Nielson, 2012), reduce the likeliness of relapse from depression (e.g. Piet & Hougaard, 2011), improve immune function (e.g. Zeichner, Kibler & Zeichner, 2013), help people to live better with chronic conditions such as chronic pain (e.g. Garmon, Philbrick, Padrick & Goodman, 2014) and lower blood pressure (e.g. Tomfohr, Pung, Mills & Edwards, 2015). Being mindful in the moment can fundamentally improve relationships by mobilising connection, awareness, emotional repertoires and intimacy (Wachs & Cordova, 2007)…….and the results indicate improvements in sexual connection too (e.g. Khaddouma, Gordon & Bolden 2015).

To learn the skill of mindfulness, there are structured, (generally sitting) guided meditations. These guided mindfulness meditations help teach the basic techniques that can be transferred into day to day life. Mindfulness can be in every part of life; making a cup of tea mindfully, walking mindfully, watching a film mindfully……even breathing mindfully!

There are a number of books available to learn the theory of mindfulness, there are some excellent apps available (I would recommend Headspace) and there are more and more mindfulness groups run in the community. This is just like going to an exercise class only this is an exercise class for the mind (we run mindfulness groups at Avenue Therapies too!). In the spirit of mindfulness, here are 7 practical steps to being more mindful that you can use right now……and in every ‘now’ from here on in.

7 Steps to Being Mindful in This Moment

1- Put your phone/tablet/laptop away out of sight, out of reach

2- Notice where your mind is right now (what are you thinking about? Are you thinking about the past/memories? Is your mind off into the future and thinking about things you have to do? Are you worrying about something? Are you thinking about someone or somewhere else?)

3- Make a conscious decision to tune into the moment you are in right now.

4- If you are finding this difficult - ground yourself in the moment. For example, notice, describe and pay attention to what you can see (20 seconds), what you can hear (20 seconds), what you can feel (20 seconds), what you can smell (20 seconds) and what you can taste (20 seconds).

5- Pay full conscious attention to what is happening around you. Allow the experience you are in to flow over you and around you without judgement. You may find it helpful to imagine that you are stepping back from the moment, observing it and describing it to yourself. As though it were the very first time you had ever been in the experience - like when a child tries something new for the first time. Be curious. Explore every aspect of the moment you are in.

6- Experience the fullness of the moment within you: notice your internal experience for example, the emotions you are feeling, how your body feels physically, the thoughts that pop into your mind, your urges and your actions. 

7- When your mind wanders (and it will – that’s what minds are designed to do. It’s a curious puppy afterall), gently guide your attention back to the moment, kindly, with compassion and continue. Repeat steps 5 and 6.

Avenue Therapies provides both individual and group mindfulness teaching and therapy. If you would like more information on accessing mindfulness through Avenue Therapies, please contact us and we will be happy to send you some information or talk to you about it in more detail.  

 

 

References:

Garmon, B., Philbrick, J., Padrick, M., & Goodman, M. (2014). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain: A systematic review. Journal of Pain Management, 7(1), 23.

Khaddouma, A., Gordon, K. C., & Bolden, J. (2015). Zen and the art of sex: examining associations among mindfulness, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction in dating relationships. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30(2), 268-285.

Piet, J., & Hougaard, E. (2011). The effect of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for prevention of relapse in recurrent major depressive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 31(6), 1032-1040.

Tomfohr, L. M., Pung, M. A., Mills, P. J., & Edwards, K. (2015). Trait mindfulness is associated with blood pressure and interleukin-6: Exploring interactions among subscales of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire to better understand relationships between mindfulness and health. Journal of behavioral medicine, 38(1), 28-38.

Vøllestad, J., Nielsen, M. B., & Nielsen, G. H. (2012). Mindfulness‐and acceptance‐based interventions for anxiety disorders: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51(3), 239-260.

Wachs, K., & Cordova, J. V. (2007). Mindful relating: Exploring mindfulness and emotion repertoires in intimate relationships. Journal of Marital and Family therapy, 33(4), 464-481.

Zeichner, R. L., Kibler, J. L., & Zeichner, S. B. (2013). Relationship Between Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Immune Function in Cancer and HIV/AIDS. Cancer and Clinical Oncology, 2(1), p62.