We live in a day and age where it’s incredibly easy to get lost and blur the lines between the moment, the past, and the future. More now than ever before we can look back and revel – or mourn – in what used to be and what once was.
More than ever before, we have the power to keep track of our time, rate and pump up our productivity despite dropping wages. And with the speed at which time seems to be moving and technologies become obsolete, it’s so easy to slip into fantasies (or nightmares) of what the future will be like.
With all this and much more going on around us, all the time, it’s so easy to lose track of where you are and what you think you should be doing. Life is so full of distractions, and there’s not a second of time to waste with boredom.
But there is a lot of wasted time nonetheless, as our attention spans wane and we find ourselves continuously trapped in spheres of procrastination, lured and tempted to do this or that or three things all at once, and ignore that which really needs doing.
While we’re supposed to be working, we fantasize about going out, meeting up with friends, heading off onto a vacation or even laying around in bed. Yet when we’re finally off to enjoy our free time, we find ourselves worrying about work. We’re no longer paying attention to the here and now. And that’s actively damaging our mental health.
We need to get better at learning how to keep our eye on the ball, and our mind on the matter.
What Is Mindfulness Based Therapy?
Mindfulness is the practice of basically living in the moment.
It’s a way of living, one that manifests itself in several ways.
Mindfulness is about focusing on the task at hand, about enjoying life as it passes you by, and not sooner or later, and about taking the time to appreciate every aspect of that around us, from the company we keep to the nature we surround ourselves with and the wondrous sights everyone seems to forget to stop and look at.
Mindfulness is not about never planning, it’s not about turning a blind eye to the future or the idea of being careful and considerate. The opposite is true, in fact – being mindful of the present lets you be far more prepared for what’s to come, and it’s meant to help give you a much greater control over your life in general. Mindfulness therapy, then, is about utilizing that philosophy to its greatest ability – relieving you of worry and stress, and allowing you to focus on what’s pertinent rather than your own constant fears.
In a way, the growth of mindfulness in recent years is a natural occurrence in the face of our rapidly growing technology industry and steadily declining attention spans. When scientists claim that we have a shorter attention span than the goldfish, they’re technically correct. We’ve come to the point where it’s generally getting easier for people with a specific level of media competence to multitask and consume several types of media at once. At the same time, we’re still capable of focusing on one task for several hours at a time, including reading, manual labor, or video gaming.
Our penchant for distraction and the very real rising rate of ADHD diagnoses means that mindfulness is more relevant today than it’s ever been – and promoting mindfulness is something we should all strive to become competent in. And aside from ADHD, all the other mental illnesses we’re struggling with can benefit from some mindfulness therapy exercises.
For more concrete examples of what mindfulness looks like, imagine being able to stick to your time management goals and create a healthy, productive lifestyle that leaves room for stress relief and entertainment while giving you the ability to work with a laser focus. Mindfulness exercises and tricks let you squeeze the most out of your ability to concentrate, so you truly work on overcoming the limitations of your mental diagnosis. Getting there isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
Living in the Moment
Mindfulness is more than just an esoteric concept or some buzzwords therapists are flinging around as the newest way to net hopeful and struggling clients. It’s also more than just a cliché. Mindfulness is about brain management, time management, and learning to concentrate. It’s not endlessly difficult, and neither does it have to involve practices like meditation.
A simple exercise in living in the moment is taking on the challenge of improving your work-related productivity.
This works especially well for people who have trouble concentrating while working desk jobs, or for people who work alone and need more self-discipline to meet deadlines and maintain quality. Setting a timer and focusing exclusively on the task-at-hand for ten or twenty minutes at a time is a good way to boost focus gradually through breaks, for example, as it allows you to cut out the habit of looking at the clock and instead do what you’re meant to do. Prioritizing tasks that take less than fifteen minutes on average also lets you immediately get things out of the way that may be cause for procrastination.
Aside from better time management, another way to easily practice mindfulness is by taking the time several times a day to step outside and look up into the sky. You could do this early in the morning while enjoying your first cup of tea or coffee, or later in the day when taking in the sunset. Just be sure to take deep breaths and focus on nothing but the beauty of the sky. Try and look as far and wide as you can, opt for a higher vantage point like the roof. Looking onto the horizon is provably beneficial.
These little calculated breaks where you take the time to appreciate something in-the-now help you clear your mind from the clutter of your day-by-day, which is critical for relieving stress. Not only does neglecting mindfulness kill your productivity and ability to focus, it’s also far more likely to leave you riddled with stress-related issues as you’re unable to just take the unnecessary load off in a constructive, effective way, and instead choose to distract yourself.
Now, while mindfulness doesn’t have to include meditation, it is a great way to boost your ability to focus and keep yourself calm. Not only does mindfulness lead to great increases in quality of life this way – it also helps you avoid and lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even prevent panic attacks. The question is, though – does meditation truly contribute to that?
Does Meditation Work?
Meditation, and everything that surrounds it, is a bit tainted by this non-scientific New Age reputation of utilizing spirituality and “consciousness” as the key to everything. But the effects and benefits of meditation in psychiatry has nothing to do with its reputation to “enlightenment” – it must do with the fact that research shows that meditation is an effective form of treatment for several mental health diagnoses. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but that’s because of the clichés we’ve all attached to meditation. Sit down on the floor, close your eyes and think of nothing: these are the basic instructions most people come up with when they picture meditation. But that’s not what meditation is about.
While it sounds like a scam, getting a bit deeper into the topic of meditation can help you understand why it’s not so far-fetched that meditating can actively help you boost your mindfulness and focus and help you retain a calm outlook over life.
First, purge all connection between the term “meditation” and any religious connotation or images of monks sitting under a tree to magically understand the meaning of life and the universe. Meditation, in the scientific and psychiatric sense, is an exercise in strengthening the mind’s ability to boost your immediate attention and focus. No yoga, no incense, no chanting. Meditation can be performed in several different ways, each of which ultimately work to achieve the same thing – build your ability to focus on whatever it is you’re doing, much like how doing pushups helps you build muscle in your chest and arms. How? By focusing on not thinking.
It sounds like an insurmountable task, and it will take a little bit of concentration to get into at first, but meditation is essentially an exercise in focusing on as little as possible, letting go of any immediate worries or problems and focusing instead on your breathing, or a certain smell, before letting that drift away and out of your grasp until your mind is basically devoid of any specific thought.
Don’t let your mind stray! The best analogy for meditation is to treat your thoughts and worries as bubbles, with the gaps between those bubbles being your intended goal. Maintain this state of thoughtlessness for a short while, and then return to reality. Aside from the ability to concentrate better, meditation also allows you to improve your self-discipline to stick to a new habit or beat a craving, and it lets you improve your ability to observe better.
Other Ways to Stay Mindful
Meditation and mindfulness go together, but meditating isn’t the only way to boost your productivity and reduce stress. There are other ways to do so – simple ways that you can incorporate into your daily life, and use to your immediate and long-term benefit.
The first of a few methods for improving mindfulness is the simplest: breathe. Instead of focusing on not thinking, you’re focusing on the soothing mechanical aspect of breathing in, and then breathing out, and repeating that a few times over.
This isn’t a very effective tool for mindfulness in the long-term, however. Breathing is meant to be a bit of a quick mental recalibration – take a moment, close your eyes, breathe in and out. When you feel ready, open them again and prioritize your day.
Do it for too long, however, and you’ll hit that awkward phase where you begin thinking about your breathing, how and why you’re breathing, and your thoughts spiral into irrelevant nonsense from thereon out.
That brings us to another easy trick – don’t think too hard about what you’re doing. The killer to productivity and focus is distracting yourself with thoughts of focusing rather than the actual task at hand. By worrying about your performance, or your ability to keep at it, you’re effectively limiting your ability to concentrate. Loosen up a little – focus is, of course, about trying, but if you tense up too much then it’s all for naught.
For a third concrete way to make use of mindfulness, especially as a form of therapy, we turn to time management. Time management is important – but insofar that it’s meant to help you make the most of your time, and not waste it obsessing over how much time you do or don’t have.
Ironically, that means that if you really want to make effective use of your time, you need to – in a way – lose track of it. This is where timers come into handy whilst working. A timer allows you to essentially be assured that you’re given a specific amount of time to focus on your task – and in that time, there’s just enough pressure to help you revert to the task whenever your focus strays just a little bit.
Focusing on one thing for long enough allows you to get engrossed in it, developing what’s called a “flow” in psychology. The flow is what helps you truly maximize your productivity, by allocating as much focus as possible on what you’re currently doing.
Mindfulness Based Therapy For Everyone
Mindfulness, as a form of therapy, is perfect in helping people struggling with mental health issues improve on several fronts:
- Better focus.
- Improved productivity.
- Less time spent worrying.
- Less overall stress and physical tension.
- Less time wasted procrastinating.
- Higher self-esteem (through better productivity).
- Higher self-discipline.
- Improved willpower.
Of course, the beauty of mindfulness therapy is that you don’t have to be struggling with mental illness to make full use of the very same methods and exercises in everyday life.
Mindfulness is something for everybody, regardless of age, gender, or disability. And getting started is as easy as closing your eyes, while focusing on your breathing.