Mindfulness is much more than just a buzzword.
It’s a series of techniques and approaches that can noticeably improve your life and mood in a short span of time.
Let’s take a look.
1) Look after your body
Mindfulness is the practice of living in such a way that you focus on being present and not judging or over-analyzing.
Mindfulness is all about self-awareness and being observant of yourself and the world around you.
The first step in mindfulness is to take care of this vessel you are in: your body.
That means eating well, resting, exercising and getting plenty of restful sleep.
In order to practice mindfulness meditation and mindfulness techniques in your life, you need to have enough nutrients and rest!
2) Look after your mind
The second part of reducing stress and finding inner peace is to look after your mind.
Think of your mind as a kitchen:
If it’s cluttered, dirty and full of broken dishes, how are you supposed to cook anything in there?
Looking after your mind means that you accept who you are and what you feel while still refusing to buy into the disempowering parts of your inner dialog.
When you hear yourself thinking “I’ll never be happy,” you don’t repress it or say “you’re wrong!”
Pushing down or arguing against despair or disempowerment only reinforces it.
Instead, you practice mindful listening: you hear what your mind is saying or some part of you, but you don’t “buy into it.”
You just hear what that inner voice is saying and continue your day regardless.
3) Find the power of the present
The key to mindfulness is in finding the power of the present.
Spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle have emphasized this power, talking about how our entrapment in “psychological time” is what makes us suffer.
What Tolle means by “psychological time” is our tendency to be mentally and emotionally focused on the past, future or speculation and thought.
We reject the present, or ignore it.
Or we play games like “once I finally get the job I deserve I’ll be happy.”
Or “when a romantic partner finally sees my real worth I’ll be able to stop being so sad.”
But all of this negates the power of the present moment. The present is not necessarily “good” or “bad.”
It just is.
And the more we allow it to just be and observe it and ourselves in it with mindful attention and energy, the more we find a deep inner peace growing inside us.
4) Develop more self-awareness
There are various ways to develop more self-awareness and become present.
One of my favorites is the five senses exercise.
The way this is done is simple:
You focus on five things you can see…
Four things you can hear…
Three things you can touch…
Two things you can taste…
And one thing you can smell.
If you’re not currently within taste-range or smelling anything, imagine a strong taste or memorable smell that you’ve experienced before and ponder the sensation of it.
The five senses exercise helps bring you into the present and can be done as many times as you like throughout the day.
Mindfulness can also be practiced in every area of life:
While you’re walking you focus on each step and your breathing…
While cooking you focus on mindfully and carefully preparing the food and following the recipe…
While playing music, drawing, exercising, meditating on your breath…
The list goes on! Mindfulness can be found almost everywhere if you look.
Even in extremely stressful or emergency situations, you can practice mindfulness by focusing your awareness on the painful emotions you’re feeling or on your breath as you navigate fear or extreme distress.
5) Accept the permanence of change
No matter how much we dislike it, change is the only constant in life.
We will age, change and evolve in numerous ways, and so will everyone we know and love.
Much of our strongest suffering in life comes from a painful sadness or fear about change, but change is the one thing that is guaranteed with mortality and time.
Mindfulness to reduce stress and find inner peace has to make its peace with change.
We need to make friends with change and see it as a fact of life, rather than something we can push against or protest.
In this mortal life, change is a constant:
Being mindful of that, and also accepting our pain and fear about that, is a big part of developing a healthy relationship with change and being able to respond effectively to big changes.
6) Let go of all the labels
Labels are at least partly true, which is why we use them.
Our evolutionary traits led us to label and categorize as a way to survive.
Person A is a threat, person B is an ally, person C is a potential mate.
That’s some biological thinking right there, and it makes sense in a way. For most of history our minds needed to label things rapidly and simplistically in order to survive.
But labels aren’t always useful in modern life, and that’s also true when it comes to ourselves.
Good, bad, unique and cultural labels we attach to ourselves and our qualities often trap us.
We begin unwittingly playing the role we “think” we are when there’s no real solid reason to believe or cling to that role in the first place.
It may be culturally imposed or self-chosen. It may be random or based on seeing a “type” of person we thought looked cool on TV.
But when we cling to labels, we end up creating a divide between ourselves and our true experience of life, leading to more stress and inner dissonance.
7) Look dispassionately at your suffering
The power of mindfulness is in being in the present and accepting reality.
This includes looking dispassionately at your suffering in life.
Think about what causes you the most suffering and anguish, then step back from it.
Perhaps you are deeply miserable about a divorce you went through where you lost the woman you love most.
You are suffering. Anyone would suffer, right?
Well, yes and no.
Everyone would feel enormous pain and sadness on losing the love of their life and not having it work out.
But feeling pain and anguish about your pain and anguish is something different.
Suffering isn’t pain, it’s pain about pain.
This is the crucial difference.
You can feel the sadness, you can observe the sadness, you can even relate to it and sympathize with it, stepping temporarily out of that dispassionate role.
But you don’t need to buy into the narrative and story around the pain. You don’t need to attach labels and judgments to it. You don’t need to feel bad about feeling bad.
You can just feel bad. That’s how you are right now, and that is valid.
This is mindfulness.
8) Imagine your suffering suddenly stopped
As part of the suffering subject, imagine your suffering suddenly stopped.
What would that mean? How would you feel?
If you asked me five years ago my honest answer would be I would feel angry, because my suffering was justified and reasonable.
I was angry and sad about legitimate things. If you take away my anger and sadness, you negate the validity of what I’m upset about.
But here’s the thing:
You have to be willing to let go of your suffering and your attachment to your suffering without conditions.
“Fine, I’ll stop being so cut up about feeling lonely if I make a few more good friends and see a reason to feel better…”
This just isn’t going to cut it, and it’s going to keep you trapped in a reactive cycle of clinging to suffering for your identity.
Mindfulness is all about being willing to – at least temporarily – divest yourself and your identity of suffering.
As the spiritual leader George Gurdjieff put it:
“It is very difficult also to sacrifice one’s suffering. A man will renounce any pleasures you like but he will not give up his suffering.”
9) Hone your solid inner core instead of seeking outside validation
Mindfulness is about being present and acceptance.
This includes dropping the need for outside validation or for signs and affirmations that you are “good enough,” “valid” or “worthy.”
From a young age, many of us come to feel we should be something other than what we are to be good enough or be accepted.
We lose our axis and begin grasping around for somebody else or some system to affirm us and tell us we’re OK.
And then we’re ground up in the gears of exploitative jobs, relationships and disappointments, suffering enormously.
Mindfulness is about stepping back from this broken system and finding your own inner core again.
That inner strength and peace of simply knowing: I exist.
That steady divestment from the world of outer approval and applause and into a world where we decide on actions to take and we create momentum instead of waiting for it to happen to us.
“You can never awaken using the same system that put you to sleep in the first place.”
10) Prioritize inner peace over daydreaming
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
All too often, we daydream of a better day when we’ll have everything we want.
Then, we either don’t get what we want and blame that for our misery and angst…
Or we get what we want and find it doesn’t satisfy us and feels empty!
As Tolle himself says, the content of what our ego wants is cultural and contextual, but the form and inner craving is universal.
We chase a dream and find it boring once we get it…
We seek happiness and keep getting more miserable…
We have a good life, but we want a perfect life…
Mindfulness is accepting that we can only do our best and there is much we can’t control.
Never cling to an outer outcome for your happiness.
Staying mindful in the middle of the mess
The power of mindfulness can be life-changing.
But it can be difficult to stay mindful in the middle of the mess.
All too often, we fall into bad habits and old patterns.
When this happens, stay mindful of it. Observe your own resistance and accept it. Feel the tension and stay mindful of your own process and dance between acceptance and pushback.
Being mindful and finding inner peace and a reduction of stress is all about acceptance and refraining from judging yourself.
Life is stressful enough without adding to it. Just focus on existing and getting what you need to do done.
The rest will take care of itself.