Take time to notice the world around you.
Mindfulness is a mind-and-body based approach to mental wellbeing which helps us take notice of our thoughts and feelings.
It means observing what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment, and helps us to control our focus of attention.
It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment - to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you - can improve your mental wellbeing.
Becoming more aware of the present moment means noticing the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that you experience, as well as the thoughts and feelings that occur from one moment to the next.
Our minds wander around 50% of the time, but every time we practise being mindful, we are exercising our attention "muscle" and becoming mentally fitter. We can take more control over our focus of attention, and choose what we focus on, rather than passively allowing our attention to be dominated by that which distresses us and takes us away from the present moment.
Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness can be an antidote to the "tunnel vision" that can develop in our daily lives, especially when we are busy, stressed or tired.
"It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' - caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour," he says. "An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs”. "Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment”.
"Awareness of this kind doesn't start by trying to change or fix anything. It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives."
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings we experience, and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.
Awareness of this kind helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.
Studies have found that mindfulness programmes, where participants are taught mindfulness practices across a series of weeks, can bring about reductions in stress and improvements in mood.
Mindfulness activities for you to try:
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.
"Even as we go about our daily lives, we can find new ways of waking up to the world around us," says Professor Williams. "We can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk. All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the 'autopilot' mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life."
Choose an activity to do mindfully throughout the day, for one, two or five minutes, for example ...
- Drink a cup of tea - sip slowly and pay attention to the temperature, notice the taste and smell.
- Go for a walk - look around and notice what you see, hear, feel. Notice any breeze on your face, your breathing, the sensations in your body through the act of walking, the movement in your legs, arms, head and body as you take each step.
- Wash the dishes and notice the sound of running water, the temperature and how it feels on your skin, the texture of the bubbles, etc.
As you practice mindfulness techniques, you will notice other thoughts intruding and your attention will follow them. This is natural but no matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your activity, noticing those sensations, from outside and within you.