In today’s blog I want to touch on the topic of mindfulness and how it may have beneficial effects on our long term wellbeing. Several of my patients have found mindfulness beneficial but have often struggled to find time for it in their daily schedules. In this blog I’ll lay out a few handy tips on how small changes can be the key to successfully being a little more mindful each day.
What is mindfulness useful for?
The idea of mindfulness isn’t a new one. Several traditional practices such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have similar principles which centre on increasing our awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen throughout the day. Mindfulness is increasingly being recommended by health practitioners and national health bodies as a useful tool alongside standard treatments for a range of problems. In the UK, mindfulness is currently recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression. Additional conditions that mindfulness has been recommended for include:
• Chronic Pain
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Sleeping Disorders
Sounds great. But how does this work with my busy schedule?
Mindfulness doesn’t have to involve deep meditation or achieving a state of complete and total Zen. Sometimes the effort in trying to set aside the perfect time or space to “practice mindfulness” can create stress in itself which is counterproductive. As a nation though, we’re getting busier and busier and it can be difficult to put aside an hour a day specifically for mindfulness. One of the easiest ways that you can incorporate a little more mindfulness into your daily life is to make small adjustments instead. I wanted to share with you some top tips for mindfulness which I discuss with patients in my clinic:
One: Focus on doing one thing at a time.
Whilst you’re on the phone, do you find yourself doing a number of other things at the same time like checking emails or putting the kettle on? Squeezing tasks in quick succession like this may feel like we’re being productive but research has shown that for most of the tasks that we do this with, we are not really multi-tasking but switch-tasking and which is usually a much less efficient use of our time and focus.
So what can we do about this? Take a moment to think about times when you are switch-tasking. Are there times when you realise at the end of the day that there are still a number of half-finished tasks that you started but still haven’t finished? Next time you find yourself switch-tasking, stop for a moment and tell yourself to focus on doing just one thing. Do this one task and complete it before you move onto the next one. You’ll be surprised how much quicker you can complete these individual tasks because of your focus.
Two: Eat more slowly
Meal times are a great time to practice a little mindfulness. Many of us are tempted to eat as quickly as possible during mealtimes in the drive to have more time to be more productive and even more efficient. When this becomes a daily habit though, it can come at a cost for some people which can lead to digestive problems such as bloating or abdominal pain.
For your next lunch break try timing how long it takes you to eat lunch without any distractions. No computers. No phone. Definitely no Facebook. Slow right down. Think about the food you’re eating, how it tastes, how it smells and how it feels in your mouth. Think about how it was prepared, what ingredients are in it and how it makes you feel as you are eating it. You may be surprised at how different you feel when you finish your lunch the next time you incorporate a little mindfulness into it.
Don’t just take our word for it though - there’s a growing body of research that suggests a more mindful and thoughtful habit of eating can have a range of benefits like helping with glycaemic control, binge-eating and food cravings.
Three: Create new good habits
Habits are just actions that become programmed into our daily lives and have over time become routine. Some habits are helpful such as brushing our teeth when we get up and when we go to bed. Some habits however are not so helpful and it is these that we often have difficulty with because they have become so ingrained into our daily lives that it seems tricky to break.
If you have a new good habit you’d like to create, write this new habit down. Maybe it’s getting to bed by a certain time, or maybe it’s wanting to lose a little weight. Think about why you want to create this habit – what will it give you that you don’t already have and why is it important to you? Then write about the things that you need to put in place to help you achieve this new habit.
Finally make a note of when you will do this – putting it in your diary, telling a friend or writing it down brings about a level of commitment to this new habit. This changes the way you view this habit from a ‘some-day’ event to a ‘today’ event and which will provide an extra dose of motivation to carry out this task.