You probably know that mindfulness is being awake to the present moment objectively and without expectation.
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It’s a way to step back from thoughts and feelings that put you in touch with the way things are, not the way you expect them to be.
It can be calming and relaxing, but that’s not the real point.
What you may not know is that the basic application of mindfulness practice is a fourfold task: Know, Stop, See and Carry On.
Mindfulness is paying attention, but what do you pay attention to?
Place your attention on the breath. It brings you into the body. Feel yourself from the inside, scanning slowly from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head. Notice any sort of stress or tension.
When you find something you’ll also notice an instinctive attempt to release. It may or may not work. It may feel awkward and unfamiliar.
That’s a sign that the stress is not just temporary. It’s part of your body language and ultimately reveals something about you.
Mindfulness is a technique and a strategy to let go of reactivity. Steps 1 and 2 describe the technique.
Step 1: Know How You Feel
Don’t try to work it out. Rather, sit with it and explore how you feel.
Feelings always fall somewhere in the spectrum of good, bad and indifferent—but keep unpacking.
For example, you might not just feel bad but more specifically hurt, disappointed, frustrated and angry.
It’s not about being wrong or right. It’s just a hands-off way of assessing your emotional state.
Step 2: Stop Reacting
Resist the temptation to escape, deny or dissolve the discomfort. Without interfering, explore what’s going on emotionally.
This is revealed as you scan your body, in the way you hold yourself and especially in the presence of any pain or discomfort.
When you stop trying to fix the feeling and instead take time to experience it objectively, you gain real insight into your mental reactivity.
This is the first half of the fourfold task: the technique.
By seeing how your feelings trigger reactivity, you create an opportunity to stop.
It’s fleeting and sometimes you’ll react without thinking, so be patient.
Also, it’s not about brute willpower so much as calm persistence, so keep practicing.
Steps 3 and 4 describe mindfulness as a strategy.
Step 3: See Yourself Stop
When you succeed in not reacting, be aware of the mental space it opens up.
Enjoy being momentarily free of expectation and reactivity.
Say, “This is what happens when I don’t react.” It’s not about being positive; this is real-life feedback.
Normally we don’t notice the lack of a particular emotional state, only its presence.
By giving your attention to the lack of stress you motivate yourself to keep going in your pursuit of less stress, less anxiety, less fear.
Step 4: Carry On Practicing
Even as you let go of reactivity it sometimes kicks right back in.
Shifting your approach from reactivity to mindfulness is a long-term commitment.
By experiencing its benefits mindfully you deepen your motivation. By maintaining a regular practice you become gradually less reactive and have more choices.
“Regular practice” doesn’t mean hours and hours every day.
Ten minutes of formal mindfulness meditation is enough to start exploring your inner workings. Then try to open up that same presence of mind to everyday events at work and at home.
What’s important is that you do it more or less regularly. Don’t worry if you miss a day, but do notice how that day is affected.
So Know How You Feel, Stop Reacting, See Yourself Stop and Carry On Practicing. It’s a cycle. Keep it up and reap the amazing rewards of the mindful lifestyle.