Getting more out of life with mindfulness

Mindfulness has become a bit of a catch all term in recent years. To many, it might evoke images of yoga classes or Eastern religions. This is probably because of its close links to meditation. 

Understandably, this association can make it seem a bit inaccessible. At Advisa, we take a view that mindfulness is a skill you can cultivate to become a happier, more accepting person who can cope better when adverse events happen.

For us, mindfulness is actually about staying present with what’s happening around you and being able to view your life with openness and clarity. Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask you to sit on a cushion for two and a half hours with your eyes closed.

While meditation is a technique that some use to stay present, you don’t have to adopt a formal meditation practice to become more connected to what’s going on around you. Mindfulness enables you to observe your thoughts and feelings and experience them without identifying with them too strongly.

In fact, the notion that staying connected to the present moment has the potential to increase your happiness has long existed in the West, although it may not be known by the name mindfulness. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the philosophising Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius famously said: “Past and future have no power over you. Only the present.” 

Unfortunately, in our current lives we are peppered by constant distractions and disruption. We often feel like we hear more phone notifications than birdsong and have a list of worries longer than War and Peace. It’s undeniably harder than ever to stay connected. 

What’s more, when difficult times arise, it’s all too easy to latch on to our problems and for us to lose perspective on the present moment. This inhibits our ability to make well-considered, rational decisions.

We spend much more of our time worrying about a future we cannot fully control and ruminating about a past we cannot change than we do paying attention to what surrounds us. And if we look closely at where we are or what we’re doing, we can find beauty and joy in almost any moment. 

Compare the difference between walking in the woods and thinking about a fall out you had with a colleague the other day, and walking in the woods while being aware of the sound of the wind in the trees and the changing seasons. In the latter scenario, you’re going to get far more satisfaction from your walk and would feel connected to yourself and your surroundings. 

Mindfulness techniques are effective both at work and at play. They allow us to simultaneously gain some healthy distance from our thoughts and let us get closer to what’s happening.

By improving your focus on the task at hand, mindfulness can improve your attention in your professional life, helping you to work with greater efficacy. The healthy distance it gives you from your thoughts can also help you make rational decisions based on the information you have at hand, rather than being overwhelmed by the emotions you feel. 

Here are some easy mindfulness techniques that don’t involve formal meditation:

The floating leaf technique

This is a really useful technique in times when you feel like you cannot detach yourself from your thoughts. Sit quietly with your eyes closed and try to imagine a stream burbling along in front of you. Each time a thought arises, imagine the thought is a leaf on the stream floating gently away from you. 

Welcome your thoughts

Sometimes when we are distracted by difficult thoughts, trying to push them away can actually make it harder to detach from them. After all, it’s impossible to actually push a thought or worry from our minds as we cannot directly control our thoughts.

With this technique, each time a problematic thought arises, welcome it into your mind and try to accept it. Often difficult thoughts and feelings aren’t harmful to our wellbeing and productivity in themselves. Instead, it’s the way that we conceive of our thoughts that can be the issue. 

Rather than thinking, “I shouldn’t be thinking about (or feeling) this”, try to just accept the thought or feeling and watch it come and go, as you would the waves crashing on the beach before the water draws back into the sea.

Becoming aware of the physical feelings in your body

Sometimes we become extremely distant from the feelings and sensations on our body. Refocusing on them can draw us back into the moment.

Wherever you are, be it at your desk or with your family, try to focus on the sensations in your body. Think about what it feels to be you and in your body. Don’t focus too strongly on your feelings, rather just observe them as they arise and alter.

This technique can be really handy when you feel strong emotions like sadness or anger. Try to become aware of where you feel the emotion in your body and what it feels like. Don’t try to change the feeling, instead, just accept it.

We hope that you find these techniques helpful and perhaps that mindfulness can help you stay better connected to yourself and your surroundings. We see our service as supporting our clients’ overall wellbeing through developing strong financial plans. Please get in touch if you think we can help.