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Mindfulness quick-start guide

Updated: May 2

What is mindfulness?


There’s a lot that could be said about mindfulness, but let's start by saying that it means not being tangled up with our thoughts.


So, if we’re mindful, when troublesome thoughts come along, we can notice them but not allow them to take over. Instead, we remain aware of the present moment: that we are here, now, and that our thoughts are just thoughts, rather than the truth or commands that we have to follow.


This means that we can make better choices and feel better: instead of doing what our thoughts tell us, or allowing them to get us down, we can focus on doing the things that we really want to.


Everyone experiences mindfulness – it’s a natural state. You might feel more mindful when you’re relaxed, out in nature, or with your loved ones. You might feel less bothered and controlled by your thoughts, and more in touch with the present moment.


How do you learn mindfulness?


Although mindfulness is a natural state, it can be trained. Just like we all have some physical fitness but can have more if we train our bodies, we all have some mindfulness but can have more if we train our minds.


You can train yourself to be more mindful by meditating, and at other times of your day.


How does meditation build mindfulness?


The most common way to meditate is to try and focus on the sensations of breathing.


You just focus on feeling the breath somewhere in your body, and then when you realise that your mind has wandered, you bring your attention back to the breath.


It might be annoying when your mind wanders, but actually, that’s the important part. Because when you notice that your mind has wandered, that’s a moment of mindfulness – you were lost in thought, but as soon as you notice, you’re no longer entangled with your thoughts, and instead are back in the here-and-now.


If you meditate consistently, then you’ll get better at noticing when you’re distracted, so that your mind wanders for shorter periods of time. You are training yourself to notice when you get lost in thought. Which means you are training yourself in mindfulness: you are getting better at noticing when you get tangled up in your thoughts, and getting better at putting them aside.


As you get better at doing this in meditation, you might find that you get better at it in the rest of your life. So that now, from time to time, you notice that you’re lost in thought, and return to the present moment – you are becoming more mindful.


This means that you will spend less time lost in thought, and your unhelpful thoughts will have less power over you.


So, is mindfulness all about meditation?


No. Meditation is a very powerful way to train yourself to be mindful, but you can also practise at other times – and you should.


You can practise at any time by trying to focus on a direct sensory experience - something that you can see, hear, feel, taste, or smell. Try to stay focussed on it, and when you notice that you've become distracted, return your attention to it. As in meditation, over time, you might find that you notice more quickly when you are distracted from your chosen object of attention.


You might want to plan particular times to do this, e.g. trying to feel your feet hitting the floor as you walk the dog, or trying to hear the birds singing.


How much meditation, and when?


Try to meditate for at least 10 minutes, every day. But don’t worry if you can’t – any amount is helpful. You could use some recorded guidance.


And make a plan to practise mindfulness at other times as well. Perhaps during specific activities (e.g. walking the dog), or you could use an app to remind you with chimes at regular intervals.


And if you don’t want to meditate, just practice at other times.


Common problems with meditation


"I can't do it! I'm so distracted!"


This is completely fine and normal. The distraction will reduce with time, but not by that much. The point of meditation is to get distracted and then notice you’re distracted. If you are finding it very annoying, try meditating with your eyes open.


“I get bored/restless”


This is also fine, though it’s not much fun. Just keep going and you will get used to meditating. And notice that thoughts about how boring it is, or about doing something else, are thoughts, that are distracting you. Just focus on the breath instead.


“I get frustrated and angry with myself”

This is quite natural, but there’s no need to be hard on yourself. See if you can be a bit patient and gentle with yourself – that’s another skill that you are training when you meditate.


“I fall asleep”


You probably need more sleep. Try to get as much as you need, and then meditate. If you can't get any more sleep at the moment, try meditating with your eyes open. Or keep them closed, notice the sleepiness, and don't worry if you fall asleep.

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