How Mindfulness Rewires Your Brain
I had just finished putting my grocery bags into my trolley and was about to pay the cashier at the supermarket when the woman in the queue behind me stepped in front of me, she went into a long explanation, lasting several minutes, as to how she wanted her shopping packed. As the minutes ticked by, I fumed, and rather than saying something I silently I started judging her. Once I became aware of my thoughts, I took the opportunity to observe what would happen if I let my thoughts run unchecked. By the time I arrived at my car a few minutes later, I was still annoyed, only to find another car blocking me from accessing my car boot. Within seconds my mind went from berating other people for their lack of consideration, and onto thinking about what little support I had. In the space of six or seven minutes I went from feeling happy and contented to feeling annoyed and resentful, all because I allowed my thoughts to run amok. And the worst thing about the way I was thinking is that some of those thoughts about being unsupported were no longer true if they ever were. I have always had a lot of support, but I used to focus on what was missing. Experts tell us that around 60,000 thoughts a day circulate in our mind and many of those thoughts can take us away from the life that we want to create, and the person that we want to be. The good news though is that we all have the ability to retrain our brains. Our brains are continuously changing, forming, and growing new neurons and connections, and this doesn’t stop as we age, studies have shown new neurons can be born well into our eighties. By changing the way we think we rewire our brains and reduce stress. Most people’s minds run amok as mine did at the supermarket all the time, so just imagine the effect those thoughts are having on the quality of our lives. One of the most effective ways to retrain your brain is through the practice of mindfulness. Now I must admit that being mindful, as a daily practice, not mindfulness meditation, never appealed to me and that is because I misunderstood what mindfulness really is. Being mindful is about being present in this moment right now. It is about observing your senses and focusing on the task at hand rather than thinking about what you have to do, or something that has happened. This simple practice, ideally done for 10 minutes at a time, three times a day can rewire your brain and over time change your stress response. It is such a simple yet effective method that can produce life changing results. When you are being mindful, focus solely on that activity. If you are walking take note of where your feet are and how it feels as you put your foot down and lift it up again. Take note of your body and how it feels. Feel the wind on your face or the sun on your skin, observe the smells around you, the sounds you hear, the taste in your mouth. Look at the world around you as if seeing it for the first time. You can practice mindfulness in everyday life by taking time to breathe deeply and focus on your body. You could be present when carrying on a conversation by really listening to what the other person has to say, rather than thinking about what you are going to say next. I’ve found that coaching helps me when working with clients as my focus is solely on the client and what they are saying. If you observe yourself and your environment, without judgement, you will notice that there are instances in your life where you can make mindfulness something that is a natural part of your daily life, so that it doesn’t become a chore. Be aware of the triggers that take you away from feeling peaceful, we all have things that trigger certain emotions. By observing yourself without judgement you will start to recognise these triggers. Rather than beat yourself up for acting in a certain way you can use these triggers to remind yourself to be mindful. The key to being mindful to be in the moment without judgement. While meditation increases our tolerance to stress, mindfulness eliminates stress.