So, what are your resolutions for the New Year? Are you going with the tried but usually unfulfilled standards like losing weight, working out, or not yelling at your children? I’ve got a better idea, and it will only take a moment of your time because…it’s about this moment.
I encourage the girls and young women I work with to focus on living in the moment, to be more mindful. According to research, mindfulness is paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with whatever is. The benefits of practicing mindful awareness are many: reduced rumination, stress reduction, increased attention and cognitive flexibility, less emotional reactivity, and an enhancement of intuition and relationship satisfaction. Not bad for something as simple as the ability to breathe, observe, and connect with your inner experience.
The rub is that in this busy and distracting culture, it can be quite a challenge to slow down and be in the moment. It takes practice and discipline, and you have to make it a priority. Here are some tools I have used with success to achieve this state.
Focused breathing: Close your eyes and count your breaths in your head: count to five as you slowly inhale, hold the breath for a second, and then count down to zero as you exhale. This brings you totally into your body and thus into the present moment, and all worries and to-do-lists just melt away.
Focus on one sense: Sit down (outside in nature is best), close your eyes, and notice all the sounds around you. Or stare at a candle or a flower and really notice all the details that you normally miss because you are in such a hurry. Sometimes I have girls stare at all of the lines in the palm of their hand. If your mind wanders, bring it right back to listening or what you are looking at. Again, focusing on one sense at a time transports you back to this moment.
Focus on the journey, not the destination: All of our fears come from living in the future, worrying about what may or may not happen. Girls experience anxiety about grades, ACT tests, college admittance, getting a good job, and even finding their soul mate. I teach them to focus on today and what they can do in the present. Instead of worrying about failing a test, they can just concentrate on their normal study strategies and give their usual effort and let go of the result. If they are typically an A student, and they stay focused on performing their due diligence, they know what the result is going to be. Worry and stress is a choice and usually detracts from performance.
Mindfulness helps people become fully engaged in what they are doing, enabling moments of flow and creativity. Wilbur and Orville Wright lived in squalid conditions in a simple tent on the beach for months and despite all the adversities, it was happiest they had ever been. It was determination, self-reliance, hard work, and full engagement that allowed the Wright brothers to fly.
Make a commitment to cultivate mindfulness this year through the above-mentioned disciplines or through practices like meditation, yoga, or tai chi. Catch yourself when you are spending detrimental time in the past or future and bring your awareness back to the present moment. If you don’t make it important, you won’t create the discipline to make this your new normal state of mind.