If you’ve been reading some of my previous articles, you’ll know that mindfulness features in several of them. In this article, we will delve a little deeper into how you can use mindfulness to increase effectiveness in all areas of your life.
What is mindfulness?
If you are new to the concept of mindfulness, it can be easy to dismiss it or assume that it is the same as meditation.
The Oxford Languages Dictionary gives us the following definition:
“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
As more studies are conducted, we are learning more about the effects of mindfulness on the brain and it is being promoted by increasing numbers of health professionals as part of maintaining health and wellbeing.
Mindfulness isn’t a new concept. In fact it’s been around for approximately 2500 years and has been associated with Hinduism and Buddhism as well as yoga.
The neuroscience behind ussing mindfulness to increase effectiveness
In the last 20 years, there have been a lot of studies around mindfulness and its effect on the brain. The truth is that scientists still don’t fully understand exactly what happens in the brain when we practice mindfulness.
One thing that is very clear is that practicing mindfulness regularly can create change within your brain.
Some of the effects practicing mindfulness has been linked to are:
- Reduction in the grey matter in the amygdala resulting in reduced stress, anxiety and fear.
- Thickening of the grey matter density in the hippocampus aiding memory and learning.
- Thickening of the grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex creating increased activity. This areas is responsible for controlling your emotions, planning, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving.
- Feeling less pain due to reduction in activity in the areas of the brain associated with memories and emotions while the pain is being experienced.
- Increased efficiency of brain pathways that process information from the senses.
- Increased ability to focus on a task and ignore distractions.
- Reduction in cortical thinning which is typical as we age and is responsible for increased forgetfulness and difficulty learning new skills.
- Improved mood and emotion control.
With all these findings, it’s easy to see why I’m such an advocate for practicing mindfulness daily!
How to use mindfulness to increase effectiveness at work?
The workplace is commonly associated with stress, overwhelm, distractions and deadlines and emotions can run high during times of increased pressure. Being able to regulate your emotions, minimise stress, focus more easily and ignore distractions are useful skills to have in work environments.
The first step is to increase your awareness so you can identify when you are starting to experience stress and overwhelm. Some physical indicators of stress include tension in your body, jaw-clenching, shallow breathing, and sweating. You may also find yourself being more irritable or anxious and your thoughts may be racing. If you’ve been experiencing it longer term, you may start to see other symptoms (see my article about chronic stress here).
When you notice any of these things happening, here are a few things you can do to use mindfulness quickly reduce your stress or overwhelm:
- Take a short walk and be on the lookout for pleasant things such as a bird singing, a beautiful flower, a smile from a stranger etc.
- Get outside and take some deep breaths.
- Listen to an inspirational podcast or some uplifting music.
- Take a lunch break somewhere quiet and focus on really tasting your food.
- Make a list of all the things you are grateful for.
Other ways you can use mindfulness to increase effectiveness at work are:
- Actively listen when someone is speaking to you. Take notes if it helps.
- Focus on one task at a time.
- Slow down to avoid mistakes, bad decisions and setbacks caused by rushing.
- Turn off pop-up or noisy notifications.
- Take moments to stretch, take notice of your surroundings and smile.
Becoming more mindful and strengthening your brain will have you coming up with new ideas, being more engaged with your work, enjoying work and avoiding burnout. If that’s not effective, I don’t know what is!
How to use mindfulness to increase effectiveness with your partner
Whilst work might seem like an ideal place to practice mindfulness, there are also plenty of ways you can use mindfulness to increase effectiveness and therefore your relationship with your partner.
A study by Karremans, Kappen, Schellekens & Schoebi reported that couples who participated in mindfulness activities felt more connected, accepted their partner more, had less relationship distress and had higher relationship satisfaction.
Some ways you can use mindfulness to increase effectiveness in your relationship are:
- Give your partner a compliment.
- Be more aware of your own emotions and how they affect your behaviour.
- Write a letter expressing your feelings toward your partner.
- Daily gratitude practice.
- Sit at the table and eat a meal together without phones, TV, or other distractions.
- Meditate together.
- Take a walk together.
- During times of disagreement, take a deep breath before responding.
- Be present in the moment.
- Actively listen to each other.
- Ask questions about your partner.
- Meaningful eye contact.
- Give your partner a massage.
- Cook a meal together.
- Send your partner a message during the day to let them know you are thinking of him/her.
Using mindfulness techniques in your relationship will help to keep that spark alive and reduce any stress you may be experiencing thus making you more effective. Remember, the more you do it, the easier it becomes!
How to usee mindfulness to increase effectiveness as a parent
Children can be demanding. Any parent will tell you that. Add to that a busy lifestyle and lots of distractions and the day flies by before you know it, bedtime is here and you’ve barely spoken to each other.
Giving your child positive attention is a way of using mindfulness to increase your effectiveness as a parent. Children who are given regular positive attention tend to have a higher self-image, feel more secure, have less behavioural issues and have a stronger bond with the parent providing the attention.
Mindfulness activities that you can do with your children include:
- Actively listen to them when they speak.
- Ask them questions about their interests.
- Breathing exercises such as belly breathing.
- Give them a compliment.
- Read a book with them.
- Take a walk together.
- Dance together.
- Sit down at the dinner table together without distractions.
- Bake or cook together.
- Explore the garden – even better if you can get muddy.
- Grow something to eat together.
There are so many ways you can connect with your child and give them positive attention. Teaching them mindfulness activities will not only strengthen your brain but your child’s brain too! Who knows? You might even enjoy it.
It’s important to note that growing your ability to be mindful is like building a muscle by lifting weights – you start with small easy tasks and gradually keep building that muscle until you are capable of much more.
Mindfulness is about awareness and being in the moment, no matter how small that moment may be.
I want to leave you with some quotes that inspired this article:
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