6 Essential Skills You Need To Learn To Practice Mindfulness
A key to heal from emotional pain and suffering consists on allowing yourself to feel your feelings. Whenever I say this to a client, they ask me why, why would they want to feel pain, sadness, or fear. They have put forth so many strategies to avoid feeling and here I am asking them to do so. So, the key is not only to recognize how we feel but how we do that is crucial.
Here is where I bring Mindfulness in. Mindfulness is to purposefully pay attention to something, in this case to notice your feelings or emotions in the here and now non-judgmentally. So here is the key: to be non-judgmental. To bring our kind nonjudgmental attention to our inner world helps clear and calm our mind as our thoughts and feelings settle. Mindfulness can help us feel more relaxed and focused.
In order to learn to practice mindfulness you need to develop the following six essential skills:
- Set your Intention
Your intention refers to the goal you set for yourself, what you wish to pay attention to. You might choose to pay attention to your breath, to your surroundings, or to a feeling. Mindfulness is the capacity to bring your attention back to your intention constantly. If any distractions (thoughts or feelings) arise you can notice the distractions and gently set them aside as you bring your attention back to your intention.
You can do this with any task. You can do it during a “formal” mindfulness session where you can be laying down with your eyes closed focused on something or you can practice it throughout your day with any activity. For example, you can be mindful as you are taking a bath, eating, or cooking. Simply pay attention to your whole experience. For example, when you take a bath, notice the smells, notice how your skin feels as you wash it. Notice each part of your body. Notice the temperature of the water and how it feels as it touches your skin. Notice the steam and how it feels as you inhale it.
- Cultivate Awareness of Awareness
An amazing capacity that only humans have is to be aware of awareness. This means to be aware of what you are experiencing here and now. The key is to simply be aware without trying to change anything.
Try the following: Notice a thought, a feeling, or a sensation. Be aware of your awareness of this particular experience. Now simply observe and accept what you are observing without wanting to change anything.
- Focus Attention
If you pay attention to your day, you can realize how we are bombarded with so many things that call your attention. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by all these distractions. Mindfulness is the capacity to regulate what you pay attention to as you are able to focus your attention to whatever you wish to attend, to your intention.
This skill will help you improve your concentration, memory, and to have general mental clarity. Practice this by:
- Set your intention to pay attention
- Determine what you wish to pay attention to
- Notice everything about what you decided to pay attention to
- If any distractions arise, notice them, acknowledge them, and gently set them aside.
- Bring your focus back to your intention
- Do steps 2-5 as many times as you wish
Notice what happens when you are able to be mindful. Notice any changes in your sensations, emotions, thoughts, or feelings. See if you can notice your mind clearing up and any sense of calmness.
- Practice Affect Regulation
The more you practice mindfulness, the more your brain is able to regulate itself. You are creating and strengthening neural pathways that calm your mind. Mindfulness helps decrease incidents where we get triggered, where intense emotions arise and we might end up doing or saying things we later regret. Being mindful allows us to better regulate out emotions and be more present in the here and now.
Sometimes we need a reminder or a key to help us go to our calm place. Whenever you find that place inside of you, notice it and find a word or a color that better fits your experience of calmness. Notice the calmness throughout your body and choose a word like “calm, calm” or a color like a blue light. Whenever you are doing anything, remind yourself to be mindful and say your word to yourself or imagine your color as you go back to that calm and clear place.
- Compassion, Love, and Kindness towards yourself and others
Have you ever noticed how you talk to yourself about you? We are our worst and harshest critic. We say things we would never say to anyone we love, but we say those things to ourselves. A key in mindfulness is being non-judgmental, to be accepting, to be kind, compassionate, and loving towards ourselves.
See if you can connect with feelings of love and send them to you. Be gentle as you pay attention to your inner world, notice your intention with kindness as you simply observe and accept.
For a week, try to practice compassion, kindness, and love:
- Towards yourself
- Towards a good friend
- Towards a neutral person
- Towards a difficult person
Notice your experience as you are being kind, loving, and compassionate. Notice how it was like to be this way.
- Your Experience with Mindfulness
After practicing mindfulness for a week, see if you can have your definition of mindfulness. See if you can be mindful of your experience of being mindful. Notice it.
I would love to hear about your experience with mindfulness following these directions. I wish you much peace and clarity as you make mindfulness part of your way of being.