27 November 2015

Why Mindfulness is Important

source: tumblr

If you are interested in simplicity and minimalism, you probably heard about mindfulness before. I have broached the subject myself, about mindfulness and habits, or meditation for example. One could think it is a part of the trend, but I came to believe there is something really important in the idea of being mindful. Here are my two cents.


What is mindfulness?

I shall keep short on this, as you probably have read quite enough on the subject to know what we are talking about here. Basically, mindfulness means being in the present moment, being aware of what is happening inside and outside. It is the opposite of mind wandering: you are here, now, conscious of this very moment, instead of being caught in thoughts or worries.

Simple, you think? But it isn't. Our minds are constructed to wander. Our brains have evolved to be able to remember, theorize and try to predict the future. Our mind wandering is a part of why the human race evolved to where we are now. Studies show that we are mind wandering most of the time, and even the best meditation master can't remain fully mindful for long.

Mindfulness and Happiness

If we are made to mind wander, why fight it, you ask? I understand chasing negative thoughts and worries, but tons of nice things also happen in my head. I won't contradict you, my mind is full of dragons and magic and spaceships and weird imagainary friends (and an alien advisor) and I wouldn't drop it for the world.

However, studies on happiness show that people who are in the moment are always happier than people who are mind-wandering, even if they are having positive thoughts. Mindfulness helps being aware of what is going on, enjoying the good experiences you are living here and now. In a way, mindfulness is the way to life appreciation and gratitude, the way of seeing the glass half full.

Mindfulness and Finding your Way

While the points above are based on research presented in the Science of Happiness MOOC I just completed, this part is my own two cents. I feel like we spend most of our life in semi-automatic mode. Daily habits, the flow of life, what we call "m├ętro, boulot, dodo" in French (transport, work, sleep). What happens if you wake up one day, at 20, 30, 40 or older, thinking "why am I here and what am I doing with my life?" ?

I have been making efforts to be more mindful for five years now, ever since I realized one day that my external image was at odds with who I thought I was. And I started with the daily mindfulness: counting my clothes, changing my daily habits, learning to appreciate the small joys of life, on a day-to-day basis.

But looking back at five years of simplicity journey, this mindfulness ended up being much more than enjoying the smell of coffee in the morning or feeling the cold air on my skin. I became aware of this discrepancy between the image I projected and who I wanted to be deep inside. I became aware of who I wanted to be deep inside, in the first place. I realized that many of my thoughts were derived from my education, culture and social class, without my ever questioning what I blindly admitted to be a truth.

Becoming more mindful pushed me to see the world in a different light, to become more aware of how my life curently is and what I want to turn it into. The result? There is still a long way ahead, but I stopped wasting money in status symbol objects and started pouring my energy into what I really want to accomplish. I reconnected with old passions and hobbies (collecting minerals, playing the violin...), started to write fiction again.

After five years, this little daily thing that is mindfulness transformed my life. I feel better because my actions and choices are more in line with who I want to be. I feel like I am the change I want to see in the world (or at least, I know I want to, and start making efforts). I feel like I pour my time, energy and money into things that really matter to me. I feel like I'm really working toward my own definition of success, and not someone else's. and I sincerely think it all started with mindfulness.

What Now?

I will publish a level up mini-challenge soon to give you ideas on how to be more mindful in the everday life. In the meantime, one of the ideas to explore is meditation practice. You can find some free guided meditations here if you have a mind to give it a try.

What about you? Did your simplicity journey lead to more mindfulness? Have you seen larger scale changes when looking back at your life?

6 comments:

  1. "After five years, this little daily thing that is mindfulness transformed my life"- I like to hear you say so, because it's how I see change in my life, never overnight and hardly ever due to one thing or enlightenment moment, just daily small things that add up to be important when looking back in life. As for mindfulness, I'm working on it. I don't do meditation well (I've tried). I find I can only be mindful when engaging in some kind of interesting activity, then it blocks all the thoughts and I am focused, so that's the kind of mindful I'm going for, for now. (By the way, I answered to the "Proust questionnaire", you posted a while ago).

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    1. It is true that change happens little by little, over time. Expecting sudden change is probably the best way to end up discouraged :) It adds up to become something big over time though, as you say. I'm with you on the meditation issue, it's difficult for me as well to get into that habit. But I have a level up mini-challenge coming up with ideas to improve mindfulness, and not only with "proper" meditation! Ah, you answered the Proust questionnaire? How nice, I'm going to go read it now.

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  2. Would you be willing to talk more about what you stopped doing in order to support your new mindset? Like what about your education/social class shaped your behavior to be X and how you pushed back/redefined in the Y way you've discussed here (music, your writing, etc.).

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    1. Do you mean, provide more specific examples of the type of behavior I used to have (and still have sometimes of course) based on my education, social background and surroundings? Then explain what changed with my mindset and how new values and habits took shape? Yes, I can write more about that if you are interested. I wrote a few pieces on the topic in French but it's no trouble at all to develop in English as well :)

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  3. I have to say, I have sort of the opposite going on from you. I do a daily meditation, but find it very hard to stay in the now during my actual life. Which also needs to be practiced, of course. Or maybe I am more present than I used to be, but the formal meditation is making me more aware of the many, many times when I’m not. When I’m on autopilot or fleeing the present in fantasies of a better job, a more exciting life, etc. (which regularly still translates into shopping urges).
    I feel like mindfulness is changing me, but not so much in unexpected ways as in reconnecting me to values that lay buried deep underneath the desire to fit in, be successful, and overall just get through the grind of daily life. I recognize the values that drift to the surface; the difference is that I’m more than ever propelled to act on them. Which is why in 2016 I might turn my gaze outward again, trying to be a more engaged citizen etc. I hope you have a post on goal-setting up your sleeve for the end of year :).

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  4. Mindfulness is good for our bodies: A seminal study found that, after just eight weeks of training, practicing mindfulness meditation boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness.Its helps veterans: Studies suggest it can reduce the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of war.Thanks for your great topic post.

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