by Linda-Ann Stewart
Several years ago, I’d arranged to meet a friend for lunch. She visited our area infrequently on business, and when she did, we tried to get together to catch up. The week she was in the area, I had a full schedule of clients. But I’d set aside over an hour to spend with her and looked forward to our conversation.
Shortly after she arrived, she got a call on her cell phone from another friend. Instead of telling the person she’d call them back, she chatted with them for most of the hour. She ended the call shortly before I had to get back to my office. Once she realized that she’d wasted our time together, she was contrite. Disappointed that I had to leave, she tried to convince me to stay. I couldn’t reschedule my clients on such short notice, and had to leave.
Instead of being in the present, she’d automatically answered the phone, and remained on the call without considering the consequences. Have you ever done that, or had it done to you? How often are you absent in the moment, simply reacting or taking an action without thinking it through?
Mindfulness vs. Habits
It’s been estimated that 95% of the time we act out of habit, like my friend did. Her phone rang; she answered it on autopilot, and stayed on the call. Instead of being mindful, she was mindless in that moment. Habits are useful. They can help our minds problem solve and assess information. But they’re not helpful when they take over your decision making process.
Situations like this crop up all the time. Instead of working on your project, you answer each call, text or email as it comes in. The notification triggers you to deal with the immediate distraction, rather than staying focused on your task, which is more important. Or you accept that piece of cake you’re offered without considering your diet. Paying attention to what you’re doing, and want to be doing, helps you accomplish more of your priorities.
Benefits of Mindfulness
You can’t be mindful all the time. Letting your mind wander occasionally opens you to creativity and innovation. But to fulfill your potential, there needs to be a balance between dreaming and being consciously aware of what you’re doing and thinking.
Choosing to be more mentally present in your life has numerous benefits. Your relationships improve, you make fewer mistakes, are less stressed, make better decisions, have more constructive habits, improved communication, reach goals more quickly, and are more efficient, effective and productive.
Practice Being Present
To use mindfulness to improve your life, practice the following steps:
- Be in the present. Let go of the past, and ignore the future for a while. You can address the future a bit later. For the moment, pay attention to what’s going on right now. Who are you with, and what are they saying? What do you need to be doing? This will allow you to be more effective in your life.
- Accept what is. We all have expectations of how we want life to be. But that attitude is counter-productive. Instead of resisting reality, wanting a situation to be different and resenting that it’s not that way, accept the facts. Only then can you begin to rationally deal with the situation and find a better outcome.
- Respond intentionally. It’s natural to want to react when you’re stressed and lash out when you’re upset. But it will only cause more harm. Don’t let stress trigger you into going on autopilot or let anger control you. When you’re distressed, be aware of your thoughts and feelings about what’s going on. Whether you’re stressed or angry, when you have to choose a course of action, consider your options and and decide the best way to respond.
- Focus on your steps. It’s important to plan for the future, but also important to focus on the current steps you need to take to get there. Keep in mind why your goal is important to you. But instead of being overwhelmed by how far you have to go to achieve your goal, just work on the next step.
You can only impact this moment. The past is over, and the future is yet to be. When you are mindful about the present, then you’re making wise decisions and taking actions that will bring you a much better today and tomorrow.
I practice being present in my life. The Universe guides and directs my attention and actions. When I accept the reality of the moment, I can decide how to handle it for my Highest Good. I choose my responses wisely, by consciously considering my options and taking action on the one that is best for the situation. Each moment builds on the one before, and by being mindful, I create a wonderful future.