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Mindfulness: how not to be driven to distraction in this modern world

Drs Craig Hassed and Richard Chambers of Monash University are lead educators on the free online course, Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance. Here, they discuss what mindfulness is and how it can help us use our attention in a more discerning way.

Someone eating at their desk - an example of unmindful behaviour
Eating at your desk – an example of unmindful behaviour.

Have you ever found yourself at the end of a car trip from point A to point B and don’t remember the journey? Have you ever eaten a meal without really tasting it? Do you ever get out of the shower and not remember if you used the shampoo? Have you ever been in conversation with someone and realised that you haven’t heard a word of what they said? Well, you know what it is to be unmindful.

Being unmindful comes at a cost

Being unmindful – distracted, inattentive, disengaged, unaware – comes at a cost. For example, it costs us time and energy, causes mistakes, impairs memory, reduces enjoyment, impairs communication, slows learning, and is associated with stress and poor mental health.

In the modern world, the main reasons for being unmindful are, first, complex multitasking such as texting while driving. It’s dangerous. Next, there is what happens to us when we are hassled, hurried and going too fast. We feel stressed, and lose focus and efficiency.

Then there is the situation where we slip into what is called “default mode” – where the mind has disconnected from what is happening and has gone into its own little imaginary world, which is often full of worry and rumination. We are living an imaginary future or reliving the past. In such a state, we are operating on automatic pilot.

The increasing interest in mindfulness

Given the speed of modern life – and the prevalence of poor mental health, multitasking and distraction these days – it is not surprising to see that an increasing number of individuals, as well as schools, universities, organisations, sporting teams and professional groups, are getting interested in mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a simple skill – learning to use your attention in a more discerning way. For example, it helps us to focus; to stay on task; to communicate more effectively and empathically; to not get caught in cycles of rumination and worry; and to enjoy life more, including life’s simple pleasures.

There is growing scientific evidence about the benefits of mindfulness, which has helped to attract increasing interest in it.

Mindfulness is not just a form of meditation. It’s a way of living. It’s life’s most important life-skill, because if we can’t get the attention bit right, then it makes it hard to get anything else right.

If you would like to discover more about what mindfulness is and to cultivate more of it in your life, join Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance. The course offers both background information and practical strategies for bringing mindfulness into your personal, study and/or professional life.

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