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Being in the here and now

Psychologists have found benefits to mindfulness. Try these practice exercises to illustrate how to address difficult and negative thoughts.
© University of Reading

Being more in the here and now or ‘in the moment’ is sometimes referred to as mindfulness. You may have heard of it. It has roots in ancient Buddhist and Eastern traditions and we’ve rediscovered the great benefits of this approach in the modern Western world, particularly in psychology. Psychologists studying mindfulness have seen that it can be very beneficial in preventing someone’s depression from coming back.

Everyone can benefit from practising mindfulness and bringing our attention to the here and now. You can’t change what’s happened in the past and you certainly can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future. But you can bring your attention to the now, and get the most from this moment. Mindfulness can be a very useful way of achieving this.

What mindfulness isn’t:

• A relaxation strategy (although it can feel calming sometimes)

• Trying to push thoughts or feelings away

• Trying to control what we think about

• A cross-legged meditation only the yogis do

• An activity that is forced or feels like a big effort

• A strategy that will make us feel immediately happy

What mindfulness is:

• A gentle way of staying connected to the present moment

• A way of observing what comes and goes through our mind

• A way to quieten the mind with practice

• A non-judgemental attitude to all that is around (both inside our mind and out in our environment)

• A way of experiencing the moment with many of our senses

The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes. Below are practice examples to illustrate how you might use this technique to address difficult and negative thoughts; if you have some spare time, find yourself a quiet space, read through each one and try them out.

Example one

Photo of a blue car

Observe your thoughts as you might observe cars driving by (i.e. just identify them without any reaction or judgement). For example, you might observe a white Ford, a black Toyota and a Red Mercedes. In the same way, see if you can just notice and name your thoughts, without becoming a passenger and being ‘taken for a ride’ by your thoughts to destinations such as anxiety or low mood.

You might label your thoughts by categorising them in the following ways:

“That’s a school work thought”, or “There goes a health worry”, or “There’s another virus thought”, or “There goes the no one likes me thought” or “Here is the I’m totally stuck thought” and so on….
Then just let the thoughts go.

Example two

If you find that your mind is spinning with future worries or past events, remind yourself where you are and what you are doing right now and see whether generally you are OK in this moment. An example of what you might say to yourself could be:
“I’m sitting at my desk, I’m doing some reading, I feel a little tired. The chair is hard on my back, my socks feel warm. I’m a little thirsty. The room is sunny. There is a funny smell outside. I feel OK. Right now I’m in my room and I’m OK.”

What kind of effect does this have on your emotions?

Example three

Focus on one thing and look at it, or listen to it, or taste it with all of your being. By paying attention to something with so much focus, it sometimes feels like we are seeing it or hearing it for the first time. See if you can focus on it as if you were an alien and you had never come across this before. Possible activities include watching an insect flying outside or a flame flickering, noticing the feeling of a piece of fruit in your hand, tasting a piece of chocolate in your mouth, listening to the sound of a plane overhead, the birds singing, or the sound of neighbours or cars nearby.

Photo of an orange cut in half

How would you describe the image above to someone who is not able to see it and had never come across this before?

Example four

Photo of a teenager brushing their teeth

Apply mindfulness to the boring everyday things you do. Can you brush your teeth by simply focusing completely on how this feels and smells and tastes, bringing your mind gently back to the activity every time it wanders off? You can do this when you’re making a cup of tea, when eating, when taking a walk, when using the treadmill, when showering, kicking a ball, writing and so on.

The main trick of mindfulness is not to get caught up with ‘doing it right’. It’s about having a go, and then when you notice your mind wandering away with your thoughts, gently noticing that and then having another go (and again and again). It’s the gently noticing that your mind is wandering away that is part of the action of mindfulness. If you can do that, then you’re on your way.

You may like to look at the mindfulness activities featured on the Young Minds website. Or you can take a look at Maintaining a Mindful Life an online course by Monash University.

Which of these practice examples do you like the sound of the most? Share your thoughts in the discussion below.

© University of Reading
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