As 2016 is nearing its end, you’ve probably found yourself reflecting on the year that has gone by. And many, if not most, of us have thoughts of regret – all the things we wish we could have done differently and all those moments that somehow slipped by without noticing. Remember those days that you would get up in a haze and go through the rest of the day on autopilot only to slip back into bed with a sigh of relief at the end? Or all those times when your friends or loved ones were excitedly telling you something, only for you to nod along in agreement with your mind split between the bills that had to be paid, the chores that had to be done, and the desperate craving for just a bit more time in a day? Sometimes we finally realize that those moments are irreversibly and utterly lost; we didn’t become happier or more organized – we simply let the present go by getting caught in ‘what could have been’ or ‘what could have happened’…
Rather than being grateful for what we have, we are often on a wild goose chase, convinced that what we don’t have would make us happier, more fulfilled and content. However, we must realize that it doesn’t have to be this way and that there are tangible steps we can take to gain control over our thoughts and our lives. Even though we struggle to stay connected with the present only briefly before turning right back into our thoughts, we all have the natural ability to be fully present in the moment. And this is where the concept of mindfulness comes in—a term you may have heard before. But what exactly is mindfulness and how can I make it a priority in 2017?
Mindfulness is the inherent human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing. Mindfulness is focusing on the present without regretting about the past or day-dreaming about the future. Mindfulness is about the ‘here and now,’ and it allows us to wake up and experience our present lives to the fullest.
We can’t change the past or control the future, but there is so much within our control in the present that can influence the way our lives unfold. In a way, mindfulness is that invisible thread that pulls you back into the life you feel so disconnected from. It is the first step towards the self that you have forgotten along the way as you started fulfilling other people’s expectations of you and lost touch with your inner voice.
Mindfulness is important for us. As you start going about your life in a mindful way you will have a general sense of heightened awareness, peacefulness and physical relaxation. And the benefits go far beyond that; mindfulness practice literally changes the structures of our brains, increasing the density of gray matter in brain regions linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy. Long-term positive effects from this include increased resistance against stress, anxiety, and depression, in addition to a plethora of other health benefits. Clinical trials show that mindfulness can be as effective as antidepressants, and has since been approved by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, for the management of depression in 2004. In fact, it may be one of the keys to human happiness.
I’d like to encourage you to start the life long journey today and make becoming more mindful one of your New Year’s resolutions. Start taking one step at a time and turn it into a habit. On average, it takes about 66 days to form a new habit; for next two months, prioritize a few practices above all other things that are competing for your attention. Start by taking time to pause and breathe when the phone rings instead of rushing to answer it. Or simply take a few extra moments each morning “adjusting” to your awake state rather than jumping stressed at the sound of the alarm clock and continuing the rest of your day strained.
You don’t have to fight hard alone. Take advantage of beginner-friendly mindfulness tools like Aura, which sends a 3-minute mindfulness meditation everyday to help form a habit. The consistency of practice is more important than setting unrealistic goals; most people try to meditate for 20 minutes daily and simply stop because of its strain on their schedules, only to blame the practice itself. By starting a daily 3-minute practice, you can slowly bring mindfulness into all aspects of your life and truly realize its benefits. Also try unplugging tools from Thrive Global, Ariana Huffington’s new company focused on global wellness, which help eliminate distraction throughout your day.
Before you go, try something unbelievably simple and yet incredibly hard: promise to make yourself a priority. Getting caught up in doing what other people expect of you, going through life in a rush to compete with time, forever overworked, and chronically sleep-depraved, stressed and anxious—do these sound familiar? Stop for a moment and just be. Remember that you are not your work nor your academic or personal accomplishments. You are that gentle, subdued voice within that is resonating with the vibrations of the Universe. Listen to it, and slowly become one with it. You are your most valuable teacher, friend and ally.
The hardest part is taking the first step. Remember that all great things begin with a simple intent and a desire for change, and go for it. Here comes 2017.