In this article, we’ll discuss what is mindful thinking, and how you can practice mindful thinking to become more aware of your feelings and emotions.
“Begin your mindful meditation practice. Find a quiet place and then focus your mind on the present moment. Don’t think of other things, but sit in silence. Be aware of your thoughts, but be willing to release them and stop thinking about or focusing on them. Begin with ten minutes and meditate daily.”
I. What is Mindful Thinking, and Mindful in Ten minutes? Seriously?
Mindful thinking or mindfulness is a way of thinking. It’s usually defined as training your brain to pay attention and focus. Mindful thinking is the art of learning to direct your attention to what is happening in your present experience, including your mind, body, and environment.
Mindful thinking can be defined as both a state of mind and a quality that you develop through practice and mindful thinking exercises. Over time, mindful thinking becomes a way of being and part of the fabric of who you are. Repetitively and consistently thinking and behaving mindfully alters your brain’s form and function.
If you’ve ever tried to meditate you might feel that you’ll be no good at mindfulness because you cannot “empty” your mind. It feels as though your mind is jumping all over the place, and you are constantly having to refocus.
Your mind can behave like a new puppy. You tell your puppy to sit and stay, but your puppy immediately runs away, rummages through the kitchen bin, chews up your new shoes, and wees on the carpet.
Your mind is its entity. It cannot be easily controlled. It’s like television that keeps hopping about or getting stuck between channels. You can’t find the remote control so, as the TV channel, your mind keeps playing the same scenes over and over again or spends a short time on one thing before jumping to another issue.
If you can focus your mind, then you’ve found the remote control, trained the puppy.
Your mind will wander, however. That’s its nature. It will fall into traps that take it from being completely in the present; mind traps lure you into the future or trap you in the past.
“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that”. Eckhart Tolle
And as we have discussed in the previous article, being aware of mind traps is being mindful. The next step is to break free from mind traps. Try to be patient through this process and not judge yourself if you find mind traps arising.
Talking recently to a friend about mindfulness, she told me “I’ve learned to accept that there are occasions when my mind is more susceptible to wandering or getting trapped compared to others. On those occasions, when I catch my mind wandering, I simply bring it back to what’s happening now. I realize that these are the occasions when I have the opportunity to practice pausing and being present amidst what’s going on around me.”
“Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.” Maori proverb
II. Mindful Thinking: Identify your feelings
All mind traps – blaming others, jumping to conclusions, tunnel thinking, etc. – come with emotions attached to them; emotions such as worry, anxiety anger, guilt, fear, etc.
How are emotions linked to being mindful? First, let’s identify what emotions are. Most people would say that emotions and feelings are the same things. Feelings are just one aspect of emotion. An emotion, any emotion, has three aspects: thoughts, behavior, and feelings. These mindful thinking thoughts, behaviors, and physical feelings interact with each other to create an emotion.
1. Behavioral aspect:
This part of emotion is the external expression of emotion; the things you do or don’t do when you experience an emotion. If, for example, you are feeling worried about losing your job, the action you take might be to consult your trade union, or, you might begin to make plans to start your own business. On the other hand, the worry might paralyze you to the extent that you do not do anything!
2. Cognitive aspect:
This aspect of emotion involves your thoughts. It is the internal part of an emotion – the conscious, subjective aspect of emotion. If you were worried about losing your job, your thoughts might be along the lines of “I’ll never get another job”. Or they might be “Great, I’ll retrain and do something completely different”.
3. Physical aspect:
This part of emotion is the physical change that occurs in your body when you experience an emotion. When you are anxious, worried, or excited, for example, your body releases adrenaline. When you are relaxed and happy, your body releases serotonin. So, depending on your thoughts about the possibility of losing your job, your body will experience a different physical reaction.
There is no specific order in which the aspects of emotion occur, but anyone aspect can affect others. For example, what you think can affect your physical response. It can also alter how you behave. But it’s also the case that how you behave can influence what you think, which, in turn, can affect a physical response.
III. Mindful Thinking: Be Mindful of Your Emotions
Next time you experience an emotion – for example, anger, joy, guilt, pride – try to identify all the different parts of it.
You can start by being aware of any physical signs or sensations: where does the feeling seem to be located? Increased heart rate, a hot flush, sweating, tension in muscles, knots in your stomach, a shiver; these changes intensify the emotion. With a little practice, you can learn to be aware of these signs.
Next, observe your thoughts. When you are feeling guilty, for example, what are you thinking? When you are feeling grateful, what are your thoughts?
Finally, be aware of how you behave. What don’t you do? And, what do you do? What actions do you take?
Just doing this exercise in itself is being mindful. Not only does it help you be more aware of your emotions, but it can also help you to see how the different parts of emotions are connected, how they interact and help you understand how they affect you.
The more you are aware of your emotions, the more you can move out of mind traps: those responses that have become a habit and a default position.
Also Read: How to Manage Stress? – Six Mindful Tips
Mindful Thinking Book: Buy Here
IV. Mindful Thinking Exercises:
Mindfulness is most easily practiced by turning everyday activities into opportunities for mindfulness.
Think of the activities that are part of your life in a typical day; having a bath or shower, doing dishes by hand or stacking the dishwasher, folding laundry, cleaning, gardening. These activities need doing – not much can change that – so use them for time to practice mindfulness.
Wash up mindfully. Turn the water on, feel the warmth of the water, the texture of the dishcloth.
Pick up the first plate, and feel its weight in your hands. Use your senses to fully engage with what you are doing; feel, smell, listen to what happens. At some point, your mind will wander, and your thoughts will intrude, telling you to get a move on, prompting you to think about all the other things you have to do, worrying about things that happened yesterday, making judgments, etc.
Quiet your thoughts by returning to your senses. Feel that mug in your hands, slippery with warm soapy water. Rinse. Repeat.
If cooking and cleaning seem like boring chores to you, try doing them as a form of mindfulness. Engage yourself with those tasks; concentrate, and do them slowly and completely.
What works for doing the dishes, cooking, and cleaning, works for gardening, ironing, walking, or driving to work.
Try a walking meditation; focus on your breathing. Pay attention to the feel of your shoes on the pavement. What can you see? What can you hear? Be aware and understand the impermanent nature of these processes as they unfold. Notice how your body moves as you walk with your arms swinging back and forth, holding your bag, or maybe stuffed into your coat pockets.
What can you spend a few minutes each day doing what you usually hurry through? Brushing your teeth, eating a meal, walking to the bus? Making tea or coffee? Sit and do nothing but breathe and drink your beverage. Doing these things slowly and deliberately you will see how much more in control you are.
Every day, try and take some time to consciously tune in with your surroundings. Use your senses; hear, taste, feel, smell, see each detail. Don’t let time be important.
These activities of your life may seem routine and mundane – getting dressed, cooking, eating, washing, cleaning, gardening, interacting with others, working, driving, etc. but these little things when put together equal your life. This is what you do. And you do all of them in the present.
Each of these everyday activities gives you a little experience. These experiences develop your awareness. From practicing this little awareness, you can develop a more whole experience of mindfulness itself.
So, make this mindfulness practice a habit. Remember, the more often you do or think something, the more you strengthen the habit until it becomes automatic. However, if you miss a day without practicing mindfulness, be gentle but firm with yourself. Don’t let mindfulness be stressful.