Have you ever wondered about this mindfulness thing, but you’re not quite sure what to make of it? If that’s the case, this article is just for you.
When someone first mentioned mindfulness exercises to improve my workflow and productivity, my inner eye swam with visions of yoga pants, incense and meditation music.
But once I got over myself and tried out a few things, I was sold. Nowadays, I just regret my lack of consistency for habits that will pay me in the long run.
But don’t believe the hype or my 2c. Ultimately, only you will know what’s good for you.
I am going give you a quick and simple test, which you can take right now. The exercise probably first appeared in Steven Hayes’ writing, who is a neuroscientist. Keep an open mind, stick to the instructions and you will experience the purpose of mindfulness first-hand. You will have a better idea of how YOU could benefit from mindfulness to then decide whether it’s worth pursuing further.
So, if you’re ready, read further.
Take a piece of paper and draw a line that’s about as long as a typical smartphone.
Next, draw some dividers onto the line so that you end up with 5 sections of equal length. You will then label these sections starting from the left with distant past; recent past; present; near future; distant future. Once you are done, it should look like the picture below.
What’s this all about? This scale will track the movement of your thoughts. Thoughts come and go continuously but they always point towards something ‘in time’, meaning something that either happened, is happening, or will/ is supposed to happen.
Once you’re done with the prep, set your timer for 5 minutes. Begin by observing your natural breath for a few moments. Don’t try to change anything and just let it be. If possible, see if you can feel the cool air on your nostrils on the inhale, or your tummy gently rising and falling back towards the spine. Spend about half a minute on this.
Being settled into the moment, allow your mind to wander. Let it do its own thing without trying to control your thoughts. You can even imagine being an outside person that’s ok.
All that’s left to do, is to keep moving your finger to the point on the scale that best describes the current thought. Don’t overthink it.
Once the timer goes off, that’s it. Test completed.
A few more pointers:
- Depending on the circumstances or your personality this exercise doesn’t always work or make much sense. If that’s the case there’s nothing wrong with you.
- There’s no such thing as trying harder here, only trying less.
- If no specific thought comes up just focus on your breath and do nothing.
- Getting lost in a thought, forgetting what you doing here, is normal. Just acknowledge that thought and bring your attention back to your breath.
Reflect on the experience. Note the difference between reflecting and analysing. Aim to recap on what you’ve experienced as if it were coming from an outsider. The key questions are more or less the following:
- How did it feel doing that exercise? (e.g., easy, difficult, annoying, calming, uncomfortable)
- Did your finger move often, or stay longer in just one place?
- Was there a place in time where my thoughts were more often than others?
- Did anything come up that made it hard to continue the exercise, like something you urgently needed to do?
- Or, did a thought come up that caused a strong emotion like stress, anger, excitement, sadness?
Many who do this exercise realise that their mind hardly ever stays in one place for a long time. Simply speaking, those 5 minutes were about paying attention to what we pay attention to.
Thoughts have a natural tendency to jump between past, present, and future; because all these dimensions determine how we experience the world – via thoughts, feelings, and actions.
When thoughts randomly exit the present moment, they can cause feelings of worry, stress, and restlessness. Sometimes, we obsess over what’s on the to-do-list, what could be, what could happen. We constantly feel under pressure to do something but aren’t always sure what it even is.
Other times, we keep comparing the present to the past, how things were and how things are now. We keep replaying negative experiences, obsess of what was said and wasn’t said – as if we could still change any of that.
All these processes have a place and can be useful. But, while we planning, deciding, thinking, worrying we are not paying much attention to the present moment. We are not a good listener, not focused, and not productive.
In the end, we are missing out on life as a whole because life happens in the here and now.
Look at mindfulness as a way of maximising that little time we have. If that sounds like something of to you, I encourage you to look a bit more into the topic. Treat every moment as unique and keep on rising.