Mindful Monday: What the Actual Heck is Mindfulness?

The ocean is a great natural place to practice mindfulness.

The ocean is a great natural place to practice mindfulness.

I recently realized that as much as I talk about the importance of being mindful, I haven't been so mindful of explaining what the heck mindfulness actually is. And how to do it. Thus, I committed the cardinal sin of mindfulness. Assuming. I figured because "mindfulness" is so hot these days that everyone already knows what it is. But come to find out, not so much. 

Mindfulness isn't Instagram yoga "models" doing crow pose in a bikini on a beach. Or really much of social media at all.

Mindfulness is fully attending to the present moment, not judging it, and accepting it for what is. 

That is it.

Okay, great, fantastic… how the heck do we do that?!

Mindfulness can easily be broken down into “what” you do and “how” you do it. What you do is observe, describe, and participate. How you do that is nonjudgmentally, one-mindfully, and effectively. Here’s that spelled out in a little more detail:  


Simply notice what is going on both within and outside of yourself. The physical sensations you experience in your body, the thoughts you have, the activities you do, and the people, things, and events around you. There is no labeling of any of it. You just notice. Like a baby does as it experiences each part of the world for the first time. 


This is usually happens immediately after observing something. We give it a label. We give words to what we’ve observed. That part is easy. The tricky part is to keep descriptions factual. Like journalists when they write an article or scientists when they perform an experiment. Stick only to the who, what, where, when. No interpretations or opinions. And when you mindfully catch yourself thinking opinions, simply observe and describe, “I’m thinking such and such” or “I’m wishing such and such.”


Go with the freakin’ flow. Do what needs to be done in each moment. If you’re at a dance, dance. If you’re at work, do your work. If you’re watching a movie, watch the movie. Forget the fears, doubts, and essentially yourself, and experience every moment as it is, acting intuitively.


This is difficult. Even when we think we aren’t judgmental, we’re far more judgmental than we realize. Being nonjudgmental means noticing things as they are without applying an evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong, or other similar descriptor that places an experience, person, or thing above or below another. That doesn’t mean you can’t have preferences or distinguish between what’s helpful or unhelpful for you, but lose those good or bad labels. This is the acceptance piece. It’s allowing things to be as they are currently. And most importantly don’t judge yourself for judging. 


Be completely in the now doing one thing at a time. When you’re eating, eat. When you’re singing, sing. When you’re worrying, worry. Stop that multi-tasking. That doesn’t mean you can’t do multiple things in close proximity. For instance, if you go out to dinner with friends you can certainly eat and chat. But try as much as you can to eat when you’re eating and chat when you’re chatting. It might not seem like you’re being one-mindful because you’re moving back and forth between the different actions in a matter of nanoseconds, but you are still doing one thing at a time.


Be aware of what your goals are in each situation and do just what needs to be done to accomplish them. Focus on what works, do what you can, and act as skillfully as possible. This might not always be fun or what you wish you could do, but being effective is about doing what needs to be done regardless of any other circumstances. 

And most importantly, have fun with it. Play around with being present. Don’t try too hard. Mindfulness is supposed to easy so if it feels difficult you know you aren’t being mindful. But as soon as you realize you aren’t being mindful, you’re back to being mindful again. So ultimately, you can’t mess this up!