More and more Americans are practicing mindfulness, or meditation, for one simple reason—it works. Just as regular physical exercise is beneficial for the body in terms of better rest and general health, mindfulness is beneficial for minimizing stress and maximizing productivity.
Whereas exercising your muscles improves your physique, exercising your brain increases its density where it matters most. First, in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) which is your brain’s self-control regulator. The ACC enables you to focus by resisting distractions we normally react to impulsively because we’ve been conditioned to switch gears and address interruptions whether they are urgent and important or not.
Second, practicing mindfulness helps your hippocampus, which is the area of the brain easily damaged by stress and setbacks. When strong, your hippocampus enables you to act resilient in turbulent times as opposed to feeling rejected and therefore acting reclusive. Here are four steps to mastering mindfulness in just a few minutes each day.
- Being with your breathing. Sit on the floor or in a chair—anywhere as long as it is comfortable. The goal of the first step is to focus on your breathing. As you inhale, imagine a balloon filling up with air, and then letting all of it out with each exhale. Your attention should be so set on your breathing so that when pesky thoughts arise, you watch them pass instead of turning your attention to them. When thoughts appear, let them go and return to your breathing.
- Pause to be present. Two of Dale Carnegie’s principles for ‘Breaking the Worry Habit Before It Breaks You,’ are, ‘Cooperate with the inevitable,’ and ‘Don’t worry about the past.’ Mindfulness means being enveloped in the present moment instead of ruminating about past mistakes or worrying about today’s task list. Just as mechanics can only repair vehicles when they are stopped and the engine is turned off, you can only exercise your ACC and hippocampus when your attention is in the present moment only.
- Repeat one positive reinforcing statement. Create a master mantra to repeat over and over, which will help you to remain focused. For example, repeating “I am strong, capable and confident,” internalizes feelings of strength, competence and courage. One of Dale Carnegie’s principles to ‘Cultivate a Mental Attitude that will Bring You Peace and Happiness,’ is to, ‘Fill your mind with thoughts of peace, courage, health and hope.’ Mastering mindfulness by repeating mantras helps to apply this extremely important principle.
- Stop stressors in their tracks. The beauty of mastering mindfulness is that it can be done anywhere, at any time. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take a few minutes to practice mindfulness. Stepping out of the challenge and into the gift of the present will enable you to recalibrate your brain so that you can tackle the task with a fresh perspective. Over time, you’ll perfect the process so that reacting to stressful triggers with a few minutes of mindfulness will become a natural, needed behavior.
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