To appreciate life, we must learn the art of noticing. Noticing is a skill that, at first, requires effort. We must have the patience to look a second time, a third time, a fourth time, a millionth time—so it’s OK to falter, to become frustrated, to stop noticing for a while. But, we should try to commit to eventually returning to some personal baseline of awareness.
While 2017 has certainly had its share of natural and political disasters, the silver lining is that we’ve benefited tremendously from an increased—or perhaps a shifted—focus on taking the time to notice the good around us. This focus on the good, or mindfulness, is about living in the present. It’s rooted in meditation, and loosely modeled after the psychological process of bringing one's attention to, and finding peace with, current experience.
The concept of mindfulness has become so ubiquitous that many assume its benefits and implications are just a fad. Well, we’re here to tell you that’s definitely not the case.
From Upworthy’s articles showing how meditation can be used in place of detention, to media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk’s interview on Dan Harris’ 10% Happier podcast, mindfulness is gaining the attention of thought leaders across industries and categories. Vaynerchuk even admitted to being a non-believer or practitioner of meditation and mindfulness, but that it’s the next big “industry” to get on board with/support/invest in.
As believers in the miracles of meditation ourselves, we’re h(ohhhhhhh)mmmme. Unlike, say, Post-Its (sorry Romy and Michele), mindfulness is enlivening—and it can improve your life greatly in measurable ways.
Mindfulness is often described as the ability to be in the moment, to be aware of one’s surroundings. Some people meditate to become more mindful, although meditation is really just a tool that leads to post-meditative mindfulness. Although it’s a good tool, it’s a tool, nonetheless—the means to an end.
However, there are other ways to work toward mindfulness. One is to simply notice new things. When we notice a new aspect of something we thought we knew well, we come to realize that we didn’t really know that thing as well as we thought we did. And then, naturally, we’re encouraged to give it more attention.
We’re often in this more mindful state when traveling. In a foreign environment, we don’t have to try to be mindful; since we’re already expecting to see new things, we’re naturally in a state of active noticing. We’re forced to live in the present.
To be mindful is to practice this state of active noticing even in familiar contexts and relationships. When we think we already know a place or a person, we’re prone to tune it/him/her out. When we’re not so sure about something, on the other hand, we tune in.
Experiment with these different states by actively noticing five new things about your roommate, your dog, or maybe even (gasp) your manager. As you begin to take in new information, he or she is likely to bring attention to you in ways that hadn’t been done previously.
By recognizing that we don’t fully know something, we exploit the power of uncertainty. Alternative interpretations—of situations, of others, of ourselves—become available to us. Things we previously perceived to be fixed may suddenly appear unfixed. Noticing newness puts us in the present.
In a study that was conducted in the 1970s, a group of nursing home residents was given a choice of plants, and encouraged to decide where to put their plants, as well as when and how much to water them. Another group, meanwhile, was given plants, but told that the nursing staff would be taking care of them.
The most startling result was that, a year-and-a-half later, twice as many residents in the first group were still alive (as compared to the second). Being empowered to make choices around the care of a plant resulted in mindfulness among that first group of residents—and that mindfulness had powerful consequences.
In the “counterclockwise” study that was conducted a few years later, eight men in their 70s lived for five days as though they were 20 years younger. Their surroundings were a time warp, designed to conjure the year 1959. As a result of putting their minds in this earlier place, participants’ vision, hearing, strength, and memory improved. They even seemed to look younger by the end of the study.
The positive consequences of mindfulness are not limited to the unhealthy or otherwise stressed. When we’re mindful, our neurons fire, people find us more charismatic, and the work we create is more compelling.
So, while it may be tempting to dismiss “mindfulness culture,” do not dismiss mindfulness in and of itself. After all, it’s readily available to anyone willing to give up the illusion of knowing.
How are YOU living a mindful life?