#Askingforafriend: Step off those well-worn paths and be more mindful
By Nate Bowman
GCU Office of Student Care
I’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness lately. “Be more mindful. You should get this mindfulness app!” But why? What does mindfulness do?
To begin our discussion of mindfulness, it’s important to identify what mindfulness is not. And what is the opposite of mindfulness? Mindlessness.
When operating in a mindless manner, our brain is relying heavily on past information and experiences to do or make sense of things.
One of the best ways to explain this is by using the illustration of a pathway through the grass. The more we use the same pathway, the easier it becomes to traverse, and the more likely we are to use it again in the future. Eventually, the pathway is so well-worn that it can be traversed with much more speed and much less thought because what’s ahead is no longer a mystery.
Similarly, the brain has this incredible ability to create pathways within itself, and sometimes we “walk” down those pathways so much that we can pretty much navigate them with our eyes closed.
For example, when was the last time you were putting on a shirt and thought really hard about which arm to slide through the sleeve first? Or have you ever driven home from work only to park your car and then think to yourself, “Yikes. I don’t remember a single thing from that drive.”
Don’t worry. You’re not the only one who does that. For many of us, much of life seems to run on autopilot. We can get so used to doing something at a certain time or in a certain way that we do it without even detecting that we’re doing it. Congratulations, you’re the best spy in the world.
While mindlessness might be beneficial for some things (tying shoes, brushing teeth, etc.), be advised: well-worn pathways don’t always lead to picturesque scenes.
This is why mindfulness matters. Sometimes that pathway to stress and worry is more like a highway. And what about the one that leads to guilt and shame? How worn down is that path?
Mindfulness invites us to slow down on those well-worn pathways and actively engage with the things going on around and within us. A mindful approach to life can yield countless benefits, including increased self-awareness, reduced stress, emotional literacy, improved focus and much more.
Here are some practical ways you can begin incorporating mindfulness into your life:
- When the alarm goes off in the morning, autopilot wants to take over and get you through your morning routine. Before getting out of bed, start your day off by taking a few deep breaths or reflecting on a value you would like to embrace throughout the day (authenticity, kindness, respect).
- Tap into your senses. Listen to the sounds, smell the aromas or see the things around you with curiosity, not judgment, and simply notice them for what they are.
- Your brain is constantly working, sending thoughts, images or memories your way with each passing second. Before you know it, you’ve been daydreaming or ruminating for who knows how long. Choose various times throughout your day, such as mealtimes or your commute, to pause and focus your attention on the present moment.
With a little effort, the good news is, we can create new pathways. And with less foot traffic, those well-worn pathways eventually begin to fade. So try switching off autopilot and take a few steps toward being more mindful.