Young woman of color peering at you with bright green eyes

Research has shown training our minds to focus in the moment, also known as mindfulness, has powerful effects on our well-being and our success. Even just 5-minutes can make a difference.

Numerous fields of research from behavioral economics to neurology have shown the advantages of training ourselves to focus on the present moment. But you don’t have to become a Buddhist monk to reap the benefits of what is called “mindfulness.” There are a number of simple actions we can turn into a “mindfulness habit” in our daily lives.

Train Your Brain: Take 5-minutes to calm your mind

We’ll talk more about the rewards of meditation to our well-being and lives in another post, however, just a simple 5-minute daily exercise has been effective in reducing stress, and in improving productivity and results. And you can do it anywhere, any time (though it’s a great way to start and end your day).

At least once a day, sit in a comfortable, relaxed position. Take a deep breath, close your eyes (if possible), and then focus on your breath as you slowly release it. Notice the rise and fall of your chest, how it feels, how you feel. Continue to do this for 5 minutes (or as long as you’d like). Note any tension in your body and try to relax it. Note any thoughts creeping in that take your attention away from your breath, and return your attention to your breath.

Don’t strain to maintain your focus on your breath, or berate yourself when your thoughts wander. One of my favorite guides to meditation tells me to correct my wandering thoughts as if I were training an enthusiastic puppy to stay, gently bring them back to where I want them to stay and begin again.

Regain control in the moment

This is particularly good to try whenever we find ourselves in a stressful or tense situation — and it only takes a moment.

Stop. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly while focusing on what’s the most important thing to us right NOW,  that very moment.

Not in five minutes, not tomorrow, not next week. What are your thinking about and is it the most important thing to focus on right now?

 A Mindful Technique to Thwart Fear, Anxiety, and Anger

In 2010 I began having anxiety attacks (I’ll spare you the story, but it was triggered by a family medical crisis). Like most Americans whose health care plans don’t cover psychotherapy, I can’t afford mental health (pun intended). Nor can I afford to numb my brain with narcotics. Fortunately, I found a meditation technique that let’s me derail my spiraling thoughts when I feel the panic begin squeezing my chest and jolts of fear wash through me: I begin repeating a compassionate mediation mantra (silently, because I look scary enough when panicked without muttering to myself in public).

Take a deep breath and let it out slowly while silently repeating “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be at peace.” Then focus on someone else you care about and repeat. For example, “May [your child’s name] be well, may [your child’s name] be happy, may [your child’s name] be at peace.” Continuing breathing and silently repeating the mantra as you expand your focus to a wider and wider circle of people.

Ideally, you continue until you find yourself wishing well someone you are not especially fond of. Usually by the time I reach the Senate (and begin to question just how compassionate I can really be), I’ve broken my negative thought patterns.

I also have known people who take a deep breath, let it our slowly, and begin silently repeating a prayer of compassion. I recall my mother had a holy card with a prayer of compassion she kept at hand.

In an anger situation, I usually jump quickly from wishing myself at peace, to my loved ones, to the person I’m angry with. At this point, just starting the compassionate mantra helps me regain control of my anger with someone, especially when it’s someone who is simply doing their job (like the TSA agent who’d never seen a USB charger before).

By the way, there is well-documented evidence that mindfulness techniques work well in helping reduce GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). It’s now being used in treating both U.S. and U.K. military personnel suffering from stress-related disorders.

I’m keeping this post deliberately brief because I’m going to cover the impact of mindfulness and meditation on success and accomplishment more fully later on. But meanwhile, I thought you might enjoy this TED talk by Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s Jolly Good Fellow, and author of Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace).

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