Are you rarely present in the moment? Are you constantly on autopilot in your life? Are you frequently feeling guilty about the past or worried about what might happen tomorrow?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. According to a Harvard study, 47 percent of the time you're doing this 1 (fixable) thing that kills your happiness.
THE #1 PREDICTOR OF UNHAPPINESS: The Wandering Mind
The study revealed “that a wandering mind is not a happy mind”, as not being present in the moment best explained subject unhappiness. As Killingsworth reported: "Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people's happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we're engaged." (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010)
TRAINABLE SOLUTION: Mindfulness (but not just any kind)
Although mindfulness and meditation as concepts have been around for thousands of years, we can now - thanks to fMRI brain scanners and other high-tech instruments - measure what happens in the brain during meditation, and what the effects are. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis show that mindfulness meditation practice leads to beneficial structural and functional changes in areas of the brain related to attentional control, emotion management, and self-awareness. (Fox et al., 2014; Tang et al., 2015).
TIP 1: Acknowledge how distractions are ruining your joy
A Yale study by Judson Brewer showed that the wandering mind was associated with an area of the brain called the “Default Mode Network”. While practicing mindfulness this area of the brain becomes less active. Also, it is less active at base line in experienced meditators. This suggests that training mindfulness changes how our brain works (Brewer et al., 2011).
TIP 2: Develop your self-awareness through mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation helps us to develop self-awareness. What do we mean by self-awareness? It can be moment to moment awareness of our thoughts and emotions. But also, at a more macro level being able to notice our strengths and weaknesses, our ways of doing things, our thought patterns – our tendency to be optimistic or pessimistic, our emotional states and our habitual tendencies. Self-awareness is an important step to being less distracted and more mindful.
TIP 3: Move from auto-pilot to choice
What happens once you increase your self-awareness? You regain your power to act. You are no longer hypnotized by your daily routine and running on automatic pilot. Snapping out of your distracted state of mind allows you to “wake up“ and smell the coffee. Becoming present in your everyday life allows you to make choices. As Victor Frankel points out “between stimulus and response there is space and in that space is our power to choose” (Covey, 2004).
TIP 4: Train your brain every day
You can retrain your brain to be more self-aware. Neuroplasticity (Neuroscience) is the big discovery in the early 21st century. It implies that your brain remains trainable – in other words, it can change its shape and function throughout your life. Neurons and synapses in your brain are constantly wiring and re-wiring based on your changing experiences. You can use this to your advantage and always be developing new habits and skills as you age – including that of being more present and aware. (Goleman Davidson Richard J., 2017) .
TIP 5: Start by practicing being self-aware today
Start by once a day being self-aware. The most important thing you can do to start a good habit is to make it easy to do (Clear, 2018) . One easy way to start is to do a 2 minute (even one minute if you’re in a hurry) mini meditation every morning. Sit comfortably in a chair. Set an alarm for 2 minutes. Then feel your feet on the floor. Just notice the sensations, or the lack of sensations. That’s all. When you notice you’re distracted or following the story of your thoughts, simply come back to the sensations in your feet. That’s 2 mindful minutes. One daily practice will allow you to make micro investments in your positive future. Overtime these small micro investments can result in positive thinking and compound into real, solid, mental health and wellbeing. By making right choices you can have good positive outcomes in many areas of your life.
Upgrading your awareness - starting with our self-awareness, is the number one factor to increasing your happiness and mental wellbeing. The practice of mindfulness is the highway that can lead you in the positive direction you want to go. It reveals areas you can work on to improve your circumstances no matter where you begin.
NEXT ARTICLE: 5 Easy To Implement Ways to Be More Mindful in Your Everyday Life
Robbie Fenlon is a mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence Certified Teacher of Search Inside Yourself, a Certified Integral Coach (ICF/PCC Certified), and a IFMGA professional mountain guide. Download FREE his new Mindfulness 101 Guide. En francais: Pleine conscience 101
Brewer, J. A., Worhunsky, P. D., Gray, J. R., Tang, Y.-Y., Weber, J., & Kober, H. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(50), 20254–20259. https://doi.org/10.1073/PNAS.1112029108
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery Publishing Group.
Covey, S. R. (2004). Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. https://books.google.com/books/about/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People.html?hl=fr&id=upUxaNWSaRIC
Fox, K. C. R., Nijeboer, S., Dixon, M. L., Floman, J. L., Ellamil, M., Rumak, S. P., Sedlmeier, P., & Christoff, K. (2014). Is meditation associated with altered brain structure? A systematic review and meta-analysis of morphometric neuroimaging in meditation practitioners. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 43, 48–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.NEUBIOREV.2014.03.016
Goleman Davidson Richard J., D. (2017). The science of meditation : how to change your brain, mind and body.
Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science (New York, N.Y.), 330(6006), 932. https://doi.org/10.1126/SCIENCE.1192439
Tang, Y. Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 16(4), 213–225. https://doi.org/10.1038/NRN3916