Mindfulness is not having “perfect focus” or never getting distracted, nor is it simply a relaxation exercise. Mindfulness is not pushing away or blocking a thought or feeling, nor is it a “quick fix” or “cure all.” Mindfulness is choosing to try to keep your focus even though distractions will arise again and again, and it is practicing acceptance of present circumstances without judgment. Mindfulness is a skill that requires consistent and daily practice. Mindfulness also incorporates two sets of skills; “what skills” relate to observing (looking and not speaking; smelling the roses and using your senses), describing (using facts rather than judgments and reacting to what you observe), and participating. “How skills” relate to being non-judgmental (not evaluating; only observing and accepting), using one-mindfully (focusing on one word, one activity, one feeling in any given moment), and being effective (focus on what works rather than what is “fair,” “right,” “wrong,” “unfair,” “or should.”
In order to be more in control of your mind, rather than letting your mind be in control of you, it is important to break down the different states of mind. The reasonable or rational mind focuses on thinking before acting and using logic while the emotional mind represents a variety of emotions ranging from sadness and anger to love and happiness. The wise mind integrates and incorporates both the reasonable and emotional mind, using both wisdom and intuition.
To improve any given moment, or when distress strikes, try using the IMPROVE strategy:
Imagery: create a positive situation or scene in your mind. It can be relaxing, safe, and/or a beautiful place that is different from the one you are physically in. Focus on this place and relax until you are calm again. Try thinking about the ocean or a good friend.
Meaning: for any given situation, ask yourself about the meaning or purpose of suffering, and how you can create meaning in your circumstance. A very powerful book to read is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl who survived a Nazi concentration camp and wrote about his struggle, and ultimately finding meaning there.
Prayer: this prayer can be to God, a higher power, or to your own wise mind.
Relaxation: listen to a relaxing song, take a walk or hot bath, drink herbal tea, or get a massage.
One thing at a time: Don’t make suffering worse by thinking about the past or future. Instead, stay in the present moment and focus on the here and now, which you do have control over. Focus on only driving, on only cleaning the kitchen, on only talking with a friend. Say no to other distractions.
Vacation: give yourself a mental vacation by lying under the covers, reading a book, or picturing your ideal vacation spot.
Encouragement: use encouragement by giving yourself supportive comments. For example, “this too shall pass,” “I can stand this,” and “I am doing the best that I can.”