Do you ever find yourself dwelling on the past? Perhaps you can’t stop replaying a conversation in your head and thinking about what you should have said. Or maybe you’re anxious about the future and ask yourself endless “what if” questions.

It can be easy to get caught up in a web of anxious thoughts. This can negatively impact our productivity and our health and well-being, and lead to more reasons to worry. One way of stopping this pattern is to practice mindfulness – that is, concentrating our attention exclusively on the present in order to focus the mind and avoid distractions.

What Is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience, without judgment.” Put simply, when you demonstrate mindfulness, you’re fully aware of your thoughts, emotions and actions, but, equally, you don’t get caught up in them. The term is often used interchangeably with “meditation,” because mindfulness meditation is one of the most popular applications. Mindfulness sounds easy, but it’s important to note that you need to practice it regularly – preferably every day – in order to achieve long-lasting benefits. Here are five steps to get you started:

1. Mindfulness Meditation
To practice mindfulness meditation you first need to find somewhere comfortable. Sit in an upright but relaxed position and focus on your breathing. Pay attention to how it feels, listen to the sound of your breath, and feel your chest expand and contract. Don’t get frustrated with yourself if distracting thoughts arise. Instead, just be aware that you are getting distracted and gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Aim to do this for at least one minute.

2. Observe Your Environment
Busy lives, social media, and our growing reliance on technology have meant that we can find it hard to keep focused. Regain your concentration by paying attention to what’s going on around you right now. You don’t have to meditate to do this, either. You can practice it at work, on your commute, or at home. Look at the people near you (if it’s culturally appropriate). Really feel the ground and the sensation of your feet on it. What objects are around you? What sounds can you hear? What smells are there?

3. Slow Down
Concentrate on completing one task at a time to the best of your ability. The pace and demands of work can fracture our attention, and leave us feeling excessively hurried  or overwhelmed, which can reduce the quality of our work. If you still get distracted, don’t feel guilty. Instead, simply notice the distraction and gently direct your attention back to the task at hand.

4. Pay Attention to Routine Tasks
Another way to cultivate mindfulness in your life is to think differently about an activity that you do routinely. For example, filing paperwork, washing dishes or raking leaves. Simply pay attention to the detail of the task. For example, feel the paper between your fingers, experience the sensation of warm water on your hands or listen to the sounds of the rustling leaves. Doing this prevents your mind from getting distracted by other anxieties or worries. Try to focus your mind like this for at least five minutes. You might find that you enjoy the activity more and you may feel more positive once you have completed it.

5. Accept Your Feelings
How many times a day do you judge your own thoughts and feelings? For example, you might think, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or, “That’s a terrible thought.” Part of being mindful means not judging your thoughts and feelings as “right” or “wrong,” as this can often lead to low self-esteem. So, next time this happens, remember that such thoughts and feelings will pass. These thoughts do not define you, they don’t have to mean anything, and as long as you are aware of them you have the choice whether to act on them or not.

The Benefits of Mindfulness
Better Focus
Mindfulness helps to keep you present “in the moment,” so that you can devote your full attention to what you are doing right now, and minimize the impact of distractions . But it’s not a quick fix – you’ll get into a state of “flow” more easily and quickly if you use mindfulness regularly.

Improved Mental and Physical Health
Mindfulness can be particularly effective in reducing the negative effects of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, when it’s used in combination with medication and CBT. People who practice mindfulness meditation for eight weeks can experience physical health benefits, too, such as an increase in the antibodies associated with immune function.

Greater Resilience
A mindful focus on the present can lead us to develop and protect a “narrative self”, stories that paint a picture of who we are  which can help us to be more adaptable and responsive and likely to be more resilient during difficult times.

Stronger Relationships
Mindfulness can help us to develop empathy, and to increase altruistic behaviour. Also, when we’re fully present in a situation, we can respond more authentically to people, which builds trust and increases understanding. Together, these qualities will likely help you to create more meaningful connections and better relationships with your co-workers.
Key Points
Mindfulness involves being fully aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It means being present in every moment and paying close attention to what is going on right now, instead of worrying about the past or the future. You can develop mindfulness by following these five steps:

Meditate regularly.
Observe your environment.
Slow down.
Pay attention to routine tasks.
Accept your feelings.

Practicing mindfulness has a number of advantages. It can benefit your mental and physical well-being. And, in your working life, it can reduce stress, improve focus and concentration, increase resilience, aid creativity, and increase your emotional intelligence.