The Best Mindful Habits of Highly Effective People
Written By: Matt Mignona
Mindfulness has been in the spotlight recently, and with good reason: it is, truly, the art of living well. It's nothing new, but more and more people are recognizing the profound impact it can have on their lives—particularly in our busy, goal-oriented, multi-tasking society.
Here's a really nice definition of mindfulness:
"Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we're doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us."
Basic human ability. It is a practice; it is often a decision you need to make, yes, but the capacity to do so is already within you. We were all lucky enough to be born with it. Now how are you going to use it?
The Rise of Mindfulness
The practice has been around for thousands of years and plays a role in religions like Buddhism and Hinduism as well as non-religious practices around the world. In the United States, mindfulness as a practice is much more recent. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the man generally credited with bringing it into the mainstream; he is the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He studied with Buddhist teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh, though his own teaching now takes a more scientific approach. He developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and has written several books.
He wrote a definition for mindfulness in 2013:
"Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training."
Even before that, he described it as "...paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." Most of our thoughts concern the past and the present. We're barely aware of what's in front of us as we ruminate over past mistakes and build anxiety about the future. Mindfulness is intentionally bringing our full attention to what's happening now.
Many studies have been done on the effects and benefits of mindfulness—there are many:
- Decreases mood disturbances and stress in those who are sick.
- Decreases stress, which can improve sleep, energy, concentration, mood, and more.
- Enhances recovery from serious illness or addiction.
- Decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Improves body image and self-esteem.
- Decreases negative effects of bullying among children.
- Improves resilience.
- Improves ability to manage pain.
- Improves work and school performance.
- Improves the regulation of emotions.
And more. This review outlines many such studies.
Mindfulness at Home—and in the Clinic
Mindfulness is something you can practice on your own (we'll get to that!), but it's also regularly used by psychologists to help treat their patients.
In a professional setting, psychologists may use mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) with their patients, especially as part of the treatment plan for depression (including depression related to particular physical health issues), anxiety disorders, and addiction. MBCT tends to be a group therapy experience, with weekly sessions and related homework where you learn breathing and meditation techniques along with the principles of cognition and awareness.
Mindfulness is also a part of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is used to treat borderline personality disorder, depression, binge-eating and bulimia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.
Many therapists incorporate mindfulness—both for themselves and their patients—because it has been shown time and again to improve outcomes. It's a tool you can use to manage your emotions in a healthy way, break bad habits, know your worth, and understand yourself and your behavior. Many successful people, like Richard Branson and Katy Perry, have spoken out about mindfulness, meditation, and the benefits they experience in their lives.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Although meditation can be used as a mindfulness practice, mindfulness is actually something you can practice throughout the day—not only while meditating. These are just a few of the best mindful habits of highly effective people—like yourself:
- Rest: In our busy lives, rest often gets put last. Mindfulness means recognizing the need to recharge and taking time to do it.
- Gratitude: Saying (and feeling) thanks is an easy way to stay mindful of all the good in life—even amidst challenges.
- Breathing Exercises: We can't breathe the future or the past—our breath is always in the present moment. If you can train your mind on your breath, your mind stays present, too. There are countless breathing exercises you could practice; a simple one is to count the length of your inhales and exhales, focusing on lengthening them or maintaining them at the same rate.
- Create Daily Goals: Creating goals for your day brings your attention to what you want to accomplish. Writing these down and checking in with your progress at the end of the day helps you hold yourself accountable.
- Read: Not just anything, though: read works that inspire you and make you think.
- Meditate: There are many ways to meditate, and you don't have to start by sitting silently for an hour. Start small and work your way up.
- Color: The intricate details in an adult coloring book help you bring your attention to the project, and creating something beautiful feels good.
- Put Down Your Phone: Make presence a priority. Whoever is in the room with you gets your attention first.
- Let Go of Judgment: What if your opinions are...gasp...wrong? Listen carefully when other people speak. Look for an opportunity to learn. Ask yourself what you gain by convincing others to think the way you do.
- Create Rituals: You can do this for any task you do regularly: brushing your teeth, making coffee, eating, or getting dressed. Instead of going on autopilot, notice and appreciate the process you go through. Savor the little moments: smells, textures, sounds, and more.
- Journal: Journaling itself is a mindfulness practice; the process focuses you on the present moment, while the habit of journaling in the morning and at night brings some stability and ritual to your day. What you write opens the door for more mindfulness: by writing your goals, your happiest moments, your greatest achievements, and your gratitude list, you're more likely to focus on them throughout the day. If you write that you intend to be more mindful, you're more likely to remember to take advantage of moments when you can put down your phone, focus on the task at hand, or meditate for a few minutes in the car if you show up early for an appointment.
By approaching mindfulness in this way, it becomes more than a practice—it's a lifestyle. These mindful habits become a natural part of your everyday life. Journaling can be a part of that. If you're not sure where to start, download our Quick Start Guide or some of our planner printables, like the Gratitude Log or the Self-Awareness Happiness Assessment, and start developing some of your own mindful habits.