If Mindful Meditation is like a Workout, then Minding Your Focus is like Taking the Stairs
I’ve been meditating for 10 years. I practice a variety of types but mostly mindful meditation.
I love meditation. It soothes & energizes me. I find clarity, strength & calm through it.
I know a daily practice is best, but I don’t do it daily. I’m inconsistent with my practice.
I’m the same with my physical fitness routine. I love how it makes me feel & look, but I don’t do it as often as I should & could.
Basic mindful meditation involves sitting quietly for several minutes to hours, while doing this:
1. Bring your awareness to X – ex. breathing, a mental image, a sensation in your body, a silent mantra, listening to a sound, etc.
2. Notice when your mind wanders from X (it always will)
3. Guide your awareness back to X
That’s it. Simple mental actions. So simple it seems like nothing is happening in the moment.
But just like with physical exercise, results will develop over time. This involves physical changes to the brain as well as behavioral changes.
Each time you take these mental actions you’re strengthening your brain’s neural connections & with practice, you’ll rewire those connections.
There are definitely benefits to performing physical & mental actions over a sustained period, but you also improve by taking action whenever you can, even if it’s not a 30-minute gym session or meditation practice.
The neural connections are strengthened each time you perform these basic mental actions of awareness & focus.
If you perform these actions 15 times a day, even if that’s not during a 10-minute meditation session, those connections are still being strengthened each time you do it.
It’s like taking the stairs in your office building but missing your workout that evening. Sure, the workout has benefits the stairs don’t, but taking the stairs is still improving your physical health.
And a lot of us, when we try to section off longer periods of time for a workout – mental or physical – we often don’t end up doing it at all, or we’re inconsistent.
But, when we find a way to incorporate those workouts into things we’re already doing, we tend to do them more often.
This is comparable to the difference of sitting for a meditation practice vs minding your focus throughout your waking hours.
What do I mean by Mind Your Focus? There are 3 basic mental actions:
1. Shift into Awareness (where’s your attention right now)
2. Notice how you Feel (mood, thoughts & emotions right now)
3. Choose the Focus of your Attention (what’s best right now)
And of course, just like in meditation, your mind will wander. You simply notice & shift back into awareness, etc.
You apply these actions to as many moments as you can.
Consciously choosing what you focus your attention on instead of operating on auto-pilot.
You bring your whole being into whatever you’re doing.
While it’s a different application than mindful meditation, the basic actions, awareness & focus, are the same.
So, the same neural connections are being strengthened each time you mind your focus.
Just like a mindful meditation, these mental actions are simple, but the results that come from consciously choosing what you focus on, instead of mindlessly reacting, are life changing.
When you do this as often as you can, you’re living mindfully.
Dr. Christopher Willard points out in this Mindful. org article article, that the mind is also strengthened in 5 other ways during a mindful meditation:
Each time you focus in meditation you’re improving your concentration
Each time you focus & detach from your current thought stream, you practice letting go, which is an important life skill.
Each time you notice that your mind has wandered, you’re practicing mindfulness.
Each time you gently notice & return your attention to your focus, & don’t criticize yourself, you’re strengthening self-compassion.
Each time you notice where the mind has wandered, you can have insight into your mental patterns & grow your self-understanding.
Although, minding your focus doesn’t necessarily mean you concentrate (only if that’s what’s best at that time), it always includes these other 4 ways to strengthen your mind.
Since neurons that fire together, wire together, each time you mind your focus, new connections are being made for your awareness neurons, attention neurons, self-understanding & self-compassion neurons.