Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Our brains produce a lot of thoughts per day… and when I say a lot, I mean a lot. A recent study by researchers at Queen’s University found that the average person has over 6,000 thoughts per day. If you take that number and divide it by the number of hours the average human is awake per day well, that’s around 375 thoughts per hour!
The fascinating thing about thoughts is that we, as humans, can’t actually control the thoughts that our brain produces. Whether the thought is helpful like, “Remember to finish your assignment that is due today” or unhelpful like, “I’ll never be able to cross everything off on my to do list by the end of the day,” we can’t control them. It’s impossible.
There is great news though! While we can’t control the thoughts that pop into our heads, we can learn to control the attention we give to our thoughts, which will ultimately help us react to our thoughts more wisely and purposefully. If you’re asking yourself, Well how can I learn how to control the attention I give to my thoughts? You’ve come to the right place. The how is the practicing of Mindfulness.
So, what’s Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as the practice of controlling your attention to thoughts, with the goal of not letting them control you! And that you focus on the present moment without judgement.
In a course taught by Professor Jancey Wickstrom at The University of Chicago, it’s learned that mindfulness is rooted in all major religious traditions, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism and is now used across various types of therapies. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus, is viewed as having bridged mindfulness to Western culture. Zabat-Kinn was first introduced to the philosophy of Buddhism while he was a student at MIT and then later, in 1979, founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he adapted Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and developed the “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) program.
How will Mindfulness benefit me?
Mindfulness can have great benefits to your mental health. A research study by Kirk Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan shows that mindfulness creates more positive emotional states for people, and another study shows that students who practice mindfulness experience reduced levels of stress and anxiety. Whether the thoughts bouncing around in your head are making you feel sad, upset, anxious or stressed out, mindfulness can really help you feel better!
How do I practice Mindfulness?
Now that we’ve discussed what mindfulness is, where it comes from and how it’ll benefit you, let’s learn how to practice it!
The first step to practicing mindfulness is to understand the concept of “the anchor” and its role in your practice. The anchor is going to be something we turn our attention back to when our attention goes towards our thoughts. The anchor can be anything from the feeling of your feet flat on the ground to the feeling of your fingertips on your thighs. For this post, I will ask that your anchor be the feeling of your fingertips on your thighs. Again, the anchor is just what you will return your attention to when you notice yourself giving attention to your thoughts during practice.
Now that we’ve chosen our anchor, we can get into our mindfulness position and begin our practice.
10 Steps to practicing Mindfulness
*Please read through all the steps first and then practice!*
If you’re able, seat yourself in an upright position, back straight but not rigid, and feet placed firmly on the ground.
If you’re able, place your hands face down on your thighs, and then take a few seconds to notice how your fingers feel against them.
Remember, this feeling of your fingers against your thighs will be your anchor.
Set and begin a timer for 1 minute on any device. Feel free to choose an alarm sound that feels soothing to you.
Now, take two deep breaths in… and then two deep breaths out.
Then, gently flutter your eyelids all the way closed.
Now, when a thought enters your mind, work to acknowledge the thought and then return your attention to the feeling of your fingers against your thoughts.
You will do step 7 for the full minute. It’s expected that you will return your attention about a dozen times or so to your anchor, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re doing this a lot! Remember, mindfulness is about controlling our attention, but not controlling our thoughts.
When the timer sounds, flutter your eyelids open, turn off the timer and take a deep breath in… and then a deep breath out.
Great job, you just practiced mindfulness!
Developing your Mindfulness Practice
Whether you are new to mindfulness or not, practicing it will take time, practice, and dedication. While you can do mindfulness on your own when you follow these 10 steps, a guided practice can be really helpful! The Mindfulness App provides a “5-day introduction to mindfulness” guide led by world-renowned experts that can help you. Headspace’s mindfulness exercises are a great resource as well. They have exercises for cooking, eating, walking, commuting and more!
Happy practicing and thanks for stopping by Talklet!
By: Katy McGee
About the author and Talklet Listener, Katy:
Katy McGee is a Master of Arts (AM) Candidate at The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, Class of 2021. This AM degree, equivalent to that of a master's in social work, provides an educational and experiential foundation by combining direct social work practice with policy development, interdisciplinary research, and social science theory. Katy is a proud member of The School of Social Service Administration and after graduating and obtaining her LCSW, hopes to help individuals suffering from trauma, grief, loss, and other mental health challenges in a therapeutic setting.
Schedule a Talklet session with Katy once we launch!