Have you caught on to the mindfulness craze yet? As someone with various health conditions, I embraced the practice to help cure what ails me. Little did I know the extraordinary benefits I’d reap in nearly every area of my life.
There’s more to the method than sitting quietly and chanting “om.” Mindfulness actually takes two forms—present-moment and forward-thinking. Balancing the two can significantly enhance your mental and physical health while bringing more smiles and positive vibes to your daily activities.
What’s the difference between the two types?
“Wait a second,” you might be thinking. “I thought mindfulness was all about the present moment. What’s this talk of forward-thinking?”
Present-moment mindfulness does pull you back to awareness of the sensations and events currently surrounding you. As such, it acts as a branch through the spokes of the “racing-thoughts” tire, in order to halt it. However, you skip the head-over-handlebars crash and instead encounter heightened peace.
Forward-thinking mindfulness is more akin to techniques that athletes use to improve their performance on game day. You begin by drawing awareness to the present, but you then incorporate guided meditation techniques to help you do anything from quitting smoking to conquering social anxiety.
Each technique has unique benefits. Here’s how I use a combination of both to supercharge my work performance, get along better with those I care about and improve my mental and physical health.
How I use present-moment mindfulness
You can use present-moment mindfulness anytime and anywhere—not only on your Yoga mat. I find the following methods useful when coping with anything from chronic pain to stalled traffic. These practices also make me happier—who couldn’t use more joy in life? Here’s what I do:
I manage my emotions and behaviour
My emotions can sometimes overpower me like a tidal wave, so I find present-moment mindfulness indispensable for anger management. We’ve all reacted in the heat of ire and lived to regret it. Practicing methods like deep breathing when I’m calm gives me the tools to control my behavior when I’m livid.
For example, I used to fly off the handle with an immediate response when irate. Now, I take the time to stop, breathe and think about the consequences of my actions. I don’t want to huff and puff at the woman arguing over a coupon in the checkout lane, only to arrive at the office to discover she’s a new client.
I check in with my body
As someone with chronic pain, I use a mindfulness body scan technique to reduce inflammation and fatigue. When I feel symptoms start to interrupt my concentration, I pause and get myself into a comfortable position to focus on my breath.
Beginning at my feet, I scan my body to identify painful areas. Once I do, I acknowledge the thoughts and emotions associated with the ache. I breathe healing love into the region, decreasing muscle spasms and the accompanying agony.
It’s important to remember that not every health issue is a big to-do at first. For example, many degenerative disorders—conditions that often accompany the aging process—get missed by doctors earlier on. These types of disorders are subtle yet progressive, but many of them are easily preventable with lifestyle changes. Routine body scans help me notice symptoms that could indicate potential health troubles.
I get more joy out of every day
Maybe you’ve heard about the practice of mindfully eating a raisin for 20 minutes. I don’t often go to that extreme, but I do slow down and savour my meals—which helps me control my weight without dieting. It also lets me enjoy the experience, which leads me to a more optimistic outlook overall.
Don’t underestimate the power of positivity when it comes to improving your health. In one Finnish study of 600 men, those with pessimistic attitudes were three times more likely to develop high blood pressure than optimistic men.
How I use forward-thinking mindfulness
While present-moment mindfulness has many benefits, so does channelling my mental energy to actualize my future goals. Here’s how forward-thinking mindfulness helps me move forward in a positive trajectory:
I motivate myself in the morning
Have you ever felt an odd sense of other-worldliness, or even experienced a hallucination, right before falling asleep or waking up? Hypnagogic and hypnopompic disturbances occur as you slip in and out of slumber. They occur because your brain is in a heightened suggestive state during these hours.
I’m not a psychiatrist, but I do reap immense benefits by listening to a motivational meditation before climbing out of bed. I dial up “Welcome to Today” or another uplifting 10-minute recording on YouTube, the moment my alarm sounds. It puts me in an optimistic mindset that helps me stay encouraged, even if I spill my coffee and hit a traffic jam.
I attack self-destructive habits
Forward-thinking mindfulness can help you break habits like smoking, compulsive overeating and drinking to excess. In this type of practice, you focus on identifying the underlying thoughts and triggers that prompt you to engage in the unwanted behavior. Once you recognize your cues to indulge, you can visualize yourself making different coping choices.
It can also benefit you if you suffer from anxiety. Imagine you have a meeting with your supervisor approaching, and your stomach butterflies are dancing the fandango. Visualizing the potential outcomes—both positive and not-so-positive—can ease your fears and help you prepare yourself.
I visualize my goals
Finally, I take a cue from Olympic athletes by using forward-thinking meditation to visualize my goals. I know I may never become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but one thing’s for sure—I’ll never become a better writer by sitting on the couch and lamenting my faults. Imagining the life I could have if one of my projects were to earn acclaim helps motivate me on those days when the words come hard.
People who subscribe to the book The Secret believe that meditating on your goal and letting yourself feel the positive emotions associated with success sends those vibrations into the universe, which then responds in kind. When you see my name on the bestseller list, I’ll stop back here and confirm that the technique works!
Combining these techniques can improve your life
Both present-moment and forward-thinking mindfulness have the power to transform your life for the better. Now that I’ve shared my secrets, how will you implement these practices to improve your health and increase joy?
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