Our inner monologue chatters away all day long, and we all get caught up in unhelpful thought patterns. Precisely which negative thought patterns our brain tends to enter can be quite variable: some of us tend to blame ourselves for things that go wrong even if we’re not at fault, some make unfounded assumptions about what other people are thinking, and others overgeneralise and think things such as “you always,” and “I never,” etc.

Mindfulness is a helpful technique which allows you to acknowledge these thoughts without focusing on, or dwelling on them. So, what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement. Mindfulness can help reduce stress, reduce pain, improve immune function, reduce depression and anxiety, and reduce depression relapses. As people learn to stay focused on the present more easily, concentration and productivity also increase. Initially, mindfulness practice may feel frustrating, and that’s okay! You’ve spent many years with a busy mind, full of the thoughts, worries, and frustrations of life. To quieten and focus it on the present moment can be a big challenge. It is worth persisting with, and many benefits have been seen with regular practice for only a few weeks.

Today, we are starting off with a very short and simple introduction. Remember that a key part of this is being ‘non-judgemental’. When your mind inevitably wanders, resist the temptation to criticise yourself or feel discouraged. Acknowledge the thoughts and refocus. Although not common, there are some circumstances in which mindfulness can be unhelpful. For example, in post-traumatic stress disorder, mindfulness needs to be introduced under supervision. If you are feeling particularly anxious, depressed or otherwise mentally unwell today, please skip over the mindfulness of breath exercise and discuss the topic with your General Practitioner, Psychologist, or other practitioner next time you see them.

Flourish Challenge: Mindfulness

  • Sit comfortably somewhere you won't be disturbed. Close your eyes, and bring your mind into the present moment by focusing on your breath. Take five slow, deep breaths in and out. As you take these breaths, pay attention to the sensations of your breath leaving and entering your body. Notice your abdomen rising and falling as your chest expands and contracts. When you notice your mind wandering, simply take note of this, and bring your mind back to focusing on your breath. Don't try to actively push thoughts away, acknowledge them without judgement. After the five breaths, gently open your eyes.
  • Did you find your mind wandered? Did you struggle to be non-judgemental about this? Did you notice any discomfort during the exercise? How did you feel afterwards?
  • You can incorporate mindfulness informally as you go about your day. Pick any part of your normal routine, and simply try to be present throughout it. As you shower, wash the dishes, or cook dinner, notice the sounds and smells. Notice what things look like, the sensations on your skin. As with the breath exercise, when your mind wanders, simply acknowledge and refocus on the present. Write below one thing you expect to be doing as part of your routine in the next 24 hours that you intend to do mindfully:
  • Jot down Three things that you are grateful for today. They can be big or small, profound or mundane.

I’m sure you have noticed a surge in ‘mindful colouring books’ over the last few years, and perhaps you even have some at home. These can be really helpful, because you have an action that can focus on and help thoughts from wandering. Colouring-in books can be used as normal, non-mindful, activities: this is similar to when you might doodle on a piece of paper as you talk on the phone. To use colouring as a mindful activity, you need to aim for your mind to not drift, wander, imagine, plan, worry, or predict as you colour in. You need to pay attention to your colouring actions: notice the colours, consider your selections, feel the texture of the paper on your hands, and the sensation as your pencil or marker travels. The end result is largely irrelevant, and the aim is to avoid self-criticism. If you do notice self-judgment, take note, and redirect your focus back to the colouring actions.

Download this Flourish Challenge colouring page, and try it out! If you’d like to, please send your completed mindful colouring picture to me. I’m not going to be critiquing you art or colour choices. Regardless of the finished product, I will be encouraged by your participation and engagement! You may prefer to file it away somewhere, or slip it straight into the trash. The benefit comes from the process itself, so there’s no need to hold onto it.

Flourish Challenge: Mindful colouring

  • Accepted file types: jpg, jpeg, gif, png, pdf.