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Practicing Mindfulness

Jared Hawkins, Extension Assistant Professor

woman with eyes closed being mindful

In a busy world with instant access to technology and constant stimulation, it has never been more important to slow down and live in the present moment, or in other words, to be mindful. Mindfulness is essentially “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”[1] Hundreds of research studies have found that mindfulness can improve mental health, physical health, and relationship interactions.[2] Since mindfulness is so important, what are the best ways to become more mindful? 


A great way to start living mindfully is through meditations, which are formal practices to help you calm your mind and develop a state of focused attention and awareness.[3] Meditations encourage you to focus on what you notice in the present moment and to let thoughts come and go. The most common meditation technique is to focus your attention on your breath. Another common meditation is a body scan, which directs you to bring attention to areas of stress in your body. Many free guided meditations can be found online or on mobile apps, and you can find what works for you. A good way to develop the habit of meditating is to schedule a five-minute meditation into your morning or evening routine.

Mindful Activities

In addition to meditations, you can be mindful during day-to-day activities. For example, you can pay attention to your senses, such as the taste of your food during meals, the sensation of water falling on your skin while showering, or the smell of the trees when you walk outside. Another way to live mindfully throughout your day is to take mindful work breaks. Taking time to calm your mind can help you become more productive and intentional, rather than just busy.[4]A good way to start living more mindfully throughout the day is to choose one activity or work break per day during which you focus on the present moment.

Acceptance of Emotions

Living mindfully includes accepting that it’s ok to experience difficult emotions such as sadness and anger. In a culture of hyperfocus on happiness and avoidance of distressing emotions, it can be easy to distract yourself from your experiences. By choosing mindful acceptance, you allow your emotions to come and go, rather than avoid them or ruminate about them. Acceptance allows you to learn from your emotions, rather than only react to them. Research studies clearly indicate that emotional acceptance is key for psychological well-being.[5] A good way to start accepting your emotional experiences is to tell yourself something like, “It’s ok that I’m feeling this right now” next time you are experiencing a distressing emotion. 
Mindfulness can be difficult in a busy, overstimulating world. If you are like most people, at some point you will get lost in thoughts, feel frustrated, bored, or sleepy, or feel like you are not doing enough to be mindful.[6] The mindful response to this is acceptance. It’s ok. Simply bring your attention back to the present moment. 
To get started, try one of these quick mindfulness strategies:
  • Schedule a 5-minute meditation
  • Be mindful during one daily activity
  • Accept one emotional experience 
By incorporating one of these simple mindfulness approaches, you can experience more of the health-boosting benefits of living mindfully.


[1] Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Delacorte. 
[2] Gambrel, L. E., & Keeling, M. L. (2010). Relational aspects of mindfulness: Implications for the practice of marriage and family therapy. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 32(4), 412–426; Spadaro, K. C., & Provident, I. M. (2020). Health Benefits of Mindful Meditation. In Nutrition, Fitness, and Mindfulness (pp. 159-176). Humana, Cham. 
[3] Behan, C. (2020). The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(4), 256-258. 
[4] Gilbert, E. K., Foulk, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2017). Building positive psychological resources: The effects of mindfulness, work breaks, and positive reflection. In C. L. Cooper & J. C. Quick (Eds.), The handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice (pp. 538–552). Wiley Blackwell.
[5] Kober, H., Buhle, J., Weber, J., Ochsner, K. N., & Wager, T. D. (2019). Let it be: Mindful acceptance down-regulates pain and negative emotion. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(11), 1147-1158; Kotsou, I., Leys, C., & Fossion, P. (2018). Acceptance alone is a better predictor of psychopathology and well-being than emotional competence, emotion regulation and mindfulness. Journal of Affective Disorders, 226, 142-145; Lindsay, E. K., & Creswell, J. D. (2019). Mindfulness, acceptance, and emotion regulation: Perspectives from Monitor and Acceptance Theory (MAT). Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, 120-125. 
[6] Hawkins, J. M., McPhee, D. P., D’Aniello, C., Holyoak, D., Lauricella, D., Hall, G., Noel, C., & Posadas, L. (2020). Learning and Applying Mindfulness to Relational Client Systems: A Phenomenological Analysis of CMFT Students’ Experiences in a Mindfulness Course. Contemporary Family Therapy, 42(4), 381-393.