BY: RAMONA PAETZOLD
Writing your New Year's Resolutions? This is the time of year when we all jot down those ideas that we think will make us "better" in the coming year. And they're well-intended, too--lose weight, exercise more, be nicer to people, get more sleep, be easier on ourselves. The truth is that all we really need is one New Year's Resolution: BE MORE MINDFUL. It is this resolution that will actually enable us to do many other desirable things as well.
One way of building mindfulness into 2013 is to engage in a short period of mindfulness meditation each day. So, set aside approximately 5 minutes to meditate (set a timer). It can be done anywhere--sitting on the floor, lounging in a chair, or lying in bed. Take a few deep breaths to make yourself more receptive to relaxation, close your eyes, and then begin your period of mindfulness. The meditation need consist of nothing more than keeping your attention on your breath. Pay attention as your breath enters your nostrils and again as it leaves. Notice how the breath feels. There will be plenty of distractions. You'll notice your own thoughts and feelings, and bodily sensations, running through your mind. You'll hear external noises or become aware of movement around you. All of that is fine. Each time that you become distracted, be aware of the distraction, and simply return your attention to your breath. It may help to count your breaths until you get used to maintaining the focus.
Meditation is not the only way to become more mindful, however. Another is simply to slow down and relax. Avoid busyness. Give up multitasking. Realize that the way to appreciate the present is to do one thing at a time and appreciate what it feels like to do it. Don't think about what remains to be done; don't let yourself get caught up in what your future is going to be like; simply do one thing and enjoy the fact that you are doing it. Take in all the sensory pleasure you can from it, whether it's digging in the garden, washing a dish, writing a "to do" list, sending an email message to a friend, or writing a business memo. Fully engage with whatever you are doing.
Slowing down also allows you to think about what really matters to you in life. Say "yes" to those things that are life-enhancing for you; say "no" to everything else. In that way your life will be built on good, enjoyable experiences. Slowing down also allows you to be grateful for what you have. Take time every day to appreciate what's good about your life.
Mindfulness also allows for recognition that there are many more positive experiences in life than negative ones. It's just our evolutionary background that causes us to focus more on the negative--the old "fight or flight" mentality that kept our ancestors alive. We can tone down the fear and anxiety reactions that might tend to arise naturally by forcing ourselves to focus on what is positive. For example, associate with people who are more positive and optimistic. Don't dwell excessively on negative news--read for more pleasurable aspects of what is going on in the world around us. Listen to uplifting music. Be generous and kind to others; donate blood, yield the right-of-way to someone on the highway, or give money to charity. Walk around with a smile on your face. Not only does the smile make you feel more positive, it influences positive reactions in those around you.
These are just a few of the ways in which mindfulness can make 2013 a much better year. "Being mindful" is really the only resolution you need. It can lead you to all the other positive goals you hope to reach.