No matter how you define success, mindfulness is the most powerful habit you can form to live a more fulfilling life. When we focus our attention on the present, we make purposeful choices about what we think, how we feel, and how we act and react. When our attention is not on the present, we make choices and decisions from well-worn habits instead from a place of purpose and intention. For example, we might find ourselves mindlessly snacking while watching TV, or taking the elevator instead of the stairs, or hitting the "buy now" button on our iPad. Sometimes we do these things without any thought at all.
Each time we bring our wandering attention back to the present, we are training ourselves to be more "here," giving us the space to make purposeful choices. Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Research shows that we spend more than half our lives focused on either the past or the future. So, building the skill of staying present takes practice -- just like any other skill. When we reorient our thinking from "doing" to "being," we give ourselves the opportunity to make decisions about what is truly important to us.
Here are three steps to help you get started:
- Determine Your Purpose
- Form Intentions
- Act with Intention
In our goal and deadline driven world, it is easy to confuse purpose with goals. Highly focused people will often say that they are goal driven. This is very different from being purpose driven. Goals and objectives describe what we want to accomplish. Purpose is the reason we want to achieve our goals. Without clarity of purpose, we can put a lot of effort into achieving goals, only to find ourselves disappointed or feeling empty with the results.
Purpose is all about direction. It is broader and deeper than goals. Purpose is directly influenced by our values and beliefs and is deeply rooted. Our purpose has to do with who we are and the things that truly matter to us. When we become clear about our purpose, we can use this clarity to guide our decisions and to set goals and objectives that allow us to live a life that is meaningful, no matter our circumstances.
Intentions are a powerful tool to help you live in alignment with your purpose. Intention and purpose are sometimes used in everyday language interchangeably. But if you look in the dictionary, the two subtly differ. "Intention" is the desire or a plan to do something while "purpose" is the reason. "Purpose" answers the question "why?", while "intention" is the spark that triggers a person to ask the question "how?". Stated more simply, just because something has a purpose doesn't mean that you intend to do it.
When we set an intention, we are setting in motion a direction that guides our thoughts and actions. It is not just an expectation of future actions, but a conscious effort to make them come to life. For example, when we set an intention to show kindness to a friend in need or to be present for our lives, it doesn’t mean that we are locked into a specific plan; it means we are open to discover what is happening and are open to taking a course that keeps us in alignment with our purpose. The key to making this work for you is that the intention has to come from your heart. It has to be something that is important to you. It is not created from fear or outside influences. It comes from your authentic self.
When we live intentionally, we are able to reorder our priorities and structure our lives accordingly. When we are more intentional about our attention, we are able to make “micro-choices” that add up to big changes. When we gain control over our attention, that is spend more time in the present, we start making conscious choices about what we do and think.
Forming the master habit of mindfulness is a skill that we all have the ability to obtain. It takes practice just like any other skill. Even a few minutes each day, focusing your attention on the present, will go a long way to establishing this powerful master habit.
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