With 60,000 thoughts whirling through our minds in a single day, most of which are focused either in the past or on the future—where we have little to no control—we often feel like something is wrong. Fear, uncertainty, and regret cycle on an endless loop of ruminating thoughts leaving our minds cluttered, unfocused, and overwhelmed. Left unchecked or avoided for too long, these unresolved thoughts and complex emotions may affect mood, sleep, work, and relationships. We can become vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and reactivity in time.

Mindfulness practice helps us clear up the cluttered thoughts that leave us feeling adrift and unable to plant our feet firmly beneath us. One misconception about mindfulness is that we must somehow learn to focus perfectly on the breath—no distractions. However, our minds are designed to think and thus incapable of being devoid of thoughts and observations. Therefore, mindfulness consists of learning to recognize when we’ve become distracted and then redirecting our focus to the present. As we develop the ability to shift our focus, we create pauses in the mental chatter. In time and with practice, these pauses grow longer, and more frequent, offering the mind a much-needed break from its busy thinking.

In those moments of pause, rather than regretting what was or fearing what might be, we learn to take stock of what is. By engaging in exercises that refocus the mind to the present moment—where we have some control—we become better able to differentiate between facts and “stories.” Learning to separate what is from what is not in our control reduces fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. We also know to observe thoughts and body sensations during mindfulness practice without judging them as good or bad. Non-judgement of our thoughts and feelings translates into awareness and self-acceptance, which softens self-criticism, encourages inner peace, and enhances tolerance.

Balancing the Brain

Through consistent practice, we strengthen the part of the brain responsible for forming connections and language and rational thought and decision-making. Increasing our ability to think critically acts as a counterbalance to our often frenzied emotions. Balancing our sensations and emotions with rational thought increases our ability to utilize coping skills, helping us manage reactivity. When our emotions are better regulated, our ability to problem-solve improves, as does our mood, self-worth, concentration, quality of sleep, and well-being. All of this helps bring our actions and behaviors more aligned with our internal goals.

Getting Started

Lastly, getting started with mindfulness is easy. The first step is to ask your therapist for help. Once you have the basics, know that there is no right or wrong way to practice. No time requirements. No best way to be mindful. Your choice to practice is based on your personal goals, needs, and preferences. You may choose to sit and focus on the breath, lie down, engage in a body scan, journal, mindfully walk, bike ride, or stroke a beloved pet. If you’re consistently redirecting your attention to the present moment, you’re practicing mindfulness. Essentially, the possibilities are endless. The benefits are limitless.