‘Mindfulness’ is a word we hear a lot these days, but what exactly does it mean? Find out what it is, what the benefits of mindfulness are and how you can start to practise it.

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Have you ever driven somewhere and realised when you arrived that you couldn’t really remember anything about the journey? Or have you ever eaten a whole packet of biscuits when you were planning to only have one? Or have you stayed up much later than you planned, or even all night, watching ‘just one more’ episode of a TV series? All of these are examples of mindlessness. When we live this way, we are not fully awake and not fully living our lives.

What exactly is mindfulness?

When we are mindful, we are more conscious of our thoughts, our actions and what is happening around us. We might notice a beautiful sunset or really listen carefully to what a friend is saying, rather than planning what we’re going to say next. We are also more aware of our own feelings and our thoughts. Jon Kabat Zinn, who has done a lot to make mindfulness popular, says mindfulness is: ‘Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and without judging.’

So we are consciously deciding what to pay attention to, we are not worrying about the past or planning for the future and we are not trying to control or stop our thoughts or feelings – we’re just noticing them.

Why is mindfulness so popular now?

For most people life is getting busier and busier. Technology means that we always have something to do and there isn’t much opportunity to just ‘be’. People are often doing two or three things at the same time: texting while watching TV, or even looking at their phone while walking along the pavement. People are working longer hours and bringing work home. All this can make us stressed, and mindfulness can be a way of reducing this stress.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Research shows that mindfulness reduces stress and depression. It can help you to concentrate, have a better memory and to think more clearly. It can also help people to manage pain better and to improve their sleep, and it can even help you lose weight because you won’t eat that whole packet of biscuits without thinking!

How to become more mindful

Mindfulness Day is celebrated on 12 September, so maybe that would be a good day to try a few mindfulness techniques and see if they make a difference. But, of course, you can try these on any day of the year.

A very simple technique that you could try right now is to close your eyes for a couple of minutes and count how many sounds you can hear. This will help to focus you on what is happening right now.

Another technique is to focus on a piece of food, typically a raisin. Instead of eating it without thinking, slow down. Look carefully at it and notice how it feels in your fingers. Smell it. Then put it on your tongue and taste it. Only then start to eat it slowly, noticing how it feels and how it tastes.

Both of these techniques force you to slow down and focus on the present moment, and there are plenty of other ideas you can find online if you want to try mindfulness for yourself. 

Discussion

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Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

Hi there, i started to learning English by your website then i try to improve my English level every day by your website, TED's videos, Youtube video's about learning English and etc, i want to attend the TOEFL exam and preparing to this issue, my English isn't good enough (i guess you know this right now) for that, may you can tell me what do i do? i need a teacher or no? you are expert&know better than everyone, please help me i mean show or guide me that i find true way. thank you in advance for your attention&help.

Best regards,
Babak

Hi, can you explain the difference between "This will help to focus you on what is happening right now." or " this will help you (to) focus on what is happening right now." ?

Hi minima,

These sentences mean the same thing for the most part, but I suppose you could argue there is a different description of how the technique works in each sentence: the first says that the technique will focus you on the present (whether you want to or not), whereas the second says the technique will help you focus on the present (which suggests it could possibly not work).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply, Kirk

I have not tried some mindfulness technique, but this article seems very interesting; i'm sure that I will try soon.

Hi Babak,

I think your approach is a good one, but I would also recommend preparing specifically for the TOEFL exam, which has a very specific format. The more you become familiar with and practise for that format, the more likely you are to get a good result. The TOEFL, like the IELTS, is not an exam you pass or fail, but rather which gives you a rating.

There are lots of TOEFL preparation resources on the internet, though I'd recommend at least starting with the official ETS resources. It would also be a good idea to get some help from a teacher, as they will be able to help identify the areas that you need to work on to improve.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Krik,
first of all I'll tank you for your help&guide, I know this (The TOEFL, like the IELTS, is not an exam you pass or fail, but rather which gives you a rating) I was meaning up to 80 score. it's very kind of you for your respond.
Best wishes,
Babak