At the beginning of last year while presenting to corporate groups, I created a set of principles to help people understand how mindfulness can be applied to everyday life in practical ways. I called this philosophy The Five Principles of Living Mindfully.
Since then, I have presented this material many times and I realised recently, it has become the foundation of my work.
I thought I’d offer them to you in an article that summarises the concepts and in an eBook (download your copy when you join our mailing list), which also offers suggestions about how you can apply the principles to create lasting change in your life.
#1 Be present
In a way, mindfulness is just another word for awareness. When you focus your attention on any given moment, you begin to experience your life as you’re living it. For most of us, this isn’t our regular habit.
More often than not, our minds go to thoughts about the past or worries about the future. When we are in the present moment we have a tendency to make judgements of ourselves, judgements of others and judgements about all of life in general. So often, we want the given moment to be different from what it is right now.
Being fully present means bringing the awareness back to now, noticing and appreciating the experience of this moment and accepting it for what it is.
#2 Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings
The second aspect of living mindfully is becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings as you’re having them.
Given many of us spend our time distracted, we are often unaware of the habitual (and often negative) thoughts and feelings that drive many of our behaviours. When we do become aware, our tendency is to resist difficult emotions and experiences, so we do our best to push them away.
The objective of mindful awareness is to help us become open to and accepting of the fact that life will be a mix of many varied experiences. It is often this richness that makes our lives most meaningful.
#3 Be mindful of your actions
Once you’re more in touch with your thoughts and emotions, it becomes easier to observe where you behave in ways that are not always in your best long-term interests.
For example, when we feel angry and we’re behaving mindlessly, we might make an irritable or snappy comment. When we’re being mindful and we can say to ourselves, ‘I feel anger’, we have the opportunity to pause and choose a considered response. We can also explore whether other emotions are present too. Anger, for example, often masks more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, disappointment, shame or fear.
Being aware of difficult thoughts and feelings also helps us to recognise the actions we take to try to escape them. Many of us overeat, drink too much or pursue other addictive behaviours (shopping, working too much, taking drugs etc.) to try to numb our experience.
Being mindful of our actions involves making choices that are aligned with our values that set us on the path to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
#4 Make plans mindfully
Many of us find ourselves swept along by life until we wake up one day to wonder how it was we came to be where we are.
Making plans mindfully means making conscious choices about your future direction.
It’s easiest to do this once you’re aware of your unique strengths and values and when you’re clear about your passions and interests.
If you’re unsure about these, you may find it helpful to explore the exercises in the Discover Your Purpose program (which is available for download from the website).
#5 Be mindful with others
The final principle is about being mindful in your interactions with others. This might include being present when you listen to a friend or colleague, making an attempt to judge others less than you currently do or learning to validate another person’s feelings, rather than offering solutions. Equally, it involves being accepting of our differences and cultivating compassion.
As well as the elements above, this principle also involves making a mindful contribution to others in a more significant way. This might be what we consider living a purposeful life. It could include sharing your unique gifts or your wisdom with the world; volunteering or supporting causes you care about or simply being a role model to others by living a generous and abundant life.