All humans judge others and themselves, and compare their own experiences to others constantly. It’s human nature. This can cause a lot of anxiety, negative thoughts, self-doubt and low self-esteem. However, there is a way to think purely on the present, and help us let go of the past, or the stress of thinking about the unpredictable future—practicing mindfulness.

mindfulnessThink of yourself doing something simple—something that you wouldn’t regularly think twice about, like eating an apple. You’re probably aware that you’re eating an apple, but not particularly paying attention to how it smells, what it sounds like to take a bite, or how it feels to hold it in your hand. We’re conditioned to think of multiple things at one time and to not focus solely on one task. Our attention is diverted elsewhere.

Mindfulness is being aware of your body, your thoughts and the environment that surrounds you while also accepting these feelings and thoughts without judging them. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can bring a wide array of benefits. PATH Coordinator, Darren McCall tells us why he tries to mediate almost every day. “In my opinion, the biggest benefit is greater psychological flexibility. You can have more parts of your brain that are engaged and help you manage emotional responses. You are essentially training your brain and it will give you flexibility on how to approach life. ”

Meditation and mindfulness can foster compassion, enhance relationships, reduce anxiety, improve memory and attention skills, fight depression and stress and is, in general, good for our minds.

“People get discouraged when their mind won’t settle. They’ll think that it’s not working for them or they’re doing it wrong,” says Darren. “If you begin and stop three times, just stop. It’s about feeling impulsive and giving yourself permission.” A key part of mindfulness and meditation is that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to feel or think.

Here are a few tips and tricks to practicing mindfulness:

  1. Pay attention, close attention, to yourself and your surroundings, especially your breath
  2. Focus your attention and engage your senses. Close your eyes, or leave them open looking at something. Take time to smell, taste, listen, and touch.
  3. Do this intentionally – set a purpose for why you’re choosing to pay attention to this certain thought or feeling.
  4. Let go of any thoughts of the past or future and think in the present. Relax any tension that you might be holding in your body.
  5. Don’t compare, judge, or be critical of yourself.

“There’s a lot of isolation we feel, and we feel anxious about feeling anxious,” Darren says. “Your life improves because you have more options. You will feel more optimistic and hopeful, and take action more and learn when it’s appropriate to take those actions.” Through these simple practices, we can leave the stressful thoughts behind and lead a more stress-free life.

Discover more on mindfulness and find other ways to meditate, and practice breathing here. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

Find out how mindful you are with this quiz: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/4/