Although sitting silently on a meditation cushion might be your first thought when you think of mindfulness, the concept simply means being present in the moment without judgment. And while a meditation practice is a great way to cultivate a heightened capacity for mindfulness, virtually any activity you do each day can serve to help you in becoming more mindful and attentive. Mindfulness is all about paying attention without labels, distractions, or preconceived notions — you just learn to observe the world around you, and yourself, with deeper presence over time. Moreover, mindfulness can improve your relationships in a number of significant ways.
When you practice mindfulness throughout the various areas of your life, it becomes easier to improve your relationships. “Being more mindful can help you be more in tune with other people’s thoughts and feelings,” says licensed marriage and family therapist, Kiaundra Jackson LMFT, author of Staying Sane In An Insane World. “When other people feel heard and understood, the only thing that will do is improve your relationships. However, being mindful in relationships takes work, and needs to be practiced regularly.”
Give these six tactics a try to boost your relationships.
“Start and end your day with intentionality,” Jackson says. “Begin your days with journaling, prayer, or moments of silence to get centered before doing your daily tasks. At the end of the day, mentally recap your day from beginning to end by choosing to focus on the positive.”
“Being mindful means being aware of whatever is present without judgement,” says Erica Curtis, LMFT, author of The Innovative Parent: Raising Connected, Happy, Successful Kids Through Art. “Another way to think of mindfulness is being aware of whatever is present with a stance of curiosity and compassion. When we approach relationships mindfully, we can be more aware of what is unfolding in the current moment rather than hanging onto judgments, assumptions, or beliefs about what happened five years ago, five days ago, or even five minutes ago. We become more aware of the stories we tell ourselves about our relationship, this person in front of us, and who we are. With increased awareness, we can challenge ourselves to show up in the present moment with compassion for ourself and the other. With a mindful stance we can listen more generously to the other and make choices about our actions, rather than reacting.”
Focus on the five senses
Take time to focus on your five senses throughout the day to up your capacity for presence. “Mindfulness is truly about focusing on the ‘here and now,’” Jackson says. “In a fast-moving world, we neglect the simple things that can bring us joy. Try spraying your favorite scent, picking a flower, savoring your favorite food, or simply taking a quick walk to clear your mind.”
Be a good listener
In order to put mindfulness to work in relationships, Curtis believes it’s crucial to listen generously. “Catch yourself when you are thinking about what you want to say instead of listening to what the other person is saying,” she says. “Notice when you’re working hard at trying to be understood, rather than putting energy into trying to understand the other. Put electronics away and spend time with a loved one without the distraction of phones or tablets. Notice the impulse to check [your device], and resist it. Consider the stories you tell yourself about a relationship, moment, or behavior. Ask yourself if it is possible that the story isn’t always true. Find something to savor in each moment with this other — even the challenging moments.”
There’s a crucial link between mindfulness and an increased capacity for empathy in relationships. “Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes can help you focus on the here and now by actively listening to what the other person is saying,” explains Jackson. Moreover, it’s important to focus on non-verbal cues in order to increase being attuned to the other person. “Focus on what they are not saying. Body language is huge, and it can give us more clarity into how a person is feeling or thinking. Being more observant is the best way to enhance mindfulness in your life and relationships.”
Push through challenges
There’s no doubt that relationships can be full of obstacles. “That said, where we are most challenged lies the most opportunity for personal growth, if we allow it to be that opportunity,” Curtis says. “No matter what your personal goals in life and relationships might be, cultivating a greater capacity for mindfulness can create profound change for the better over time — both within and without.”
A version of this story was published April 2019.
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