If you’re like most people, you spend a lot of time rehashing the past and planning for the future. But life is only ever lived in the present. The more time you spend thinking about things that already happened or that haven’t happened yet, the more you miss out on your actual life — the one that’s happening right now.

Thankfully, establishing a mindfulness practice can bring you back to the present. In fact, research shows that spending just five minutes a day practicing mindfulness for three weeks can make your stress levels go way down and your life satisfaction go way up.

What is mindfulness?

Wondering what, exactly, mindfulness is? It’s simply the state of being aware. If you’ve ever been shocked to discover you just ate half a bag of potato chips, you’ve engaged in mindless eating. When we bring mindfulness to the table, we pay attention to the act of eating and make more conscious decisions about what and how much to eat.

So how do you get more mindful? Practice!

Starting a mindfulness practice

The folks at mindful.org have broken down mindfulness meditation into three simple steps:

  1. Take a good seat
  2. Pay attention to your breath
  3. When your attention wanders, return

How in the world does doing this lower your stress and increase your joy? Because you learn how to practice letting go of stressful thoughts and coming back to the present moment. When you practice that skill every day in a controlled environment, you increase your ability to do it in real-world stressful moments.

5 tips for mindful success

It takes a lot of courage and more than a little discipline to sit quietly for a few minutes every day. Here are some tips to keep you on path.

  1. Start small. It’s tempting to decide you’re going to practice mindfulness meditation for 30 minutes a day. Don’t! It’s better to practice for five minutes regularly than 30 minutes occasionally. You can gradually increase the time you spend sitting after you’ve mastered the 5-minutes-a-day habit.
  2. Don’t judge. Your mind will wander. Don’t berate yourself about that. The whole point of the practice is to notice when your mind has wandered and gently bring your attention back to your breath. Wander and return, wander and return: that’s what it’s all about.
  3. See your thoughts as clouds. You don’t need to grab onto every thought that comes into your head; you can just let it float on by, the way you would let a cloud pass if you were cloud watching.
  4. Notice everything. Notice when your mind has wandered. Notice what your mind is telling you about your mind wandering. Notice how you feel about what your mind is telling you about your mind wandering. Just sit and neutrally observe all the craziness that is happening inside your head. When you get good at just noticing, you put a little bit of space between your thoughts and your reactions.
  5. Use tools. You’re not the first beginner out there, so go ahead and use the tools that are available to you. Download the free Headspace app, which has a series of guided meditations that enable you to learn the basics in ten days.

Have you ever tried starting a mindfulness practice? Are you inspired to now?