Similar to how computers have software and operating systems, humans have their own software and operating systems, albeit slightly different. Our software consists of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, while our operating system is comprised of our relationships to others, ourselves, and the world around us. Just as computers need to have their operating systems upgraded from time to time, so too do our own operating systems.
Practicing mindfulness is one way to upgrade your system. It helps by creating space for reasoned and skillful responses and makes the unconscious conscious. Being mindful gives you greater freedom to choose your emotional responses to a situation rather than reacting reflexively. Because mindfulness promotes emotional regulation, it helps to lessen feelings of impulsiveness by widening the gap between what happens to us and what we do with it.
One of the main reasons mindfulness is an effective way to upgrade your operating system is because it increases your emotional intelligence. While some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, emotional intelligence is not a static measurement and can be enhanced through specific practices.
Emotional intelligence requires communication between two sides of the brain: the rational-logical part of the brain, located in the prefrontal cortex, and the emotional part, located in the amygdala. Practicing mindfulness bridges the gap between these two areas. Consistent practice actually builds new neural pathways that become stronger and more efficient throughout time.
Practicing mindfulness helps you to deal with feelings of anxiety, guilt, depression, fear, loneliness and emptiness, and also the negative thinking that contributes to and reinforces these emotions by increasing your ability to bear discomfort and be present with it. Emotional intelligence helps you to recognize and be aware of your emotions, which makes you better able to regulate them. Combined, this allows you to have control over your feelings, instead of being controlled by them.
Mindfulness is a skill that needs regular practice to be effective. Here are a few ways to incorporate mindfulness practice into your life.
Set aside a specific time and space
Pick a quiet and calm place in your home to practice mindfulness. Find the time where you’re unlikely to be interrupted and designate it as your mindfulness time. Keep this space reserved solely for meditation. For those new to mindfulness, try setting a time limit, such as five or ten minutes.
Focus on the present moment
The only time you can live in is the present, so it should be what you’re focusing on. Stop thinking about the past or the future and just focus on where you are right now. Focus on your breathing and the noises around you to keep yourself centered in the present.
Notice your wandering mind
The point of mindfulness is not to fully clear your mind of thoughts, but to be aware of these thoughts and choose not to focus on them. When you notice your mind wandering, return your focus on your breath to bring you back to the present moment. Don’t pass judgment on yourself for these thoughts, or for the fact that your mind is wandering, but merely return back to the present moment.