By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Mindfulness – focusing without judgment on the current moment – is a hot topic these days; and for good reason. Among its many benefits, it has been scientifically shown to relieve anxiety and stress, improve mood, increase immune response, and enhance attention and memory. In addition, you can use mindfulness to improve your relationships by helping you to be:
- Present to enjoy and appreciate your friends and loved ones: When you are focused on the experience of being with others while you are in their presence, you immediately make that quality time.
- A better listener: Focusing on the moment means really listening – not just hearing – when others talk. This kind of attention will help your friends feel that you really care about them and what they have to say. It will also help you to truly understand what they are trying to communicate.
- A better communicator: With mindfulness, you are more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. This kind of self-awareness is a necessary foundation for you to communicate your experiences more clearly.
- More empathic: Being open to verbal and nonverbal communication makes you more empathic, which can help you to be a better, more caring and compassionate friend.
If these examples of how mindfulness can improve your relationships convince you that learning to be mindful is worth trying, you might be wondering what you need to do. And, fortunately, mindfulness is simple to learn – though not easy to master. All you need to do is practice bringing yourself back into the moment. One way to do this is by asking yourself, “What is happening right now?”
You can practice mindfulness when you are alone, paying attention to your sensations (e.g. tension in your chest), thoughts (e.g. thinking about a friend’s behavior), and feelings (e.g. frustrated). If you notice that you are being judgmental of yourself, simply observe that. For instance, you might observe that you are feeling and thinking, “I am such a selfish person for being angry with Pam just because she is late for our dinner date. Something could be very wrong and all I’m thinking about is myself.” Then, being mindful, you would note, “I am being judgmental of my anger.” That’s all you need to do with mindfulness – really. But what often happens is that your emotions settle down a bit and your perceptions open up. You might then realize that your anger is in response to her habit of being late and you feeling disrespected.
You can also practice being mindful while you are with others. If you notice that you are distracted when a friend is talking, choose to refocus on what she is saying. If you are having a strong emotional reaction, observe that reaction, too. With an awareness of both what your friend is communicating and what you are experiencing, you will be in a better position to respond in an effective way. For instance, if your friend is explaining why she was late for meeting you at a restaurant, you might open a difficult, but necessary conversation by saying, “I hear that you were caught in traffic and feel badly about holding me up; however, this has been a pattern with you. So, I’m feeling really frustrated.” Though such an issue is not easy to address, mindfulness can at least help you to do so in a more effective manner.
Mindfulness is not so much something you achieve, as it is something that you practice doing in your daily life. It’s worth the effort, though, because by helping you to have more fulfilling relationships, mindfulness is also helping you to be a generally happier person.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.