A month ago I was at a loss. I was agitated, restless, tired.
Being the contrary, argumentative sod that I am, I decided to try something everyone had told me was absolutely useless: mindfulness.
I was overwhelmed with two big questions that are thrown at you on a daily basis between the ages of 18 and 30: “what do you want to do with your life?” and “are you happy with your life?” I was trying to answer them but I was so frustrated with everything that I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat, let alone what I wanted to do for the next 50 years. I was willing to give anything a shot to help figure myself out. And so.
It’s important to note that I’m not particularly spiritually inclined, or good at concentrating, or sitting still, all things I thought were necessary on some level for mindfulness to be of any help. In short, I’m just another stressed out, pissed off (often just pissed) young adult who spends more time looking at their Twitter feed than who they are as a person.
Smiling Mind is an Australian, free mindfulness app with programmes tailored to your age range, and enough options that you won’t get bored. And it’s fucking brilliant.
I started using the app every day, and I notice a difference in the days that I do.
Over a month, dedicating as little as 5 minutes a day, here’s what mindfulness has taught me.
It’s not that hard.
I thought it would be awful and stressful and impossible to concentrate on just my breathing. Turns out that after a few days I started to get the hang of it. But some days it’s still awful and stressful.
It’s not about emptying your mind.
It’s about focussing on your breathing. Have you ever tried emptying your mind? As soon as you realise you’ve done it, a thought has passed through your head. I think it’s impossible.
My mind is so busy, more than I ever realised.
I’m never just “focussing on my breathing”. I’m counting my breaths, ignoring an itch on my hand, fighting cramp in my foot, waiting for the next thing the mindfulness guide will say, listening to traffic, and trying to list and remember all these things for my article.
I think about Twitter a lot.
Actually, I think about tweeting what I’m doing a lot. Or I think about telling people what I’ve done a lot.
It reprioritises your problems.
I started using the app a few days before some important exams which I was panicking over. Mindfulness makes your push the biggest issues out of your mind (so you can focus on your cramp) and you realise a bunch of other things bothering you. Money. Lack of ambition. Whoever hasn’t texted you back. Whoever you haven’t texted back. That article on mindfulness you keep meaning to write. I’m not sure if this is the intention of mindfulness. Nevertheless, it happens, and it helps.
It works. It calms you down.
Now, if you were to just focus on your breathing for 5 minutes a day, yes, it would feel a bit useless. The neat trick in Smiling Mind is that you input how you’re feeling on a bunch of scales before and after the session. You might not feel less agitated because you’re too close to it, but compare your mood before and after and you’ll probably see an improvement. Mindfulness cleanses your palette, so to speak. It clears your head a little. It resets you and gives you a few moments away from the world.
It might sound like “hippy nonsense”, something I’ve heard a few times about it, but this bog-standard, cynical, irritated millennial says it isn’t.