1. Mindful people get out of their own way.
We spend a lot of time working against ourselves. We tend to get caught up in what we think we need to do and be and become, and along the way we often forget to simply notice. Mindfulness is rooted in awareness, so that we can get out of our own way.
Mindful people start to break down their self-imposed roadblocks by separating themselves from their thoughts and simply being an observer of what is going on in their heads.
2. They embrace negative thoughts rather than avoid them.
We all have negative thoughts. They’re rooted in one of the most universal human emotions: fear. But mindful people treat their negative thoughts differently. Instead of exerting a lot of energy pushing them away and keeping them out, they welcome these thoughts in, allowing them to stay for a bit, greeting them impassively and without judgment. From this space of acceptance, there’s the clarity and composure to then make conscious, deliberate decisions.
3. They recognize triggers.
We’ve all got certain hot buttons. They’re triggers that cause us to react quickly and fiercely, sometimes so much so that we’re even shocked at ourselves. These triggers are born out of years’ worth of emotional traumas that have stored themselves inside of us, in our very muscle memory and tissues. When we find ourselves reactive, we can know one’s flared up. Mindful people learn to identify what’s at the root of their reactiveness – fear, anger, anxiety – and train themselves to recognize what it physically feels like in their body when a trigger’s set off, so that when it happens again, they can stay calm and even-tempered.
4. They fight right.
While in the midst of a conflict, many of us tend to fall into the communication trap of “kitchen sinking” – a destructive form of relaying one’s frustrations that extends far beyond the issue at hand and starts to unload and stack every instance of hurt that they’d been suppressing over time. In this way, an argument that starts over an upsetting statement could escalate into totally irrelevant accusations around never doing the dishes. Mindful people practice conflict resolution in ways that actually bring them closer with their friends and partners. In working to be aware when dealing with conflict, they stay levelheaded, are in tune with what emotions are cropping up for them and notice the verbal and nonverbal language of the other person. In this way, they can see a situation more plainly and leave reactiveness and volatility at the door.
5. They stay calm and analyze challenging situations rationally.
Research on mindfulness has found thicker pre-frontal cortices – home to our working memory and executive decision-making – in those who regularly practice mindfulness with meditation for 30 minutes a day. The pre-frontal cortex is the area of our brain that houses our rationality and understanding of consequences. It allows us to discern if something is really a threat or if we just think it is. That said, from a neurological standpoint, mindful people are not driven to panic as quickly or act as impulsively as those who do not practice mindfulness.
6. They make room for awe.
Mindful people work to see the magic in every day, and they recognize that it is just that: work. Making room for awe requires tapping into a larger appreciation for the world inside and around us. It takes conscious, willful thought to focus our awareness on the exact present moment and see the wonder and beauty in the things we tend to take for granted – the way our bodies keep working for us so effortlessly, the way we’re handed a ticket to a totally unique sunset each night, the way our lives intersect so gently and wonderfully with the lives of those we know and meet. Those who make room for awe reap the benefits: a richer and more expanded sense of time, boosts in creativity, a greater sense of hope and happiness and a marked decrease in stress.
7. They self-soothe.
There’s definitely something important to reaching out to others when we need help; it takes courage and vulnerability that should never be underestimated. But there’s also something to be said about our ability to comfort ourselves. Mindful people learn to slow down their physical, mental and emotional bodies in times of stress with breath work and meditation. By taking the time to quiet their sympathetic nervous system – our fight-or-flight response, the part of us that revs up our bodies in preparation for physical activity – they’re able to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system, the only state during which the body can genuinely relax, and thus tap back into the true self that’s so often overshadowed by the fear-driven, outcome-oriented ego.
8. They make much needed changes.
Mindful people get stuck just like everyone else, except they tend to take it a step further and work to change their circumstances. Mindfulness works hand in hand with the age-old adage: to make a change, one first must recognize that a change needs to be made.
When something is broken or no longer working, mindful people allow themselves to see the situation for what it truly and plainly is, without judgment or denial, which makes leaving it behind considerably easier and less complicated to do.
9. They exhibit more empathy and compassion.
Studies on mindfulness in which brain scans were performed before and after people partook in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course demonstrated actual physiological differences in the brains. These included an increase in grey matter in the hippocampus, the area of our brains responsible for learning, memory and emotional regulation; a decrease in size of the amygdala, the area of our brains that processes stress and strong negative emotions such as fear and anger; and a strengthening of the tempor-parietal junction, the area of our brains that houses empathy and perspective taking. With their improved ability to regulate and process negative emotions as well as their increased capacity for stepping into others’ shoes, mindful people become more able to exhibit greater and purer empathy and compassion.
10. They reduce their own self-absorption.
At the end of the day, this is what mindfulness is really all about – getting out of our own heads enough to step into the realities of others and realize that we are not the center of the universe. Some days it can be exceptionally hard to remember this; after all, we’ve been front and center to every experience we’ve ever personally had. But worrying solely about ourselves counteracts and tramples the very thing that mindfulness most unlocks and awakens: gratitude. It makes us live from a place of fear, of “never enough,” “need more.” Mindful people know that if they can channel themselves into the space of awareness of the needs of others, they’ll be tapping into their higher self, and thus mindful people are constantly working to check back into the world around them.