Mind over matter

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Mind over matter

Overloaded with deadlines, information and responsibilities, it’s little wonder that we sometimes end up on autopilot. Mindfulness can help us overcome the struggle and improve our physical, emotional and even our financial wellbeing.

Have you noticed how busy everybody is nowadays?

It doesn’t make for a relaxing life and it isn’t healthy either. Stressed out and short of time, it’s easy to turn to quick fixes. It might be a couple of beers, some chocolate, zoning out on the couch or indulging in a little retail therapy.

Our minds wander to what we’d rather be doing. Sometimes, the last thing we want to do is think about the here and now.

But doing just that can have surprising benefits.

Mindfulness offers us a way to cope with the demands of our overloaded lives. It can reduce our tendency to worry, boost our confidence and help us make better decisions.

Have you been paying attention?

Being mindful involves paying deliberate attention to what we’re experiencing in that very moment, without judging it as good or bad. That includes concentrating on our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.

When we focus on what’s going on right now, we develop greater awareness. And, just like regular physical exercise transforms the body, consistently practising mindfulness can change the brain.

Studies have found that mindfulness consistently affects the parts of the brain that are associated with self-regulation, learning, complex thought, and resilience.

Mindfulness does not only have a positive effect on health and wellbeing, but also… is likely to improve one’s ability to make high-quality judgments and decisions.

Everywhere from businesses to schools, sports arenas and even prisons, mindfulness is being used to reduce stress, improve performance and develop greater empathy.

In Australia, one of the first organisations to introduce widespread mindfulness training was leading law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. In a profession known for its long hours and high demands, the program has generated meaningful change, including a 45% increase in focus and a 35% reduction in stress among participants.

Get money minded

Applying mindfulness to how we manage and think about our money is useful in a variety of ways.

1. Better decisions:

Being mindful helps at each stage of the decision-making process, from initially framing it, to gathering information, making a conclusion, and finally learning from the experience. In particular, it helps combat the ‘sunk cost trap’, which is the strong bias to persist with a bad decision because of how much has already been invested.

Having the clarity to consider how the available options relate to personal goals and hone in on the most relevant facts, stands people in good stead when faced with major investment or borrowing decisions.

2. Reduced impulsiveness:

Bringing yourself back to the present moment curbs the instinct to act on impulse. That can reduce the tendency to overspend on items don’t really want or need. You can help with sticking to a budget.

3. Lower anxiety:

Personal finances are consistently rated as the number one source of stress, according to the Australian Psychological Society. Mindfulness is a valuable tool to reduce anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.

Developing greater awareness can help us make wise choices when faced with major investment or borrowing decisions, and change day-to-day patterns of behaviour that underpin financial wellbeing. And all without tearing our hair out.

Beyond the brain

Mindfulness does more than give us a mental boost. Studies have found it also leads to:

  • Better sleep
  • Improved digestion
  • More physical and mental energy
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased immunity, including against the flu

Tips for getting started

Mindfulness is most effective when it’s part of a regular routine. The good news is it doesn’t have to take long or cost money – 10 minutes a day is enough to make a difference, and there are lots of ways to do it for free.

  • Devote your complete attention to doing a single simple activity, like having a coffee. Notice everything about it: the heat of the cup, the aroma, the steam rising, the taste and how it changes, the warmth and energy as you drink, and how it makes you feel.
  • Ask yourself a question and pause for a minute to reflect on what it means to you. It could be ‘What makes me happy?’ or ‘What does this moment require?’.
  • Go for a walk in a park or your neighbourhood and concentrate on your surroundings – the people, nature, the weather and the sounds.
  • Listen to a piece of music – a favourite song, or something new – and concentrate on the different sounds and rhythms.
  • Take one minute when you start or finish something during the day to breathe deeply, identify your feelings, thoughts and physical sensations and let them pass.
  • Try an app – there’s a range of mobile mindfulness training programs you can download. A great place to start is Smiling Mind, a free Australian app with a wide range of short programs for all ages.
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