The 4 Key Principles of Mindfulness + How To Practice Them Today

Licensed Clinical Social Worker By Stephanie Catalano, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Stephanie Catalano, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and personal development author. She has over eight years of experience in the fields of child welfare, mental health, and substance use.

Image by Jack Sorokin / Stocksy

A lot of people are talking about mindfulness right now. But there isn't a lot of conversation on what it actually means, how to start, and beyond that, how to maintain a mindful life when anxiety, stress, fear, depression, and grief are still real.

The first step is to understand what mindfulness means. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of what's taking place, both internally and externally, and to allow the experience to be what it is without becoming consumed or overly reactive or overwhelmed by what's going on around us. This practice teaches people how to experience and enjoy life as it's happening rather than waiting for the "right moment" or watching life pass them by.

However, a person can understand mindfulness and have every intention of practicing it, but if they don't have a deeper understanding of themselves, practice acceptance on a regular basis, take accountability for their experiences, and continuously apply what they know, it will be difficult to sustain a mindful life. So, I developed an easy formula, referred to as "The Magic Four," to help explain the key principles of mindfulness and how to practice them:

1. Awareness

Awareness is the state of being conscious of something. To be aware is to be focused on what is happening in the present moment, including body awareness, posture, and breathing. This principle allows the person to reflect and identify any barriers, blocks, or beliefs that are keeping them from living life in the present moment.

How to practice it: You can practice awareness daily simply by beginning to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and responses. Pay attention to any tension in your body and release it as needed. When you find yourself drifting to the past or the future, you can do the following:

  1. Notice where your attention is.
  2. Refocus on what is happening in the present moment.

This can be accomplished by focusing on your senses in that moment. What do you hear, see, smell, taste, and feel? Let your senses be what guides you back to the present moment.

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2. Acceptance

Acceptance is to recognize a person, a place, a process, an experience, or a condition without attempting to change it. It is to accept someone or something for what it is without trying to control or change the outcome. This also includes self-acceptance and the acceptance of past life events.

This principle is important because, in order to experience life in the present moment, one must recognize what is in their control versus what is not. A lot of people spend a lot of time dwelling on people, places, and things that are outside of their control, as well as worrying about what's to come. All this does is interfere with the ability to be present.

How to practice it: You can practice acceptance daily by recognizing when you're trying to control someone or something outside of you and surrendering to what's beyond your control. As you do this, you'll notice you will begin to feel better. As humans, we like to be in control.

We all know we can't change something once it has been done, nor can we predict how something will be, but we always have the power to choose how we respond and how we show up. 

3. Accountability

Accountability is taking ownership of something within one's power or control. It is to answer to your mistakes and own them without placing blame on another person, place, or thing. To be accountable is also to examine how you contribute to your experiences.

How to practice it: You can begin to practice accountability by holding yourself responsible for what gets done, how you feel, and how you respond. Part of accountability is allowing yourself to be vulnerable, as well as being clear on what your boundaries are.

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4. Action

Action is the process of doing something. It is to apply skills and to take steps of action that will help you move forward in your life, stay balanced, and achieve your goals and dreams. Action is what will help you navigate through the everyday stressors and return to the present moment when needed.

How to practice it: You can begin practicing action by creating routines that set you up for success and to feel good. The idea is to apply what you know, to eliminate procrastination, and to move forward with what it is you desire, whether it be making time for yoga, finding a new job, or having a heart-to-heart conversation that's been on your mind. The most important part is to fully understand that only you have the ability to take action toward what it is you want.

Of course, these aren't the only ways to practice these principles but rather a guide to help you begin your inward journey. The idea is to pay attention in every moment and refocus on the "here and the now" as many times as you need to. Mindfulness isn't something we do; it's a way of life. As long as you stay committed to these four principles, you will find it will become easier to experience life as it's happening. 

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