Mindfulness practice has many benefits for reducing stress or increasing overall well-being. You may have read my other blog posts describing mindfulness and why it is beneficial, and maybe you’re wondering how you can implement this practice. For those of you who say you don't have time to meditate, the good news is that you don't necessarily have to sit in formal meditation for twenty minutes a day to gain some benefits of mindfulness. Here’s a practical list of ten ways to be more mindful in your daily life:
Tell Yourself What is Happening Right Now. As cheesy as it sounds, my favorite mindfulness practice (and the favorite of many of my clients) is to dictate to yourself what you are doing as you are doing it. Literally tell yourself in your mind the actions you are taking as you do them. When doing the dishes, this may look something like “I am picking up the plate, running it under the hot water. I can feel the plate in my hand, the warm water over my hands. I am grabbing the soap, I can see the bubbles forming. I can smell the scent of the soap. I notice the plate becoming clean.” If your brain is busy calling the play-by-play of the present moment, it can’t wander off to future worries or past regrets, and you will find yourself relaxing.
Check in with Your Five Senses. Our brains are constantly taking in the sensory input from our five senses, whether we are paying attention to it or not. This mindfulness exercise asks your brain to simply notice that sensory input, without judgement. Take a few minutes to notice what you can see, smell, taste, hear, and feel right now. Maybe you notice sounds that you were previously tuning out, warmth of the sun on your skin, or details of the room you are in that you have never noticed before.
Take a Breath (or several). Like the five senses, our breathing is another “anchor” to the present moment. Take a few minutes to focus on noticing your breathing. Common focal points are the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe, the in and out flow of air from a nostril, or counting your breaths from 1-10 and back to 1 again.
Body scan. Notice the position your body is in. Attend to the sensation of your feet touching the floor or the contact of your body with your chair. It only takes a few minutes and you can do this several times throughout your day.
Take a mindfulness walk. Either purposely take a walk to practice this exercise, or simply the next time you have to walk somewhere, make it a mindful walk. Consciously slow your pace, paying attention to every point of contact your feet make with the floor or earth. Gently refocus your mind to that contact anytime your mind wanders.
Do things one at a time. One way we end up being mind-LESS is by trying to do several things at one time. Our culture seems to value being busy and multi-tasking like it’s a notch in your belt the more you can juggle; despite that research shows we aren’t very good at it. If you’re eating your lunch while scrolling Instagram or reading emails, you aren’t fully aware of your dining experience. It is a mindfulness practice to stop multitasking, allow yourself to fully engage in what you’re doing in the moment…such as tasting your food. Challenge yourself to only eat your lunch, do nothing else, and notice all the textures, tastes, and smells of the experience.
Don’t Judge. Mindfulness practice is one of simply observing what is in the present. Our brains tend to want to label events and situations as good or bad, or to make up a story about what is happening. But with mindfulness, we simply observe what is going on in the moment, without labels or stories. See if you can simply notice things, without having to decide if you like it or not, or if it is good or bad. Allow it to just be, with no labels.
Don’t Control, just observe. In addition to not judging what is, with mindfulness, we also want to not try to control or change the outcome of things. In the spirit of observation, we simply notice what is occurring, without manipulating the outcome. The benefit of this is that you are therefore “off duty” and do not have to do any work. You simply sit back and observe the moment, not trying to change anything, which can be very relaxing.
Do the task with the goal of doing the task. This is a funny way of saying that many things we do with the goal of getting it done, so we can move on to the next to-do task. A subtle shift in perspective with mindfulness is to have the goal of doing the task only to do the task, not to complete it. It’s a journey-versus-destination difference that can help you focus on and appreciate what you’re doing in the present moment, rather than viewing it as something that is horrible that you need to get done as soon as possible so you can start living your life. Which takes us to number ten.
Realize the Present Moment is all you have. Mindfulness teaches us that every moment we have IS our life, and really, all we have. There are not moments that we have to suffer through and THEN we’ll be happy/relaxed/enjoy ourselves. There are only moments. I often say to clients that our lives really are nothing but a long string of present moments. The more often we become mindful and fully engage, appreciate, and enjoy those individual moments, the more relaxed, joyful, and happy we become overall. Because what is this elusive goal of “happiness” other than increased moments of feeling joy or happiness rather than moments of stress or despair?