It’s challenging to live in today’s world. Our lives are crazy hectic and it seems like just when we think we’ve caught up, we lose ground again. We feel overwhelmed, overbooked, overstimulated, and exhausted. Our relationships are strained and maybe even falling apart.
And the worst thing about it is how easy it is to feel like we’re losing time. When you think back on your kids’ childhood, doesn’t it seem like the time was gone before you even had a chance to truly appreciate that sweet and innocent time in their lives? Or how about this: you’ve been driving for half an hour when all of a sudden you realize you can’t even recall the last 15 minutes of the drive. Sound familiar?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand solution to this problem. There are, however, some simple things you can do to begin to turn it around.
Mindfulness. We’ve all heard this word tossed around lately. But what exactly does it mean, though? It’s pretty simple, really. Mindfulness is the intentional act of paying attention and using all of our senses to experience a moment in time. It’s a way of rooting ourselves in the present moment and with time, it can help retrain our minds to react to challenging situations with calm and confidence.
While it sounds like I’m describing meditation, it’s actually a little bit different, although the two are very closely related and can be done simultaneously. It is possible to be mindful without fully meditating. We are all capable of being mindful, but it does take a tiny bit of practice.
Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can reduce rumination, which is when you find yourself stuck on thinking about the same thing and you can’t get your mind off it. Mindfulness can also reduce stress and improve memory and focus. And if you’re the type of person who reacts strongly to emotional stimulus (you get upset very easily, for instance), you’ll find that your emotional responses are more modulated when you practice mindfulness. Those who practice mindfulness also have found that their relationships improve because they are so much more tuned in to their partners, children, and other important people in their lives. And if you are working to improve your time management, you might find that practicing mindfulness can help with this skill.
How to be Mindful
Start small. No need to set aside a chunk of time to sit in mindful meditation in a quiet room (which is a great thing to do and something you may work up to at some point). It’s just as beneficial to mindfully pause many times a day as it is to practice a longer meditation once a day.
Just pause. Stop for a minute or two wherever you are and concentrate on taking it all in. Look, listen, smell, hear, feel, taste… Tune into the sounds of the birds, pay special attention to how your gloves feel on your hands, notice all the things around you that are green. It doesn’t matter what you pay attention to–it can be anything. Just focus on whatever it is with all your senses.
If you find that you are judging or that your mind is wandering, that’s okay. Acknowledge that it’s happening, and then patiently redirect your attention. No biggie. The more you take a few minutes to be mindful, the easier it will become. Add a few more minutes to your mindful pauses as time permits.
Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness Every Day
Here are some easy ways to get started practicing mindfulness every day:
- Think of ways to remind yourself to pause and be mindful. For example, every time your phone gives you an email notification, pause. Look, listen, feel, hear, taste.
- Focus on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. How does it feels as it enters and leaves your body? What would it look like if you could see it making its way to your alveoli and back out from your mouth? Imagine your ribs moving up and out with each inhalation, and down and in as you exhale.
- Notice something natural in your environment. It could be a rock, a flower, a cloud…anything. Now pretend you’re seeing this thing for the very first time. Notice everything about it. Spend a minute or two just letting the thing consume all of your attention. Try this exercise with important people in your life, too, such as your children or grandchildren. Take everything about them in and experience them fully.
- Pause to appreciate things. For instance, when you put your coat on to go out, pay attention to how the coat feels on you and you feel in the coat. Pay close attention to your feelings right then and then take a minute to appreciate the coat and its purpose. Try to do this appreciation exercise several times a day.
- Give special attention and focus to a routine task, particularly one that you may generally try to rush through because maybe it’s tedious or labor intensive. For instance, next time you need to scrub the grout in the bathroom, instead of muttering and trying to rush through it and just be done with it, immerse yourself in the task fully and completely. Let yourself experience every aspect of it with all of your senses.
- When someone is talking to you, make it a point to listen fully and openly, without judgment. Concentrate on making the attention you are giving them palpable. If your thoughts wander away from what the person is saying–if for instance, something they said triggers a memory that your mind moves to–acknowledge it and bring your attention back. Rephrase and repeat back what the person has said so they know they have been heard.
Again, start small. Practice frequently throughout the day, using your reminders until it becomes second nature. Remember, the more you stop to be mindful, the easier it will be. And you’ll soon begin to reap the benefits!
I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with mindfulness. What is your favorite way to be mindful? Do any of the above exercises work better for you than others? What have you noticed in yourself since you started practicing mindfulness? Drop me a line or comment below. Take care!