Just like our bodies, our minds need training to function at their best. Mindfulness is a form of mental training that supports the mind to be more focused, effective, and present to what we are doing as we are doing it. It’s often described as the practice of bringing your full attention, in an open, non-judgmental way to the present moment. Our minds are so often planning or worrying about the future or reflecting on the past, we miss the place where life is actually happening, here, in this moment. When the mind gets caught up in loops about the future or the past, we increase stress, which over time has a corrosive effect on our mental and physical wellbeing.
You can develop mindfulness skills through training your mind with mindfulness meditation. However, you can also develop your mindfulness muscle through practising bringing your attention to the present moment in everyday activities.
Here are 14 steps to bring mindfulness into your daily life:
Be mindful of your breath: The breath is a powerful indicator of our stress levels. When we are stressed the breath becomes short and shallow and is often located in our chest. When we pay attention to our breath we can help calm it down and bring our whole nervous system back into balance. Take time during the day to tune into your breath. Notice where you feel the breath. Is it in the chest or belly? Take three deep breaths and allow each inhalation and exhalation to be slower and longer than normal. Notice how this changes how you feel.
Be mindful when eating: We can often eat on the go and not only fail to taste the food but also overeat or not chew our food properly. To eat mindfully, decide you are going to make eating your sole focus. Notice the food on your plate, pay attention to colours, shapes and smells. Bring your awareness to the sensation of chewing and the flavours, textures and temperature in your mouth. Notice any urge to eat quickly or swallow your food without chewing it completely. Be aware of your attention getting hijacked from the experience of eating and gently bring it back to the flavour of the food.
Be mindful when drinking tea: Taking a mindful tea break is a powerful way to stop the racing mind and come to the present moment. Make a tea and as you drink it bring your attention fully to the experience by tuning into your senses. Feel the warmth of the cup in your hands, taste the tea with each sip, notice the sounds around you. When you feel your mind wandering, let go of thoughts and come back to the sensation of the warmth of the tea cup in your hands.
Be mindful in supermarket queues: Waiting in lines can often be a frustrating experience as we feel held up in our day. We can use these “waiting” experiences to practice mindfulness. Be mindful in the supermarket queue by tuning in to your body. Sense your feet on the ground and scan the body for any tension that might be present. Let that tension go. Check in with how you are feeling, notice any irritation or impatience in the body and us the breath, see if you can let it go.
Be mindful on social media: Social media can be a time wasting hazard as we mindlessly scroll through the feed and lose touch with the present moment. Be mindful on social media by bringing a conscious intention to the amount of time you are intending to spend on it before starting. Whilst you are using social media sense into the impact it has on your emotional state – does it make you feel good, bad, bored, interested? By tuning in to the impact of activities mindfully we can start to make more conscious decisions which support our wellbeing.
Be mindful while driving: These days driving can become a dangerous mindless activity, with people texting while driving and being increasingly distracted. To drive mindfully, bring an intention to be present to driving and commit to not using your phone. Tune in to your body – notice your hands on the wheel, feel your posture. Notice any tension in the body and actively relax the body, let your shoulders be soft, perhaps turn off the radio and be in silence. Allow driving to be space where you can tune into the present moment and take a break from the to do lists and rushing.
Be mindful when listening: Often when we are in conversation, we are not really listening to the other person. Our attention gets hijacked by our own thoughts and concerns. To listen mindfully, bring your attention to the whole person speaking. Notice the sound and rhythm of their voice and their facial expressions. Notice when your mind drifts off into thinking and gently bring your attention back to the person talking. Actively engage your curiosity to be present to what is being said. Mindful listening can improve the quality of your relationships.
Be mindful in confrontation: Mindfulness can be particularly helpful during stressful interactions, supporting us to stay calmer and respond more effectively under pressure. Bring mindfulness into a moment of confrontation by tuning into the body. Notice any sensations that come with anger or fear as you are in a difficult conversation: heat, tightness, or a rapid heart beat? Tune in to the breath and use the outbreath to relax the body. By tuning into the body we can unhook from thoughts and reduce the intensity of the emotion. Staying present to what is actually happening and getting out of autopilot allows us to develop more constructive ways of responding to others when we are emotionally triggered.
Be mindful at the gym: Tune in to the sensations of your body while exercising. Notice the kind of thoughts that arise when you are exerting yourself. Take a moment to be grateful for the capacity of your body to exert itself and be healthy and strong. Notice the types of thoughts that arise when you are feeling resistance and see if you can recognise them as just thoughts and continue exercising.
Be mindful in bed: So many people use digital technology, whether laptops or phones in bed. Phones are commonly used as alarm clocks these days. Notice how you relate to technology in the bedroom and whether this impacts on your ability to fall asleep.
Be mindful in the shower: Choosing something you do regularly each day as a mindful activity can be a helpful way to remember to practise mindfulness. Tune in to the sensations of water and temperature on your skin. Notice when your mind wanders off and gently bring it back to the sensations of your body. Notice how being mindful changes the experience of having a shower.
Be mindful when walking: These days we often do many things while walking – we listen to Ipods, text message, or speak on our phones. Try using walking as a mindful practice. Feel your feet making contact with the ground. Notice what it feels like to walk a little slower. Walking mindfully allows you to take in your surroundings, the smells, the colours, the sounds. Use mindful walking between meetings to create a moment of mindfulness in your day.
Be mindful when going to sleep: Getting to sleep at the end of the day can be challenging, with our minds still racing with lists of things to do. Practice mindfulness when going to sleep by tuning into the breath. Count the breath as it moves in and out, and when you notice your mind has drifted off into thinking, let go of the thoughts and come back to the counting, starting at one again. This mindful practice helps to settle the mind to sleep.
Be mindful when working: Be mindful while you work by switching from multitasking to monotasking. Before you start working bring an intention to do one task at a time. Choose a task and be mindful of when you have the urge to switch between tasks. Keep a piece of paper next to you and when you feel the urge to do something else just write down what you want to do and come back to it once you have finished your designated task.