A Practical Guide on How to Find Mindful Moments in Everyday Life
Some people hear the term mindfulness and imagine a scenario in which a person is sitting cross-legged on a meditation stool in a softly lit room with their eyes closed, while incense is wafting through the air and ambient music hums in the background. This is one very specific way to practice mindfulness. However, whether you are a person who does not like sitting still, does not like closing your eyes, or does not have the time or space to carve out this type of practice, there are countless alternatives to make mindfulness a realistic presence in your life. The first step in learning how to create a custom-made routine for yourself is to define what it is to be mindful.
The definition of mindfulness is quite simple; it is being aware of or observing the present. There are any number of things that we can focus on in the present moment, such as thoughts, feelings, physical sensations (including five senses and your breath), urges, behavioral choices, and the external environment. For example, in this present moment, you are reading these words on a screen. You may be sitting in your office or standing on the bus, you may be drinking something, there may be distracting noises in your environment or it may be quiet. You might take some extra time to let your eyes linger on these particular words and let them sink in as you read them. You might take another moment to notice how your body feels sitting or standing in its current position. You may notice in this moment as you take a sip, what flavors and aromas you are sensing. You might take this moment to hear which noises in your environment are particularly distracting or are able to be tuned out as you read on. If you participated in these last few sentences, congratulations, you just practiced mindfulness! While you may not have felt any benefits from this small demonstration, taking even ten minutes each day to infuse mindfulness into your daily activities can be incredibly rewarding. Now that we have broadened the possibilities of what mindfulness might look like, the next step is to learn that which is the easiest or most meaningful way for you to connect with the present moment.
It is important when creating a routine to figure out what works best for you. Are you someone who would prefer to have a devoted physical space for mindfulness (whether in your home, office, or perhaps a nearby park), or would you rather integrate your practice into your various daily activities (while commuting, cooking or exercising)? Do you prefer to focus on your physical and sensory experiences, or would you rather a mental focus such as visualization exercises or noticing and observing your thoughts? Does a guided mindfulness practice appeal to you during which you are following a memorized or spoken audio exercise, or would you rather a less-structured focus? These and many other preferences will be important for you to identify in order to ensure that you are building a regimen that is realistic and favorable. Once you know your ideal and unique mindfulness preference, all that is left is applying discipline to make it habitual.
Sticking to a mindfulness practice is very similar to committing to a new fitness routine. We may not notice any improvements after the first few times we exercise. We may not even feel particularly fit or effectual during each workout session. It takes discipline to build up our strength and to get to the gym even when exercising is the last thing we feel like doing. But we know that this habit is beneficial to us and we feel it’s positive effects the more we do it. Not only do we feel ourselves getting progressively stronger during the actual workouts, but we notice it’s impact throughout our day and our week. We may notice that our mood is elevated, we may be more inclined to make healthy decisions with our meal selection or with our life choices in general. In the same way that engaging in a regular exercise routine makes us feel fitter, the regular practice of mindfulness can give us mental clarity which permeates into daily life. We notice our mind is less cluttered or weighed down. Prioritizing and committing to action becomes easier, as does re-focusing our attention when we become distracted. We feel a greater sense of purpose in our daily choices, big and small.
Improving your mental clarity through mindfulness training is an effective yet challenging process. It is important to be patient with yourself from the beginning. Learning what works best for you may require some trial and error and you may need help holding yourself accountable in keeping your practice regular. One way to achieve accountability is through the “buddy system,” whether this means practicing with a friend or simply checking in with each other’s progress. You can also employ useful apps, such as Headspace, that will guide you through many types of exercises and create reminders in your phone. Therapy is another excellent way to hold yourself accountable. It can create structure in your practice and allow you to process any struggles you experience in applying mindfulness day-to-day. Following these steps with intention will ensure an integration of mindfulness into your lifestyle that is effective, enduring, and enjoyable.