Whether or not you have a formal mindfulness meditation practice, I strongly recommend that you start to modify your behavior in gradual ways to facilitate some mindful moments in your everyday life.
In general, it is a whole lot easier to make slight modifications to current behaviors than to introduce a brand-new behavior that shifts things more dramatically. Shifting toward greater mindfulness in a sustainable way works best if you modify your behavior slightly, repeat that behavior many times over several weeks or even months, and then modify it again, repeating that new change many times over several weeks or even months, and so on.
Baby steps ensure that the new behavior will stick. The reason New Year’s resolutions are destined to fail is that our goals are often loftier than our ability to sustain the change we make in the new year. It’s too big a stretch too soon; our bodies, used to homeostasis, do not appreciate massive sudden shifts.
There are many ways to start incorporating mindfulness into your day-to-day experience. I’m going to share some of my favorites with you. As you read through the list below, think about how small or big a stretch it would be for you to do each of these things on a regular basis.
Simple Ways to Practice Being Mindful in Your Everyday Life
- Slow down how you eat. Before you begin eating, take a moment to bring awareness to your senses. See, smell, and hear your food. Notice your body’s natural responses. Take more time to chew each bite of food. Pause momentarily in between bites. Keep coming back to notice what you experience—thoughts, feelings, urges, etc.—as you eat. You can do this for a few minutes during meals or throughout the entire meal if you like.
- Schedule your daily appointments with buffer time in case you run over or run into traffic. Set an intention to arrive a few minutes early to appointments, and when you arrive early, use those extra minutes to sit quietly and pay attention to your breathing. When your attention wanders, gently and patiently with compassion for the monkey minds we can sometimes have bring your attention back to your breath.
- Instead of exercising while listening to music or a podcast, try exercising without. See if you can guide your attention back toward the movement you’re making, your muscles working, your breath, or your feet.
- Bring mindfulness to a mundane daily activity you do like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. While you are brushing your teeth or taking a shower, bring your full attention to the very act and motions of engaging in the behavior. Notice the experience you’re having through your senses—touch, taste, sound, smell, sight—and what it feels like to move in the ways your body moves while you’re brushing your teeth or taking a shower. Bring your attention back gently, compassionately, and patiently to your senses and the movement again and again if necessary.
- Do one thing at a time instead of multitasking. If you’re talking on the phone while driving, park yourself somewhere and talk. If you’re driving, just drive. If you’re walking, just walk. If you’re washing the dishes, just wash the dishes. Give that one thing you are doing your full attention, and as your attention wanders to things other than the one thing you are doing, gently, kindly, and compassionately bring it back to that one thing. You may need to do this often in a short span of time. That is okay. There is no need to pass judgment about that.
- Making transitions more consciously. As you switch from one task to another at work or at home, give yourself a pause when you finish with one task. Notice how you feel having finished it. Notice if there’s anything residual from having done it that might keep you from being fully present with your next task. See if you can mentally, emotionally, and energetically unhook from anything left over the last task. Pat yourself on the back for completing the last task. Then take a nice conscious breath. Begin to shift toward doing the next task and notice what happens in you as you do that.
- As you arrive somewhere, take time to let yourself land there, especially if it’s a location new to you. Enter the location slowly paying keen attention to your bodily experience—your senses, emotions, sensations, thoughts, etc. Before you go about doing what you came there to do, give yourself a few moments to let your eyes scan all around the environment, noticing what you see and how it affects your bodily experience.
- If you’ve tivo’d a TV program and are used to fast forwarding through commercials, watch them instead. Notice your body’s responses to the commercials. Breathe and try to watch the commercials with the same attention with which you’ve been watching the show.
If you’re interested, try doing one of them, the one that feels like the smallest stretch from what you already do, as regularly (at least daily) for a week. Then use your self-awareness skills—self-reflection and journaling would perhaps be most useful—to evaluate how that’s working for you. Try another one the next week. Experiment with as some or all of them. If any of them make a big difference in terms of slowing down, connecting with yourself, feeling more at ease or less anxious, etc., then it might be a keeper.
You have probably noticed that many of these practices involve similar behaviors–focusing your attention on one thing at a time, being kind and gentle towards yourself, being non-judgmental about your experience of practicing the behavior, bringing your attention back to the focal point repeatedly, and tuning into your present-moment experience–emotions, sensations, senses, movement, etc. Mindfulness in every day life is the application of these skills to as many moments as possible in your daily routine, in fact, making these behaviors part of your daily routine. These skills are best learned through meditation. If you are possibly interested in starting a meditation practice, it may be helpful for you to check out my last blog post.
Maybe you can come up with your own next baby step for being more mindful in your everyday life…Remember that healing from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), chronic constipation, chronic back pain, chronic migraines, or some other chronic functional medical problem is a matter of taking a small risk to try something new and see what happens. It’s all about trial and error.
Stay tuned because in my next blog post, I’m going to walk you through my favorite mindfulness exercise, which also helps to increase self-awareness.