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Often, when I’m working with individuals and encouraging them to begin a new mindfulness practice, one of the most common complaints is believing that they do not have the time to just sit on a pillow and try not to think. They equate this to other activities like going to the gym where they need to make room in their schedule for 30 to 45 minutes for there to be a benefit and make the mistake of thinking its about stopping their thoughts (It’s actually about becoming aware of them).
While it’s true that if you can consistently practice anything, and dedicate time to it, it becomes a stronger skill and mindfulness is no exception. However, mindfulness, unlike the gym, doesn’t require extra time, just adding the concept onto whatever it is that you are already doing. The following are examples of little ways you can add mindfulness to your day and before you know it, you too can reap the benefits of such a practice.
- Brushing your teeth.
When you wake up in the morning and you go to brush your teeth or when you brush your teeth before you go to bed or whenever you’re brushing your teeth, simply pay as much attention as you possibly can to everything that’s happening inside of your mouth. Pay attention to the bristles as they hit your gums. Pay attention to the bristles on your tongue. Pay attention to everything that you’re doing. The sensation of the toothpaste, of the water, of the foam. Just like any other mindfulness exercise, if you notice that you’re thinking about other things, like paying the bills, simply bring your attention back to brushing your teeth and the sensations of the action. Not only is this good for mindfulness practice, but it’s also good for oral hygiene.
- Drinking a Beverage.
Two, and I’ve mentioned this before, in two simple ways to begin a mindfulness practice, is to add mindfulness to when you’re drinking a beverage. Hot beverages tend to work best since the visual and sensations are easier to pay attention to, but a cold beverage will also do. Once again, simply bring your attention to all the sensations you have when you’re engaging with this drink. For example, if it’s coffee, pay attention to the warmth of the cup on your hand and as it goes down your throat. Taste the bitterness or the sweetness, depending how much sugar you’ve put in. Watch the steam rolling coming off the top of the cup. Again, when you notice that your thinking about something else, notice that you have noticed, then turn your attention back to the present task. You only need do this for a few minutes. It does not have to be until you finish the cup.
Anytime you are getting up to walk from one spot to the next, you have an opportunity to try a mindfulness activity. Simply pay attention to your foot strikes on the floor. Now, if you’ve got leather bottom shoes or you got heel, and you’re walking on a hard surface, you can actually focus on the sound of your footsteps as you move from where you are to where you’re going. Click, clack, click, clack, click, clack. Paying attention. If you’re on softer materiel or even on harder surfaces, you can simply also just pay attention to the sensation of the floor as your feet settle and press against the floor. Try to pay attention to the pressure on the bottom of your feet as you walk.
This could be done anytime, anyplace you are moving from point A to point B. To make this more of a habit, consider using your watch or cellphone to go off at various times for your mindful walking exercise until you notice you no longer need the aid. You could even leave notes at your desk to remember when get up from your desk to take a bathroom break or you are on your way from your car to the place that you work or to the school building. Its all mindful walking. You can even make it a daily practice to be mindful as you get up in the morning and get out of bed to go to the kitchen. As you can see, this would be an easy way to add several opportunities for mindfulness into your day.
- Mindful Writing
As you’re writing, pay attention to what the sensations are of the instrument that you’re using to write with. Is it smooth? Warm? Can you feel the scratching on the paper? If your using a stylus on your phone, what are the sensations there? If your typing, can you feel the sensations in your fingertips as you press into the keys? It doesn’t have to be very long, it only needs to be for a moment or two. This may be a little more difficult because you may be reading something as you type, or trying to formulate a thought, but it is possible. You could also just take a moment to allow yourself to indulge your senses, then work on whatever it is you’re working on. It’s still making you more aware of your everyday behaviors and how thoughts are constantly pushing to be front and center. It is simple and small, but it is mindfulness.
- Mindful Transportation
Now, I say mindful transportation because it could be that you go to work or to the grocery store or elsewhere by car, by bus, by train and for some, by plane. When you are doing any of these, simply attention when you’re moving through time and space to what’s going on around you. How often do you get into your car, or get on the bus, or on the train, and the world just zips by outside, and you are not aware, you’re in your head thinking? You get to your destination and you’re not quite sure how you got there? This is a prime opportunity to pay attention to what’s happening right here, right now in the present. To be mindful. Now, if you’re driving or riding your bike or riding a skateboard or any of these things, running even, paying attention is required and will make the experience, not only safer, but it should make you a better runner, cyclist, driver all by itself. And, it’ll strengthen your ability to be mindful, to be present in the here and now.
While you’re trying any one of these five approaches, I ask you to see if you can notice the effect of this action on the frequency, effect and duration of the thoughts. Notice if there is a difference. Most people report when doing mindfulness type activities, when paying attention to the right here, right now, it dampens, softens, and slows the processes allowing us to step back. Obviously, we’re not slowing down what’s going on around us, but we are slowing down how quickly our mind is working to get out in front. If you’re dealing with anxiety or you’re dealing with social pressures, or social phobias, this is a key element to slowing it down and being able to manage those anxiety levels. When you slow it down, you have more freedom to choose your course of action instead of simply reacting. One of the benefits of a mindfulness practice.
You don’t need to try all these tactics at once. You don’t even need to use one of the ones listed above, you can incorporate it into something that you do daily. Just pick just one and play with it putting mindfulness into your simple daily routines and activities.