Lao Tzu famously stated over 2,500 years ago that “if you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
It’s that present moment awareness that we all seek in our daily lives. Improving mindfulness brings focus, clarity, and—as the Tao master sagely informs us—peace. Other than the obvious tried-and-true practice of daily meditation, there are some very simple ways to improve mindfulness. The goal is to learn how to recognize and observe the in-the-moment emotions, experiences, and thoughts without judgment and force. The best part is, you don’t have to be a Buddhist practitioner, follower of the Tao, or New Age guru to incorporate these handy tips into your everyday life.
When we sit in meditation, the primary focus is on the breath. Noticing the sensation of how our inhalations and exhalations pass through our noses, or cause our stomachs to rise and fall, helps to keep us mindful.
Here is a little known scientific fact: we breathe even when we aren’t meditating. Jokes aside, take advantage of your breath. When you feel your stress levels peaking, your mind wandering during an important task, or even when you are behind the wheel in traffic, just draw in one deep, purposeful breath of cleansing air. Conscious breathing brings immediate present moment awareness, and is perhaps the easiest trick to use when learning how to improve mindfulness.
Go for a Walk
Seriously. Get up, go outside, and stroll around. It’s even more effective if you have no definitive destination in mind. That last part, alone, brings focus to the forefront.
To even further add to your mindfulness, be aware of every step. Pay attention to the pressure your feet feel as they touch the ground. Notice how the muscles in your toes and legs work to propel you forward. Acknowledge your connection to the planet.
Communicate in Silence
One of the key conditions for mindfulness is quiet. Embrace silence. Take advantage of the noiseless void. Ask yourself questions—and not softball yes-or-no ones. Get deep with yourself. Have an internal dialogue.
Your mind may wander, but turn that wander into wonder. Answer your own queries. When you are in a conversation with someone else, put all of your focus on their words. Don’t prep your response while they are talking, be present with them. In fact, expand that spirit to all of your interactions. Be mindful and empathetic of others’ circumstances, behaviors, and beliefs.
Remove the Clutter
One of the simplest things to do to improve mindfulness can also be the most difficult to put into practice. This is a classic case of “easier said than done,” though. Keep your mind on one thing at a time.
Whenever possible, avoid multitasking; work on one task or project before moving on to the next. (An added benefit of that is that both projects will benefit as a result having received your full attention.) Get rid of as many distractions as possible: put your smartphone on airplane mode, remove any time-sucking apps, and turn off the television.
Treasure the Trivial
You still have to cook, clean, eat, fold the laundry, and brush your teeth. Take advantage of these mundane things. As you do your daily chores, pour yourself into them wholeheartedly.
Not only will you end up with a cleaner bathroom, more organized garage, or more smudge-free windows, you’ll also experience more joy and self-appreciation. When you eat, be mindful of what you are putting into your mouth. Not just the food on the fork, but what went into getting that food on the plate in front of you in the first place. The entire universe came together to feed you. Contemplate that with every bite. As you begin to notice the typically hidden details in your everyday world, improving mindfulness is present.
The past is never coming back and the future doesn’t exist. All that we have—all that is real in this world—is the present moment. Mindfulness simply helps us make the most of our reality. Hopefully, these 5 easy tips will help you become more mindful and live a fuller, richer, more complete life.