Each and every day, there are many opportunities to be mindful
In today’s distraction-filled world, mindful moments can feel like a luxury. How can we be more mindful in a society that encourages multi-tasking and snap decisions? Note that being mindful doesn’t necessarily require sitting motionless in a quiet place for a certain length of time. When we’re mindful, we’re fully devoted to whatever we’re doing in the moment, from household chores to conversations to simply breathing.
Each and every day, there are as many opportunities to be mindful as there are to be distracted. But so many things are vying for our attention that remembering to be mindful can be a struggle, while distraction is a no-brainer. Having a conversation and your phone pings? Check it now! Want to know who wrote The Pledge of Allegiance? Look it up now! Waiting in line? Send a text now!
According to Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon, the social scientist who coined the term attention economy, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” His work suggests that multitasking is more about devoting insufficient attention to any number of undertakings and less about getting them all done with any real efficiency. And too much to do and not enough time or energy to dedicate to the tasks at hand makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed. So how do we, busy creatures that we are, train our minds to be more positive, centered and focused? Read on for five simple ways to weave more mindfulness into a full life.
1) Random mindful moments
Download an app that reminds you to take a mindful moment every so often. We particularly like it when it rings at random, but you may prefer regular breathers. One super simple one that is offered through Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation community is Mindfulness Bell.
When the bell rings, try to give yourself the gift of at least three mindful breaths. Inhale deeply and feel the air entering and filling, then being expelled from your lungs. Notice the gaps in between inhale and exhale.
This can be a non-verbal practice, or you can find a sound, phrase or mantra that helps you focus and relax. It allows you to take stock of what’s going on in your body and mind in a gentle, present, non-judgmental way. If you’ve been wondering how to be more mindful of your thoughts and emotions in a variety of situations, including at work, this is a great little meditation for you.
2) Mindful walking
Mindful walking is a tried-and-true meditation technique that many people find very beneficial. You may not have the possibility to practice mindful walking regularly, but since you’re probably going to be walking at some point during your busy day, why not use some of that time to flex your mindfulness muscles as well?
Silence your phone and park it in your back pocket. Then choose what you’re going to pay attention to for the next few minutes. It could be the sensation of your feet and legs propelling you forward or your breath. Or you could check your posture and focus on using your glutes as you walk from one end of the block to the other. Just remember that a mindful moment requires your full attention, so crossing a busy boulevard in traffic may not be your best option.
3) Mindful interactions
So often when we’re interacting with others, we’re not really present with them. We’re thinking of our to-do lists, or judging and assessing, or checking our phones. Instead of being curious about their experiences and feelings, we’re comparing them to our own and projecting ourselves into their situation—how would we feel if yada-yada, instead of how did they feel?
How can we be truly mindful of others? During a mindful interaction, we devote our entire attention to the exchange. We make eye contact with the other, we listen with our whole being, we’re present with the thoughts and emotions of the moment without trying to fix or advise. We learn that we can be mindfully present to others—including animals—for a period of time without projecting or looking to satisfy our own emotional needs. What a gift!
4) Mindful emotions and reactions
When you’re able to recognize your thoughts and reactions to others, to news, to events, as they arise, you can use that awareness as a mindful moment. One powerful way to do this is to shift from negative thoughts of anger, distress, fear, etc., to what you’re physically feeling in the moment. How does the emotion make you feel? Do you notice tension, an increased heart rate, a clenching of the jaw?
Simply distance yourself from the emotion and stay with whatever sensations you observe. Breathe—start with three deep and mindful breaths to work with an unwelcome emotion or situation. This is a powerful technique for training your mind to be smarter emotionally because it offers a new way to work with habitual reactions.
5) Mindful waiting
So you’ve worked your way through a lengthy and annoying phone menu, you’re on hold, and you’re almost certain the person you’ve spoken with has no idea how to help you get what you need. You’ve got a very important rendezvous, but traffic isn’t moving and you’re almost out of gas. You’ve been waiting in line for ages but a person in front of you has misplaced their wallet.
Awesome! This is your perfect mindful moment! Use it to cultivate awareness of your breath, physical sensations or sounds. Or take it a step further and train in lovingkindness or metta meditation, sending out positive thoughts and kind wishes to everyone else who’s worried about being late or who wants to smash their phone in frustration.
Once you’ve begun working with mindful moments, you’ll find that the possibilities are limitless. You’ll also find that your training will lead you to respond more mindfully even when you’re not deliberately engaging in mindfulness. Three conscious breaths may be all it takes to open your mind and heart to the potential of the moment.