When we talk about mindfulness, we often refer to the technique used in meditation—a focus on the breath or the repetition of a mantra—to remain still, quiet the mind and allow thoughts and distractions to pass by without attaching feelings to them. It’s a skill that can take a long time to develop, but one that proponents of meditation will tell you yields profound results. Through mindfulness, you learn how to step back and observe your thought process without reacting to the thoughts. Noticing that you are anxious as opposed to feeling anxious. Mindfulness may also help you improve your focus, regulate your emotions, boost body awareness and sense of self, ease depression, bolster relationships and more.
Maintaining a daily meditation practice may sound like a challenging goal. Why not try a few of these mindfulness exercises as you go about your day? The simple act of focusing on what you’re doing and not what you’re going to do next can give you a taste of the benefits of mindfulness and help you forge a new relationship with your thoughts.
Make Eating Extraordinary
Try a mindful encounter with your dessert, say a refreshing scoop of sorbet. First, pay close attention to how it looks: Notice its vibrant color, its rounded shape and how that shape changes as the scoop begins to slowly melt and turn from solid to liquid. Take a spoonful and notice its aroma. Do you smell sweet fruit? Tangy citrus? Rich chocolate? Now take a bite and let it linger on your tongue. Focus on enjoying not just the taste, but the cool, creamy texture. Mindful eating is a great way to encourage you to slow down and savor each bite of your food, which, in addition to making you more present at meal times, can also help with portion control, heartburn and indigestion.
Turn the Mundane Mindful
Just about anything can be done in a mindful way, and that includes chores, daily routines and even your office commute. By directing your attention to a task you often complete on auto-pilot, you shift the focus of your mind, keeping it occupied on what you’re doing instead of ruminating on the future. What you used to perceive as hassles on a never-ending list may now feel more like breaks—moments for reflection, calm and peace.
Share a Mindful Adventure
Try a favorite activity with a loved one in a mindful way. Rather than spending your evening walk together rehashing the events (and stresses) of the day, or worrying about the rest of your week, focus instead on the shared experience you are enjoying. Take note of your surroundings, pointing out changes to the neighborhood, favorite landmarks and signs of nature. Share one of the reasons you enjoy this time together, and ask the other person to do the same. Turning part of your daily routine into a new way to talk with—and listen to—a loved one helps to deepen your connection and appreciation of one another.
Spend Time with a Child or Pet
One of the best ways to lose yourself in the present moment is to enjoy some quality time with a child or pet. Children are masters of living in the moment and enjoying every last morsel of an adventure. If you play a mindful game of hide-and-seek with a child, you’ll get to experience it through their eyes—the challenge of choosing a hiding spot, the tension of waiting to be discovered and the exhilaration of finding each other. Playing mindfully with a pet can offer the same benefits (and has been shown to lower blood pressure and boost mood, too).
In this era of doing a thousand things at once, we often feel unproductive if we can’t text, talk and change a tire all at the same time. Mindfulness involves doing the opposite—monotasking—and, in fact, studies have shown that those who engage in mindful behavior complete tasks more successfully than those who juggle multiple things at once, making them more productive in the long run. The next time you find yourself simultaneously talking with a co-worker, checking your e-mail and worrying about what to make for dinner, narrow your focus. Turn away from your computer screen and give your full attention to the person talking. Really listen to what he or she is saying, and wait until they’ve finished their thought before asking questions.