The best way to stick with and benefit from mindfulness is to incorporate it into your everyday life.
Many people don’t succeed with mindfulness because they only think about it in terms of a mindfulness practice, a single session during the day when they do a formal mindfulness meditation exercise. But for mindfulness to become a significant force in our lives, it must also become an attitude that we carry with us throughout our busy days not just in the stillness of the early morning. In this article, I’ll describe a simple method for doing just that. By getting in the habit of what I call ordinary mindfulness, you’ll find that it’s both easier to maintain a consistent mindfulness practice and also that your overall experience of mindfulness is much richer.
An Introduction to Ordinary Mindfulness
While a mindfulness practice such as a 10-minute breathing meditation at the beginning of the day has many benefits, for most folks these benefits are subtle and can take time to develop. Unfortunately, many people give up on their mindfulness practice because they don’t feel the rewards and benefits of mindfulness soon enough. They stop watering the garden because they don’t see any flowers.
I’ve found that a simple way to feel and appreciate the benefits of mindfulness sooner is to extend your mindfulness throughout the rest of the day by practicing small bursts of mindful awareness in everyday situations. For example, you might spend the first 60 seconds of your lunch eating mindfully—noticing the texture and flavor of your food rather than browsing Facebook or catching up on work. Or you might practice driving mindfully for a few minutes on your commute home from work, tuning in to the sensation and experience of driving rather than—if you’re anything like me—criticizing other drivers or listening to a podcast.
By punctuating our days with little bits of mindfulness, we reactivate and reinforce the work that we did in our formal mindfulness practice rather than letting it sit idle until our next session. What’s more, we show ourselves how mindfulness can impact our lives in a real way. Because, while some might argue that there’s value in mindfulness for it’s own sake, I think most of us are a little more utilitarian in our intentions. That is, we hope that by cultivating a mindfulness practice, it will help us live more mindfully in real life—and of course, help us feel less stressed and anxious along the way. We can hurry that process along a bit with ordinary mindfulness: he habit of practicing mindfulness in small ways throughout the day.
10 Practical Examples of Ordinary Mindfulness in Action
- Mindful Showering. Spend your first minute in the shower appreciating a wonderful the feeling of warm water on your body feels. Notice how the sensation is distinct on different parts of your body—hair, shoulders, legs, etc.
- Mindful Driving. Remember how it felt to get behind the wheel for the first time when you were learning to drive? How exciting it was to punch the gas and viscerally feel yourself accelerate? For a few minutes at the beginning of a drive, try to focus entirely on the feeling of driving a car. Notice the resistance of the steering wheel as you turn on top the road from your driveway; notice how your seat vibrates differently when you go from a city street to the freeway; notice the sensation of braking and quickly slowing down.
- Mindful Eating. Here’s a little routine I try and keep to whenever I sit down for a meal: Whenever I take my first bite, I try to be aware and mindful of the texture of my food. What does yogurt actually feel like? How many different textures to you pick up on in the first bite of an apple?
- Mindful Meetings. This is a tough one, but for just 2 minutes try to pay attention to what someone is saying in a meeting without any judgment or commentary about the quality of it or what it means. Just listen and hear without thinking.
- Mindful Walking. Think of your normal walking pace and, on your way from your car to Starbucks, try walking at 50% of that pace. For 20 yards, tune into how it feels to walk when you’re slowed down and paying attention to the act of walking itself.
- Mindful Music. Try this little experiment: While you’re in your car or some other place listening to music, see if you can listen to one song all the way through without doing anything else (checking your phone, changing the station, etc.) or thinking about anything else (figuring out what to make for dinner, how you would rewrite that one line); instead just focus on hearing and listening to the music. What is it like to feel music?
- Mindful Cooking. Can you chop a carrot without thinking about anything but the carrot? I bet you can’t.
- Mindful Play. What does it feel like to have fun? When you find yourself in the middle of a game (playing fetch with your dog, Words With Friends with your sister, hide and seek with your son, kick ball with your friends) check in briefly with how it feels to have fun. If an aliens arrived tomorrow and explained that they didn’t understand fun and what it felt like (not what it is), how would you describe it to them?
- Mindful TV. Go a whole episode of a TV without doing anything else. No checking your phone; no getting up; just sit down for 20 or 30 minutes and watch a tv show all the way through, including commercials and ads.
- Mindful Sleep. Most of us have some sort of routine for what we do, either physically or mentally, when we get in bed. For one night, strip away all those routines and just lay in bed. Without any particular goal or concern about when and if you fall asleep. Just lay in bed and observe what happens. Where does your mind go?
As always, I recommend starting small. Really small.
If you want to try incorporating ordinary mindfulness into your life, pick just one of these to try once a day for a week. See how it goes. And of course, come up with your own. If you find a good one, let me know!