Hint: You do not need to meditate for hours a day.
We’ve all heard about the benefits of mindfulness. Among others it can positively impact our memories, immune systems, and our stress levels.
Mindfulness really comes down to not missing your life while it’s happening. Most of us have so much on our plates that it can feel impossible not to think about that meeting tomorrow, lunch with your friend next week, or where you want to be in your career in five years.
However, tomorrow, next week, and five years from now don’t actually exist yet. The only thing that actually exists is right now. These future events are important to think about, but spending too much time doing so can make it easy to completely auto-pilot your way through today. We tend to fast-forward our ways through life by constantly ruminating on our next step, rather than acknowledging the one we’re currently taking.
So, how do we begin to develop the habit of mindfulness? Building a consistent meditation practice is an excellent long-term approach, but if you’re anything like me, you need some instant gratification to keep you on track. There are moments when we simply don’t have the time or ability to pause life for ten minutes to sit down and get into that meditative headspace. Starting a meditation practice can also be a little intimidating- we aren’t generally used to sitting still and just… existing. Therefore, a good way to start getting in touch with your “zen” can be to start introducing little bits of it into your day-to-day life.
Here are a few quick and easy things you can start doing today to begin developing a habit of mindfulness.
Use the “Tiny Habits” approach
BJ Fogg is a Behavior Scientist and the author of the book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. The idea is that you use habits you already have to start adding new ones into your life. This is an excellent approach to adding bits of mindfulness into your day without having to completely change your lifestyle overnight.
Think of a few things that you do every day (or multiple times a day) without fail. It can be drinking a cup of coffee, brushing your teeth, commuting to work (even if that’s just walking to your work-from-home setup), or even using the bathroom. Allow these mundane activities to be a catalyst for a small moment of mindfulness.
While you’re having your morning coffee, for example, just pause for a couple of seconds to simply recognize what you’re doing. “I’m sitting in a comfortable chair. My hand is holding onto my mug. The coffee smells delicious and feels warm.” You may feel silly if you’re not used to this kind of practice, but it’s important to realize that while you’re observing the basic facts of what’s happening in the moment, you aren’t stressing out about your impending Zoom meeting or how many errands you have to run after work.
A series of brief moments of mindfulness like these throughout your day can slowly but surely add up to a very present existence.
Find a mantra that works for you
If the concept of a mantra feels too woo-woo for you, just call it a “sentence” instead. A mantra is a simple tool that can be used to quickly re-center yourself. They’re really helpful when you feel like your mind is spinning off to another planet and you’d like it to kindly rejoin you on this one. The key is finding a mantra that takes you out of the chatter in your mind and back into what’s actually happening now.
One mantra that I really like is “Here I am.” Short and sweet. Something about it makes me visualize myself having been lost among my thoughts and then actually finding myself where I am physically at that time. I use it a lot when I’m meditating and I catch my mind wandering. I think, “Here I am,” and I start to mentally zoom out and can almost see myself sitting cross-legged on my bed with my eyes closed. It helps me get my focus off of my never-ending overthinking and back to the present moment.
I find mantras to be most useful when my mind is feeling extra turbulent. Meditation definitely brings up some of that for me (it’s funny how ten minutes of supposed “peace” can sometimes lead me down an anxious overthinking spiral), but it also happens at work if I get stressed out about something, in moments when I’m feeling self-conscious or judged, and during any kind of confrontation with other people. These are all perfect opportunities to use a mantra to re-center yourself and calm your mind down.
There are tons of different types of mantras to choose from. I really like “I am” statements. Here are some ideas:
I am peaceful.
I am here.
I am free.
I am present.
I am safe.
I am love.
Write your mantra on a sticky note and put it on your nightstand. Type it into Google Images and make one of the pictures your phone wallpaper. The more you’re exposed to it, the more naturally you’ll be able to conjure it up when you find yourself in your thoughts rather than in the moment.
Remind yourself often
If your memory is anything like mine, your lack of mindfulness could simply be a matter of forgetting to be present. I’ve learned not to rely only on my memory for things that are very important to me (such as being more mindful), so instead I rely on my phone. I use my phone’s alarm clock to remind me of just about everything- appointments, phone calls with friends, errands I need to run- and I’ve recently started using it to remind myself to be more present.
I set alarms for different times throughout the day and when they go off, I am reminded to take a minute or two to observe what’s currently happening in my body and/or around me. I usually start by taking a deep breath, and then I make a mental list of a few things I can see/hear/feel. This is one of my favorite mindfulness techniques because it’s simple, quick, and always gets me out of my head.
If you use these reminders often enough, you may even stop needing them after a while. With time, your body can become your own reminder- it will remember how good it felt to pause and breathe the last time you started getting worked up over something, and it will want you to do that again.
Using these three simple methods, you can begin to develop a greater sense of awareness in your life. Start slow and be patient with yourself. Mindfulness is a lifelong practice, and these three habits are the perfect introduction to this more conscious lifestyle.