With the deluge of endless alerts, to-do lists, and bingewatching TV, it can be hard to tame the thoughts. But not think about anything? It can be quite a challenge.
WAYS TO BE MINDFUL THAT ARE LIKE MEDITATION
Mindfulness may be the next best thing and a less daunting way to get the wheels of the mind to slow down. But what exactly is mindfulness? It’s the practice of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment without judgment or interpretations. It’s being in the now.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who feel sort of embarrassed, feel like they’re missing out, or who wish that they could meditate but they just don’t see a path for them to get there,” says Lauren Henkin, founder and CEO of The Humane Space, a wellbeing app with content designed to reconnect people to their intrinsic curiosity. “Mindfulness can help get them there and bring that sense of being in the present, that sense of non-judgmental awareness that can help overall well-being.” Here are simple ways to integrate mindfulness throughout your day.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to get in touch with your mindful self is to take a short walk without any distractions – pressing pause on the podcast, playlist, or phone call, or perhaps not even taking your phone. Then, pay attention to your surroundings. This could mean feeling the earth beneath your feet, listening to the sound of your steps or of nature, and taking in the feel of warmth on your skin.
PRETEND YOU’RE A FOOD CRITIC
It’s all too easy to snarf down lunch while looking at your phone or browsing TikTok at your desk. Next time you sit down to eat, be in the moment. Henkin recommends pretending you’re a food critic and noting all aspects of your meal: presentation, taste, texture, aroma, temperature, and more. You’ll likely experience improved digestion, make better food choices, and feel full without going back for more. You might even be more likely to truly enjoy the experience of eating more than ever before.
SELF-CARE WITH INTENTION
Next time you wash your face or brush your teeth, take a moment to focus intently on what is taking place. Notice the feel of your hands on your skin, the smell of the soap, the temperature of the water. When brushing your teeth, for instance, zone in on the feel of the toothbrush in your hand, the taste of the toothpaste, the sensation of the brush’s bristles against your gums. Paying careful attention to how your body feels may make you slow down and be more appreciative of simple things like the ability to take care of yourself and even having access to clean water.
Psychologist Gloria Mark, who studies attention at the University of California, Irvine, suggests trying something called “meta awareness,” which is being aware of why you do certain things, including your subconscious habits. For instance, looking at why you instinctively reach for your phone each time you see it, or why you might switch computer screens to check social media several times during the workday.
“So many of the things we do today are just automatic and unconscious,” says Mark. “So we can learn to probe ourselves and recognize when we have these urges.” It all comes back to conscious awareness.
PRACTICE MINDFUL LISTENING
You probably remember a time when you had a conversation with someone while you were thinking about something else or frantically finishing an email but then can’t remember a word that the person said. Next time you have a conversation, truly listen, carefully and intently, without distraction (ahem, your phone). Also, as you listen, refrain from judgment or criticism. Pay attention to your own thoughts as well as your physical and emotional reactions. This can help you respond with intention.
SINGLE OUT SOUNDS IN MUSIC
Try experiencing your playlist in a different way by practicing sound isolation or isolating the different instruments in the piece. Henkin explains that this not only opens you up to a new appreciation for the music but helps you become intensely attentive to what you’re experiencing.
PICK UP A PEN
Try doodling – yes, with an actual pen and paper – for a few minutes and pay close attention to the sound of the ink on the page, the feeling of the pen in your fingers, and the sensation of your hand moving freely across the page. What’s essential is allowing yourself to experience this without judgment, says Henkin. In the past, people thought doodling was a sign of distraction, but research indicates it can improve focus and memory and calm activity in your brain’s amygdala, which is linked to stress and anxiety.
SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Slow down when you’re snapping a picture with your phone. As a former photographer, Henkin pays a lot of attention to how we view the world. She recommends instead of taking a shot and posting it on social media, look at the formal qualities of what you want to shoot and rotate the camera by a few degrees in each direction. Maybe even zoom in on something. “By changing the angle in small increments, you can see how different the perspective of your world looks,” she explains.
Henkin recalls living in New York City and never looking up – at the sky or at the architecture around her. Everyone was focused on what was ahead of them and trying to get to the next task, she explains. Instead, she recommends stopping and simply looking up for a few minutes. “It can be an opportunity for quiet focus on the awe that surrounds us,” she says. The same goes for stargazing. Focusing on what is so far away can actually have a grounding effect, helping you feel more connected to our world.
MAKE ANYTHING A GAME
The next time you’re standing in an interminably long line while renewing your driver’s license or you’re stuck in standstill traffic, take in the scene as if you were going to be called for eyewitness testimony. When you see that water lily on the pond off to the side of the road, examine how many shades of green you can identify.
WHAT ELSE TO KEEP IN MIND ABOUT MINDFULNESS
If you find that you go through your day without remembering to capture the details, remind yourself to be mindful by leaving yourself a note, setting an alarm, or identifying an action you do on an everyday basis, like walking through a doorway. That can become your mindfulness prompt, says Henkin. When you get the reminder, pause and be mindful of your surroundings. Note how you feel within them.
It’s important to note that incorporating ways to be mindful into everyday life doesn’t need to take a lot of time or be another dreaded task on your to-do list. “The benefits of mindfulness come from simply being aware of what you’re experiencing in that particular moment without judgment. It can be playful, it can be fun and it can be something that is just between you and yourself,” Henkin says. “That little inside activity can foster your own personal passion for life and for the world.”