Start small, Start somewhere.
How you do something matters more than what you do.
When you are distracted, unaware of what you are doing, the end product suffers. Mindfulness is not just a state of mind — your (lack of) focus affects your craft.
If greater well-being isn’t enough motivation for you, scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques improve self-control, objectivity, tolerance, enhanced flexibility, concentration, and empathy — you gain mental clarity.
You probably know all this. But, also fear that I will tell you that meditation is the way to go. I get a lot of people asking me for other ways to become more mindful. Many have already tried meditation before and, after a few frustrating attempts, they quit. Others think meditation is not for them. If that’s your case, no worries. This post has you covered.
I’m not writing off meditation, neither telling you to do so. But, there are many other ways to start practicing everyday mindfulness.
A quick note on the difference between mindfulness and meditation. Though these two words seem interchangeable, they are not the same.
Mindfulness is the quality of being present — the experience of being open and aware in the moment, without judgment or criticism, focusing your mind on the present rather than wandering. Meditation is the practice of training your mind for everyday mindfulness. You learn to strengthen your mind as you become more familiar with yourself.
Mindfulness is a mindset; meditation is the training to achieve it.
To dive deeper, check out this post I wrote — a meditation guide for beginners. Or start practicing these 21 mindfulness exercises. Give them a try and see what sticks.
List of Mindfulness Exercises
1. Watch your own movie
Imagine you are observing a movie and have to describe everything that is happening to someone else. You have to pay special attention and be clear, so the other person can understand what’s going on.
That’s precisely the purpose of this exercise. The only thing is that the movie is your life and you are telling the story to yourself, not to someone else. When you are ready, start by focusing on what you are doing — describe everything that is going on. Be specific, detailed-oriented, and clear. You are trying to increase awareness of how you are doing what you are doing.
Most of the time, we are living on auto pilot. This exercise will help you increase awareness of your behavior, no matter how insignificant or not is the task that you are performing.
2. Observe other people
We usually see reality, but we don’t honestly pay attention. Similar to the previous exercise, you will increase your focus by becoming a better observer. You can practice this at your office or in a public space such as a park or public transportation.
Focus on one person and observe what that s/he is doing. Look at the appearance, body language, the way s/he is dressed. Then, move to another person or group and repeat the observation. You are not trying to guess or interpret what they are doing or why. Just watch and become aware of what’s going on.
We usually don’t pay attention to what happens right in front of our eyes. And, if we do, we pass judgment. When we judge people by their looks or actions, we stop seeing. Becoming more mindful requires to see things as they are, not through the lens of our feelings.
3. Slow down
When you rush from one thing to another, you are doing stuff but not performing at your best. By slowing down, you can reconnect with the present moment and flow.
Taking more time to do something will help you appreciate what you are doing as well as improve your end product. Most of our mistakes are made not out of ignorance but of being sloppy. As the saying goes, there is never enough time to do it right the first time, but always enough time to do it over.
Slowing down doesn’t mean being slow. When we find balance, we become more productive and effective — we don’t need to do things over.
When you enjoy what you are doing, there’s no need to rush from one task to another. Instead of just checking things off your list, you learn to enjoy the journey too.
4. 5-minute breathing exercise
This exercise is short and easy. Don’t tell me you can’t make five minutes for yourself. Breathing is a necessary process to stay alive. Sounds obvious, right? However, when we are anxious, what do we do? We stop breathing, or we don’t breathe as regularly and deep as we should.
Yogis count life not in years but in the number of breaths they take. Certain apps, such as Spire, were designed for that purpose: to help you track your breathing. However, the best way to improve your breathing is to practice paying attention — you don’t need an app for that.
Find a comfortable position. You can either be seated on a chair or the floor. Keep your back upright (but don’t force it). Notice your body and relax. Take a deep breath and focus on the experience.
Feel the natural rhythm of your breath. Notice the air temperature in and out. Let your breath flow naturally. You don’t need to do anything. Your body knows how to breathe on its own — don’t force it. Notice how your chest expands and contracts. Focus on your body — one breath at a time.
You might get distracted at some point. That’s okay. Don’t judge yourself. You can say “thinking” and let your thoughts flow naturally. Reconnect with your breath. When the five minutes are up, focus on your breath one more time. You are all set.
Practicing this exercise daily, will improve your breathing but also bring calmness and more awareness to your life. When we increase self-awareness, we become at peace with ourselves