This is the conclusion to this 4-part series on mindfulness. If you have missed any of the preceding posts, you can read them by clicking on the links at the end of this post.
So, now that you know that mindfulness is a powerfully good thing to practice, let’s get to it.
I have compiled a list of ten simple things that you can do starting at this very moment to begin developing a habit of mindfulness. Pick just one or two and DO IT at least once every day!
Like most things, these are simple enough, but few people will actually do them consistently.
I challenge you to be one of those few, and perhaps to share with me in a month or to me in a month or two if you have experienced any significant improvements in your life.
Before we dive right into mindfulness, I’d like to talk briefly about distractions. Many productivity gurus talk about removing distractions. Sure, it is helpful, but life is full of distractions that are outside of our control, so the only thing we can do about those is to learn to deliberately filter them out. If you can only focus when you are in a perfectly ordered and controlled environment, you have not mastered mindfulness, you have simply created a situation where distractions no longer exist, an environment in which mindlessness becomes difficult. But unfortunately the world in which we live is no such place. So we need to learn to master distractions, not avoid them. The first four items are all about mastering distractions and help you own your space. The rest actively engage a state of mindfulness.
1. Set task timers.
That sounds more like a productivity hack, but what I mean by that is that you set a three, five, or maximum fifteen minute timer in order to do an activity, and during that time your goal is to not allow any other activity to interfere. You are just doing that one thing, nothing else. For a brief period of time (keep it short – match it to the task if possible) give yourself permission to ignore everything else – the phone, email, anything that is not part of your immediate activity. Don’t make it an hour long, just enough to do a meaningful chunk of what needs to be done. If you finish sooner, great. If you go over time, so what, go until you reach the natural stop. The key here is brevity, and trying throughout that time to maintain deliberate awareness about what you are doing, and stop yourself from drifting into autopilot (aka mindlessness!)
2. Turn off all social meadia, TV and news.
Harsh? These rarely contribute something useful to our lives, and they are the ultimate weapon of mindlessness. Set times of the day that are specifically devoted to attending to those if you can’t live without them. Think about this: advertising works. Advertisers know exactly why it works: the moment that the subject matter of your thoughts is determined by someone else, you have “lost” your mind – quite literally – they own your decision-making process because your story-telling part of the brain has been handed a script. Perhaps somewhat Orwellian, but a fact worth trillions of dollars in sales. Claim some ownership back, give yourself a little space to have your own real experience.
3. Do ONE thing at a time until done.
Nothing fosters mindlessness more than multi-tasking. If you need to interrupt, then break one activity to do another and then come back to it. Science has consistently demonstrated that doing two or more things at once is inefficient and increases the rate of errors exponentially. Finish the coffee or the sandwich, taste it, experience it. Then you can return to checking your email. whatever it is, see, feel, touch, smell, taste, engage, allow yourself to be involved.
4. Turn off your phone when attending meetings.
The fact that our phones have become our forever-ready personal assistant does no mean that we need to have them participate in every one of your human interactions. Besides being a gesture of disrespect by showing that we downgrading the importance of the person or group we are engaging with, it is also very hard to stay attentive when your phone blinks, twinkles, buzzes and fuzzes or suddenly starts singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby…” in the middle of a conversation. Give the people you are with your full undivided attention. Let your heart, your ears and your eyes be absorbed by nothing else than them and their story. Try to feel what they feel. Mindfulness causes your brain to become more empathic. Use this to your advantage, you will become more respected for it.
5. Focus on the food when eating.
We have forgotten to eat properly. This is one of those fundamental biological things that keep us alive, yet we treat it as a mechanical and indulgent anchor for other activities. When you eat, smell the aromas, feel the textures on your tongue, look at the colours on your plate, think about the ingredients, how they nourish. We forget that food is our number one medicine. Chose your foods wisely, and enjoy them, regardless of how humble and simple they are. No two foods taste and smell the same. No two foods nourish us in the same way. And besides water, virtually every mouthful that you eat whether plant or animal comes from something that was once alive. Be grateful, recognise its sacredness, and eat it with the respect it deserves.
6. Break your routine.
This is a both easy and fun way of creating a mindfulness-inducing situation. Take the opportunity to experience the difference with all your senses. Here are some ideas: take a different route to work, or perhaps public transport. Try something adventurous in your lunch-box. Buy at a different store. Set your alarm clock for a different time and get up earlier. Try a different breakfast. Dare to have a cold shower. Go for a walk in the rain. Since you have turned off off facebook and TV, you will suddenly find time to read a book. Or chat with your family. Take your dog for a walk, and walk in the opposite direction.
7. Journal – and write by hand!.
Handwriting is a mindful activity in its own right – and one that engages our brain far more intensely than typing the same words on a keyboard – so when it comes to mindfulness, typing it does not qualify. Besides the act of writing by hand, reflecting on your day’s experiences is intensely satisfying. Once you begin, it is likely that a page or more will flow effortlessly. Other days just readying past days’ entires can be equally fulfilling. I am very passionate about my papers, pencils and fountain pen inks, but whatever you choose to use, let it be personal and special, and give yourself time and a space to make this special. Just doing this regularly will gradually raise your awareness and presence in all your life experiences.
8. Make TEA, and drink it.
Japanese have refined the act of preparing and sharing tea into one of the most iconic acts of mindfulness in its tea ceremonies. But all rituals aside, there is a simple chemical reason for this: Tea (the kind derived from the Camellia Sinensis, not herbal teas and infusions like rosehip, camomile and rooibos) contains a powerful combination of caffeine, flavonoids and antioxidants. Think this: the best medicinal properties of coffee, chocolate and red wine in that cup. Clear alertness, calm contentedness and healthy antioxidants all at once!. But rather than just jingling a bag in a cup of hot water and then tossing it in the bin, then letting your cuppa slowly go cold while you are back at your desk, take the time out to brew it, pause all things and drink it with all your senses as you would invest your senses into a glass of Penfolds Grange or your favourite single malt.
9. Listen to music – while doing nothing else.
Really listen, not just have muzak/radio/spotify playing in the background. You don’t have to be a music expert, simply listen, observe how it makes you feel. I recommend instrumental, classical or good meditation music, mainly because music with lyrics can be a distraction. Not only does the act of listening help in clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, listening to music also wires up new connections between your left and right brain. You get smarter while relaxing!
This merits a post in its own right. But here is the really simple version: sit quietly, get comfortable. Observe your breath – don’t force it, simply observe. Feel the air entering your lungs, then pausing, then the exhaling. By the time you do this for a few breaths you will have an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through your head. That is normal. The work is in not engaging those thoughts, but keeping your attention on your breathing. As soon as your mind begins to wander, pay attention to your breath again. Do this for five to ten minutes, preferably every day, and ideally not when you are tired or about to go to bed. Meditation should not send you to sleep, it invigorates the mind. In the beginning this will be hard, don’t be discouraged by the seeming difficulty of ignoring your inner voice, but with a little practice and after two or three weeks you will begin to maintain your attention on your breath for longer, and will also be able to re-focus a lot quicker as soon as the distracting thoughts make themselves known.
If you have made it to number 10, congratulations, you may even have experienced mindfulness while reading!
If you wish to know more or have a question about mindfulness practice and meditation please post it in the comments sections and I will do my best to help out.
I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. Here are the links to the first three parts in case you missed them. Share them, and all the best as you go about reclaiming your mind!