The benefits of practicing mindfulness are many and myriad -- increased focus, decreased stress, improved emotional regulation, better immune function, greater creativity, and more. Making mindfulness a part of your daily routine has been scientifically shown to have an enormous impact on your health and well-being. Daily mindfulness meditation is the key practice that makes all of this possible, helping you develop the ability to be resilient, centered, and present. However, it's not until you take the sense of presence cultivated through meditation with you into your daily life that you are able to fully reap the benefits.
How do you stay present when you're not sitting motionless with your eyes closed? Here are four fun techniques you can adopt right here, right now, to help keep you right here, and right now.
1. Make Waiting the "Mindful Part"
Contrary to what the old Tom Petty song says, waiting doesn't have to be "the hardest part." When you find yourself waiting in line or otherwise with a few minutes of excess time, instead of fretting or busying yourself with your phone, take the time as a gift and use it to take one mindful breath. The best way to remember to do this is to write yourself a note that simply says, "One mindful breath" and stick it, sturdily, to your phone (or, add the phrase to your phone's wallpaper). If, when you take out your phone, you really can't afford to take one mindful breath, that's okay. But maybe you can, and maybe it will lead to a number of mindful breaths, and suddenly you will be meditating instead of being agitated.
2. Try Out the Left Hand of Mindfulness
Have you ever injured your dominant hand and had to do things with the other hand? It sure made you stop and think, didn't it? You don't have to wait until circumstances force you to do this. You can trick your brain into being "in the now" by using your non-dominant hand to perform everyday tasks like brushing your teeth, using a computer mouse, or even just putting your keys in the opposite trousers pocket. Think of it as a game. By doing an end-run around the habitual motor pathways, you make your brain focus on what it's actually doing, instead of wandering off on some unnecessary tangent.
3. Put Yourself "On Notice"
Remember the childhood game "I Spy," in which each player in turn finds something they can see but others may not, and announces, "I spy, with my little eye, something that starts with the letter... "? My grown-up version of "I Spy" is a solo game that I call "On Notice." It's played by simply trying to notice and count details of your environment that you haven't noticed before. The color of a wall, a chip on a bannister, the pattern of roots around a tree, a snail crossing your path -- anything counts.
It's best to link playing "On Notice" with a trigger action that you do frequently during the day like walking, sitting down or standing up, or stretching. Make sure you use all of your senses -- hearing, smelling, and feeling all contribute to where you are right now. It almost always makes me smile when I notice something new, hidden in plain sight.
4. Track the Important Stuff on a Simple Sticky Note
This is a really simple technique for helping you create good habits or break bad ones, that simultaneously develops your ability to be present. Simply pick the actions you want to reinforce, like eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, or even meditating. Every month, create a sticky note for each action, and draw a line down the middle, label one side "Success" and the other "Failure," and every evening, put a tick mark in the column based on whether you were successful in taking the right path for that action for that day. To make it easier, start small (just track a couple things) and easy (track things you are currently failing at, but are just this close to succeeding at).
Also, be easy on yourself. At first, it may be common for you to fail, and when you do, gently bring your attention back towards achieving your daily goal, without judgment. This is the hardest thing for many people to do, but it is the most important part.
The power of this tracking technique comes from the fact that it encourages you to review your day, and hold yourself accountable for your actions. After a short time tracking, you'll soon find yourself thinking ahead to your "sticky note time" when making decisions throughout the day (like whether to drink that soda, or whether to step out for a 30 minute walk). In other words, you'll naturally start being more mindful of exactly those things you think are most important.
I try to use each of these methods every day, and developed them to be simple, yet extremely effective at dropping me into the present moment. I'd love to hear how they work for you, or of any other tricks you use to stay mindful throughout the day.
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