Do you sometimes find yourself thinking more about past and/or future things than what you're doing in the present? If so, you might be missing much of the beauty the life has to offer. Perhaps you're not performing daily tasks to the best of your ability, or it might be that you're very efficient and productive, but find that once everything is complete on your "to-do" list, your day felt like a total whirlwind. While working on "autopilot" can sometimes help you to be very successful, achieving greater peace, fulfillment, happiness and self-awareness can come from intentionally stopping to fully take in what's going on around you. Mindfulness, or the practice of being aware of your mind and body at a given moment, can help increase your awareness in the here and now. Studies show that incorporating this into your daily life can reduce stress and help you to function more at your peak level of performance.
With its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness (which is the secular arm of Buddhism) has been around for thousands of years, because it works! Here's a simple technique to try if you're a beginner or even if you've already experienced the benefits that similar techniques have to offer: Choose a mindfulness "cue." This can be anything in your environment, from eating a meal to stopping at a red light. Every time you notice your cue, it's time for you to step back and focus your attention on the present. The cue of eating a meal is a great one, especially if you find yourself tossing food in your mouth when you're hungry (or not) without even noticing what you're eating. If mealtime is your cue of choice, every time you're about to eat something, focus in on the present moment and on the true purpose of the action you're taking: to nourish your body and maybe even to consume something delicious that induces feelings of happiness. As you chew, notice how the texture and taste of the food feels on every part of your tongue. Notice the movement of your jaw as you chew. After each bite, focus on the sensation of the sustenance filling your body with nutritious vitamins and minerals. Each bite should be taken with as much intention and purpose as the last, to turn what once was a mundane lunch break into a moment in your day that you look forward to because it fills you with positive feelings of calm and peace.
A driving cue might be a good one for you if you find yourself mindlessly driving to the same place (such as work and home) over and over again. As you approach each red light, focus on your breath in the present moment with no criticism or judgment. Do this until the light changes, then do it again at the next red light. Without stopping to notice the scenery around you, you might be missing out, especially if you're someone who spends many hours a day commuting or in the car. Life can be much more enjoyable when you notice the small things in your path, instead sleepwalking through your days.
You can personalize your cue to be anything that works for you. Lots of hustle and bustle can make staying present a challenge, especially when you're juggling many roles in your life. With practice, noticing what's going on within you and around you in the moment gets easier and easier. At that point, you can add more things in your daily life to serve as reminders to focus on the present and to be more self-aware, accepting of the things that throw you off balance and conscious of the small things in life that can bring you happiness and joy. With this in mind, you'll no longer miss out on the many things in the world you may never have noticed before.
I also offer some more suggestions to deal with juggling the roles you hold in your life in my book, Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential.
For more by Michael S. Broder, Ph.D., click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.