Mindfulness, defined as paying attention, on purpose, to present-moment experience, is an act of intentional attention. If we sit down to meditate, or engage in formal mindfulness, the intention to pay attention can be assumed as part of the process. The longer or more regular our meditation practice, the more habitual the setting of the intention to be mindful becomes. We may struggle to remain and/or return to being mindfully attentive during the meditation, but are unlikely to altogether forget to be mindful.
Anything we do can be done mindfully by slowing down, and engaging in and noticing one thing at a time. Why even bother, when multi-tasking, engaging in more than one activity at the same time, is more the norm, often seen as a necessity, and even considered a valuable skill? The truth is that many studies and scholarly articles have concluded that multi-tasking is, actually, not more efficient or effective than doing one thing at a time, and has been correlated with increased stress. Mindfulness has been popularized for its tendency to reduce stress – it is often, erroneously, equated with “relaxation” – but not often understood as a skill that leads to greater efficiency and more effective behaviors, which results in less stress in the long run.
Mindfulness, like all skills, is learned and strengthened through practice. You can’t learn to ride a bike by reading about how to ride a bike, and you can’t learn to be mindful by just reading about mindfulness. If not committing to a meditation practice, it is easy, as we go about the business and busyness of our daily lives, to forget about mindfulness altogether. However, using some of the typical activities and experiences of daily life as reminders to be mindful can be quite helpful. These can include, but are not limited to the following:
- Take a few moments before getting out of bed in the morning to notice the feelings in your body, and notice when your first foot comes in contact with the floor
- Consciously inhale the aroma from your first cup of coffee, and feel the warmth of the cup in your hands
- Pause at your doorway, before leaving home, and take a few conscious breaths before opening the door
- When you are stopped at a traffic light, notice the feeling of the steering wheel in your hands, notice the contact between your body and the driver’s seat, or notice your breath, or take a moment to look at the sky
- Take a few deep, conscious breaths between meetings, or tasks, or during times in the workday when there is a transition
- If you are at home with children, pick a transition time during the day to take a mental snapshot, or pay attention to the feeling of your child’s skin, or scent, or sound
You may find these moments of mindfulness to be pleasurable or relaxing. However, by engaging in brief, but routine moments of practice such as these, you will be cultivating a skill that will leave you more resilient in the wake of the unavoidable challenges and stress of everyday life. If you can remember to be mindful on a daily basis, over time you will notice that your ability to respond to challenges in more calm, focused, and effective ways will improve – and likely the people you live and work with will notice, too!