Willpower doesn’t grow on trees.
In our modern lives, we’re always running from here to there in the rat-race of who’s busier. Even our downtime is filled with chores and to-do lists. When you’re careening through life on a mixture of stress and caffeine, pausing to acknowledge a single moment can seem impossible.
But adding mindfulness to your life has been shown to improve your health and happiness. As someone who’s found a way to even leave a yoga class furious and stressed out, I decided it was time to apply some mindfulness to my life.
What I found out is that you don’t have to be tucked away at a retreat or be free of responsibilities to live in the present and appreciate the little things. Meditation and mindfulness are skills, and like any skill they just take a little practice. Here are a few of the curious, unexpected, and ultimately rewarding places I’ve found mindfulness in my daily life. There’s no right or wrong way to achieve this mindset. Find what works for you, and explore the countless ways even the most tightly wound person can learn to live in the now.
You don’t have to be the next Julia Child to achieve mindfulness when making a meal. Cooking teaches focus, patience, and attention to detail—plus, you get to eat the results. When I whip up a dish, I try to really pay attention to what I’m doing. Thinking about how the ingredients blend together, each step in the process, and how my hard work will result in a delicious meal. If I’m cooking for someone else, I try to focus on the fact that I’m nourishing someone I love with my actions. Even if I’m just scrambling eggs or tossing together a quick salad, I pause and really consider my actions. It’s these little moments of mindfulness that can make even the quickest of meals a feast for the body and the mind.
After any meal, there’s the inevitable cleanup. Instead of grumbling about grease, I use this as another chance to insert a little mindfulness into my day. I shut out the noise and chaos around me and listen to the water as I rinse off the dishes. Trying to match my breathing to the regular, steady rhythm of the sponge on glasses. Focusing my whole mind on getting that crusty bit of burnt food off the baking pan. I don’t think about what I’m going to do next, or what I’ve done that day. I just feel the water against my fingers, the weight of the sponge in my hand, and find a moment of peace in my otherwise crazy day.
When I need a more physical element to my search for inner peace, archery is my favorite way to go. Not only do I get to channel my inner Robin Hood and look cool at the same time, archery is one of the best sports for building the mind/body connection. I’ve learned to focus on my breathing, the beating of my heart, and every single twinge of muscle. I am completely living in the moment, all thoughts centered on the second before I release the bowstring. Like meditation, archery takes a lot of practice—if you don’t hit the bullseye every time, that’s OK. Patience and focus win out in the end, and the satisfaction of hitting my mark is a moment like no other. Archery is a heady and fun experience, so if you think this mindful exercise sounds fun to you, seek out a certified instructor and get ready to shoot your way to serenity.
When the world seems like too much and my stress levels reach critical mass, it’s time to go for a run. Like archery, running is one of those activities that intrinsically connects the mind and body. I concentrate on keeping my breath steady, my pace regular, and my movements smooth. If I catch my mind wandering, I just bring my focus back to the movement of my body, trying to connect the pumping of my legs and arms with the breeze against my face. If I’m in the gym, I put on some music that gets me moving and I lose myself in the sheer physical experience of running. Just a few minutes of committed focus to my movement makes a huge difference in my mindset. When I don’t feel like working out, just walking is even a great way to connect with my body and the world around me.
I know—when people think of meditation and mindfulness, they don’t automatically imagine being crammed in their car during rush hour. For most people, this is the polar opposite of a relaxing experience. But the next time you find yourself trapped in your car with no end to traffic in sight, take a moment to connect with your breath. There’s nothing I can do about the situation, so why would panicking or losing my temper help?
Instead, I put on some quiet music and think about relaxing the various parts of my body. I unclench my hands from the steering wheel, straighten out my back, and take a deep breath. I listen to the rumble of the engine, the music coming from other cars, the birds overhead; I try to be present, without getting caught up in the frustration and anger that so often comes with a traffic jam. While others are honking their horns or fretting over their schedules, I’m working on mindfulness and inner peace. Now that’s something I never expected from my morning commute!
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.