Tackling goals—whether at work, at home, or in fitness—can be challenging. But if you take care of the mind, it can help you take care of everything else.
After realizing I was burning the candle at both ends, I accepted the advice from others to incorporate moments of mindfulness into my daily endeavors. But between simultaneously juggling work, family, friends, and personal obligations, being fully present is easier said than done.
My journey to mindfulness started with a quick Google search: “how to be more mindful.” While the results yielded a few decent tips, the majority included recommendations such as meditating for one hour a day, unplugging for a month, attending a silent retreat in the woods, or signing up for a six-week mindfulness workshop. Practicing living in the moment quickly went from a practice that I was interested in developing to a pipedream that seemed like a larger, lengthier commitment.
But when I misplaced my car keys only to find them in the accelerator and also found my measuring spoons in the refrigerator one day, I decided it was time to give mindfulness a try. I sought out the help of a team of specialists to offer me tiny ways in which I could bring more mindfulness into my day.
Take advantage of red lights: Traffic, commuting to and from work, and running errands can be a tedious task. When rushing from A to B, we rarely focus solely on driving; this is when people often make phone calls, eat lunch in the car, listen to the radio, and scowl with road rage. But it can also be an opportunity to calm the mind and hone in on the here and now. “Use red lights to your advantage,” says Dr. Patti Johnson, a psychologist in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who urges her patients to make a point of taking a few diaphragmatic breaths whenever they are stopped at intersections. “Focus on breathing in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves outward with each inhale. Do this a few times and you’ll instantly reconnect with your surroundings and the present moment,” she explains. [Editor’s Note: After driving in LA, the SOS session is my favorite quick bite of meditation.]
Savor your food: So often, eating becomes something we quickly cram into our days. We dine while working, in front of the TV at night, or while browsing the internet. But taking a moment to pause while eating can help you connect with the present moment. “Take three deep breaths before each meal or snack. This helps to calm the nervous system, which benefits our metabolic power and tunes us into the practice of mindful eating,” says Rachel Avalon, a holistic health coach in Los Angeles. With each bite, chew slowly and focus on the smells, flavors, and textures of your meal.
Detach from your phone: In the smartphone age, it seems humans live in fear of any idle time. We grab our phones while riding up an elevator, when a friend makes a trip to the bathroom, or while sitting in the lobby at a doctor’s office. But Meredith Strauss of Light Street Psychotherapy suggests breaking the habit and allowing yourself to sit and observe your surroundings in lieu of occupying solo time by perusing through social media on your phone. And this can start as soon as you wake up. “After getting out of bed, leave your phone alone,” she suggests. “Enjoy a moment of peace and have a cup of tea/coffee. [Or] have some quality time with your family in the morning before the outside world rings your phone and computer.”
Check in with your body: Erica Hornthal, founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, suggests taking a break from the busyness of the day to check in with your body. “Try a full body scan,” she explains. “Mindfully pay attention to everything from your head down to your toes and without judgment or bias, acknowledge feelings and sensations that come up. This not only brings awareness to the body but also provides the opportunity to release tension before it builds up.”
Tap into your senses: “The beauty of this life is being here in a body. It is the perfect mindfulness tool to come back to throughout the day that brings us right here in the moment,” says Jean Vitrano. To do this, the LMT and mindfulness facilitator suggests tapping into your five senses. Notice the feeling of warm water flushing over your skin while washing your hands, tune into the sounds of the present moment, stop to smell the roses. [Editor’s Note: I’ve actually found the Focus meditation pack to be amazing help with this.]
Pause before moving onto something new: It’s easy to leave work with unfinished tasks on the brain or to sit through your kid’s soccer game while thinking about taxes and bills. Try to make a point of not doing this by fully engaging in one task, and then completely switching over to another, while leaving the previous endeavor behind. “Slow yourself down during transitions, which have the tendency to be rushed. Make a point to pause and notice your surrounding after you first step out of your home, office, or car,” says Dawn Gilbert Ippoliti, an art therapist in New York City. “Maybe you even ask yourself ‘what do I see?’ ‘Is the sky blue’ or ‘how does the air feel on my skin?’ Is it cool, hot, or just right?’”
Practicing mindfulness is a process. But it isn’t one that has to involve copious amounts of time. Learning to live in the moment, slow down, and single-task can be achieved by dedicating just a few minutes a day to practicing to focus on the here and now. “It’s these little moments that can really add up and make a huge difference,” says Johnson.
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.