7 Ways to Make Your Busy Days a Smidgen More Mindful
May 3, 2018
There’s a reason why most meditation sessions last 20 minutes, tops: Trying to stay present can feel discouragingly impossible.
If you've tried to live that mindful life, you probably know what I mean. You may set out to mindfully tackle a work assignment, a phone call with your mom, or even a fun night out with friends. But life happens: Your boss keeps checking in, Instagram beckons, Bravo blasts in the background. Before you know it, your once serene mind is back in its regular 10 places at once.
The next time you notice your thoughts wandering during the day, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, let yourself flow in and out of mindfulness, sans shame, with a tactic called “present-moment awareness."
Present in a Pinch
Present-moment awareness involves bringing yourself back to the moment by observing what’s going on around you and the emotions coursing through your brain.
When your mind starts to dwell on a recent presentation, for example—Did your boss really like it? Why did your coworkers ask so many questions?—you could focus instead on the sounds you’re hearing or the smell of the air. It might sound simple—or a bit out there—but experts say the quick mindset shift comes with a host of benefits.
“[Present-moment awareness] lessens anxiety, it lessens overwhelm, and it can help us be more grateful for what we have in the moment,” NYC-based therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, tells Shine. “It also allows us to fully take in our experiences during the day, whether it’s a connection with a loved one or a dear friend, a meal, or a meeting.”
Present-moment awareness lessens anxiety, it lessens overwhelm, and can help us be more grateful for what we have in the moment.
A 2016 study backs this up. Researchers found that those who practice present-moment awareness had better responses to stress, and they were able to reduce stress long-term.
The best part: You don’t need to make it a round-the-clock practice. There’s no need to strap on blinders to reap the benefits—it's about flowing in and out of what you’re experiencing in the moment.
Give present-moment awareness a try during the times that matter—say, a tricky conversation with a friend, the first few minutes of a sunny day, or when you're walking from your door to your car on the way to work.
Here, how to get started:
1. Make Your First Sip Count
The dream: Waking up an hour early and leisurely sipping that first cup of coffee while we peruse the morning papers. Reality: We pour, grab, and go. If you don't have time to savor your entire coffee experience, try focusing on the first sip for a quick dose of mindfulness.
“Really feel what it tastes like, the smell of it, how it feels on your tongue,” Divaris Thompson says. Take a couple seconds to fully experience the flavors, the smoothness of your creamer, the warmth of your mug—then, go ahead and answer those emails.
2. Doodle in a Meeting
It seems counter-intuitive—if you’re trying to focus on your boss’s musings, shouldn’t you keep distractions to a minimum?—but research shows that doodling can actually boost concentration and memory, making it easier to process information.
In a 2009 study, a group of 40 participants were asked to listen to a dull, two-and-a-half minute phone call. Half of the group was asked to color while they listened, while the other half focused only on hearing the message. Surprisingly, those who doodled remembered 29 percent more information than those who didn’t. Experts theorize that drawing keeps the brain alert, active, and ready to take in new information, when it would otherwise drift off.
3. Take a Deep Breath—and Then Another One
There's a reason some yogis show up to class just to breathe. “Breathing is the truest present-moment thing we can do,” Divaris Thompson says. “It’s something that we do every single day, in every moment.”
Next time your thoughts start racing, pause and take three deep breaths.
If you focus on your breathing and do it intentionally, Divaris Thompson says it can decrease anxiety, calm the nervous system, and bring you back into the present moment.
Next time your thoughts start racing, pause and take three deep breaths. Divaris Thompson suggests inhaling for three counts, then exhaling for three.
4. Ditch Your Phone During Drinks
Set yourself up for success. If you find yourself scrolling through Twitter in restaurants and ‘gramming while you shop, make a pact with friends to keep your phones in your bags, ringer turned to silent.
If you still find yourself distracted, Divaris Thompson says, think through why that could be: “What are you noticing that’s making you check out? Is it the conversation? Is it the friend? Is it something unsaid with the friend?” Once you’ve realized why your mind is drifting, you can address it, or guide the conversation in a better direction.
5. Eat With Your Eyes Closed
Your parents probably taught you to close your mouth while you chew. But what about shutting your eyes?
If you regularly race through solo meals—say, a desk salad or on-the-go smoothie—try closing your eyes while you eat. Then, pay attention to each individual sense—what do you taste? What do you smell? What sounds do you hear in the background?
Shutting out one sense can help you tune in more acutely to others and turn off the mental chatter.
6. Make Cold Water Your Deskmate
Struggling to get through a workday? Keep a glass of cold water in arm’s reach. When you feel your thoughts start to drift, take a swig. “Think, what does the water feel like hitting my tongue?” Divaris Thompson says. Experience that sip, get back to work, and repeat as you lose focus.
Shutting out one sense can help you tune in more acutely to others, and turn off the mental chatter.
7. Take a Field Trip
If mindful moments still feel impossible, head to the woods—or, ya know, your front yard—to build your skills in a sensory-rich environment.
“Getting out into nature allows you to practice being present,” Divaris Thompson says. “You’re unencumbered by work, or social media, and there’s so much to experience.”
Take note of what you see, smell, and hear. If your mind starts to wander, try naming different colors, plants, or wildlife. For a quicker reset, take a stroll to a local park, or even a tree-heavy streetcorner.