5 Ways To Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Everyday Life
Now that our lives are a freakshow of blinking apps, notifications and come-hither headlines, it’s no wonder psychologists are urging us to spend more time in the moment.
Ever since Jon Kabat-Zinn proved that aspects of Buddhist meditation could be used to manage chronic pain and stress, it was only a matter of time before everyone who couldn’t afford eight weeks of therapy demanded a piece of the happiness pie.
Scientifically proven to benefit everything from relationships to learning difficulties and depression (especially when teamed with cognitive behavioural therapy), mindfulness has finally gone mainstream: with colouring-in books, podcasts and apps all promising a more mindful world.
And because not all of us have clinical psychologists in the family to guide us through the crueller months (thanks, Mum), it’s about time you realised why your Christmas stocking last year was filled with coloured pencils.
We spoke with Melbourne-based psychologist Amy Williams about why – and how – to incorporate mindful behaviour into your daily life.
#1 Hang out with your thoughts
Being mindful starts with setting aside a few minutes each day to hang with your thoughts, sensations and emotions. It sounds simple enough, but learning to watch your thoughts without judgement isn’t all Nutella doughnuts.
“It can be difficult to begin with,” says Williams, who implements mindfulness in her own life as well as using it to help clients deal with chronic pain. “You can get distracted, or it can be hard to be mindful – but it’s just about bringing that attention back to whatever you’re doing.”
Like any good relationship, time and communication are essential. Put aside five to 15 minutes in the morning, after dinner, or whenever – taking care to work this time into your routine. Click your phone on silent and shove it aside; this is no time for screens. Sit in a quiet spot and pay attention to your breath as it moves from stomach to chest, to throat, to nose. As you focus on your breathing and sensations, thoughts are bound to hurl themselves at you like thousands of wretched seagulls trying to rip that last morsel of sushi from your hands. The trick is learning to watch them without a fight.
#2 Shut down autopilot
There’s a reason Star Wars always seems to end with R2-D2 shutting down the autopilot so some Jedi can save the galaxy. Mindfulness is all about taking control.
“If you’re on autopilot you’re so caught up in worrying about the future or ruminating about the past that you miss what real life is about,” says Williams.
We’re all guilty of it: sometimes you reach the end of the week, third wine in hand, without really knowing what happened after that smashed avocado on Sunday. When you find your thoughts plummeting ahead, or obsessing over why your high-school band never really took off, pay a visit to the present – beginning with your breath and the stuff around you. Which brings us to our next point…
#3 Make the mundane mindful
“You don’t have to be sitting still to be mindful,” says Williams, who points out that even mundane activities like housework, exercise or brushing your teeth can be a great chance to hone your skills.
She points to the worst of chores – washing the dishes – as one example.
Start by using all your senses even while scraping away the burnt bits from last night’s curry: feel the foam on your hands, smell the soap, listen to the bubbles bursting, make sure the dishes are clean, and observe any feelings that might come up.
And while you might think scribbling into your pretty colouring-in book wins you a gold star in mindfulness, Williams says the act is “just distraction and relaxation” without a bit of work.
“It’s not really mindfulness unless someone is focusing and really paying attention to how they’re feeling while they do it.”
#4 Pick up conscious computing
Everyone knows the importance of big, belly breaths during times of stress, panic and childbirth. But breathing becomes even more important when you’re immersed in the screen world.
Apparently 80% of us adopt a kind of shallow breathing or breath holding while tapping away or working in front of a screen, which Huffington Post writer Linda Stone has dubbed, ‘screen apnea’. Team that with slouchy computer posture and a perverted modern-day addiction to multitasking, and you’ve got millions of little panic attacks just waiting to happen.
Beat the disease by practising conscious computing. Dedicate an hour for managing your inbox, instead of trying to send nonsensical one-liners in between other tasks. Be aware of your posture and breathing. Consider downloading an app to block distractions, like Freedom or WriteRoom. Use an alarm or set a reminder to restore your focus and be mindful.
#5 Be discerning with your thoughts
For many, sitting alone with your thoughts (without broadcasting them immediately over social media) can be difficult. Mindfulness isn’t just about making yourself open to your mind, but learning to recognise what thoughts are worth listening to – helping break up habitual patterns of thinking that can lead to anxiety and distress.
“Our minds can bring up all sorts of garbage at times: some of it helpful, some of it not helpful. We don’t need to pay attention to every thought that comes into our mind.”
Williams says this is part of the reason why mindfulness can be really helpful for people struggling with chronic pain. “Learning to be aware of their emotions, thoughts and various sensations in their body with a sense of curiosity, openness, or willingness helps people reduce the battle they get into with pain,” she says. “When you’re trying to ignore or fix it, you get wrapped up in a struggle and that generally makes pain worse.”
The same goes for anxiety and stress. Instead of immediately trying to destroy or smother bad thoughts or experiences, being aware of these will help you to accept them and move on.
“Instead of trying to get rid of or avoid unpleasant experiences, which are inevitable in life, [mindfulness] allows you to value those moments.”
Your Toyota Yaris is decked out with exactly the kind of features that help you stay mindful on the road. A 6.1” touch screen display, Bluetooth® connectivity, audio steering wheel controls and six speakers. Find out more, here. Yaris: Find The Drive Within You.
Megan Anderson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist and online editor for Going Down Swinging, who spent the last year writing her way around Europe. You can find her on Twitter here.