Mindfulness is, in essence, a matter of waking up and noticing, without judgment, what’s going on. It’s paying attention to the incredible richness of the here and now.
The ideal, of course, is to be mindful every waking moment. But for most of us, that goal is a long way off. In the meantime, we can practice, setting aside a regular time for watching our breathing, or for paying close attention to our actions as we go about our daily routines.
But let’s face it. The challenge of establishing a regular mindfulness routine takes effort, and not everybody is up for it just now.
Toddling Toward Mindfulness
That’s where Mindfulness-by-the-Minute comes in. It’s the baby-step, kaizen, successive approximation, little-by-little method. Call it whatever you like. It’s the practice of sneaking little bits of mindfulness into your day whenever you happen to remember:
- Whenever you think of it, pause and take time to watch your breath for a few cycles.
- Take time just to look around your immediate environment for a minute or two with the goal of really seeing it. Pretend you never saw it before. Let yourself notice the way the light falls, the shades of color, the textures, the reflections and shadows, the contours and corners.
- For a few minutes, just listen. Listen to the sound of your breath, to the sounds in your immediate environment—the humming of your computer, the purr of the refrigerator or of your car’s engine, to footfalls in the hall, the sounds coming through the window. See how many you can detect and how, together, they create their own kind of song.
- Go for a brief walk (even a walk down the hall and back), noticing how your feet connect with the surface below you, how the muscles and joints in your feet, ankles and legs feel, what’s happening in the rest of your body.
- Do a full body scan, noticing your posture, what part of you is tense or relaxed. Feel your scalp, your eyelids blinking, the surfaces that your body is contacting: clothing, chair, floor.
Teasing Yourself to Play
You can increase the number of times you remember to practice by setting up triggers for yourself in your environment.
- Jot reminders on post it notes that you scatter around;
- Add the word “remember” to your do list; set it up to scroll as a screen saver across your monitor;
- Slip a loose rubber band on your wrist and when you notice it, let it remind you to take a minute for mindfulness. Then put the band on the opposite wrist;
- Associate mindfulness breaks with a number, say 9, and when you run across the number in the course of your day, take a few minutes for mindfulness;
- Link mindfulness to an act you perform several times in the course of your day, such as washing your hands, standing in a line; looking at your watch, or opening a door;
- If you work on a computer, you may want to download a cool little random timer that will gently interrupt your work with a reminder. (See Keeping on Track: Three Tools for the Road)
One of the reasons that we sink so easily into non-mindful trance states is because, for efficiency’s sake, we do so many things on auto-pilot. And while our habits and routines do serve us in some ways, they also become like little prisons of the mind, locking us into patterns of sleep-walking behaviors.
Intentionally altering an unconscious routine puts you on instant alert. All of a sudden, you have to pay attention. Just for the fun of it, let some of these routine-breakers serve as awareness triggers for you:
- In the shower, start washing on the side opposite the one you usually choose;
- Same with dressing: put the other arm in the sleeve, the other leg in the pants first, start with the opposite sock;
- Park in a different section of frequently used parking lots than you normally do (and make sure to pay attention to where so you can find your car when you want to return to it!);
- When you grocery shop, start at the far aisle of the store;
- Sit on a different side of the table when you eat;
- Take a different route home from work;
- Try walking backward to and from your kitchen;
- Walk with slightly larger or smaller steps.
This is a very freeing exercise. Once you begin to play with it, you quickly begin to discover how many unconscious habits fill your day. And the simple act of noticing them is, in itself, another way of generating more awareness.
Savor the Mindful Minutes
Creating more positivity in our lives is a skill that grows from a foundation of noticing. The more mindful minutes you build into your day, the more aware you become. It’s all a matter of paying attention.
But in addition to building your self-awareness, mindfulness carries its own rewards. It opens you to the freshness of every passing moment, to the rich array of data every moment holds. It connects you to yourself and to the world around you. It anchors you in the center of yourself and in the center of the ever-changing present.
As your day comes to a close, take time to review the moments of mindfulness you experienced throughout the day and savor them. If you journal, jot them down. If you don’t already journal, jotting down your mindful moments is a great way to start.
In any case, treat yourself to some brief reflection over your mindful experiences. The more you reinforce them, the more of them you’ll find tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the longer they will linger each time.