Explore the steps you can take to expand your mind and live a mindful life.
Have you ever experienced that moment when you arrived somewhere and don’t remember how you got there? Maybe you zoned out on your commute or drifted off while pushing a stroller and then found yourself at your destination wondering how much time passed. You weren’t conscious every step of the way. It happens to all of us at times but it can feel alarming — how was my body moving when I wasn’t present and focused? If you can relate to this and would like to make room for more mindfulness in your life, practice these seven tips throughout the day.
1. Be a Better Listener
Many of us aren’t great listeners during a conversation. We’re waiting for our turn to talk and share our opinion or to make our point. When’s the last time you really listened when someone talked to you and you didn’t have an agenda of explaining your point? Founder of the Mindfulness Practice Center at the University of Missouri, Lynn Rossy, Ph.D., suggests the following exercise, “When your mind wanders away from what’s being said, immediately and without judgment bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking.” Practice mindful listening during phone conversations by making sure you’re not doing anything else while the person on the other end shares. Simply sit or stand and listen while paying full attention. Keep doing that as often as necessary and you’ll strengthen your focus and attention.
2. Practice Mindful Eating
Have you ever eaten your lunch at your desk while scrolling through your phone or doing work on the computer and then looked down to realize your food was gone? How did it disappear that quickly? Practice mindfulness while you eat to slow down, be present during the meal, bring the focus back to your food, and avoid distractions that interfere with the experience. During your next meal, sit down, eat off of a plate, cut your food up into small bites, and examine the colors and textures of the food in front of you. Before placing a bite on your tongue, inhale the aroma of the food. Then, place it on your tongue and let it sit there for a moment, enjoying the flavor and texture. Put your fork down while you chew and savor it. After you swallow, take a sip of water and start the process again. These are some of the mindful eating practices Rossy recommends. Not only will you enjoy the food more this way, but mindful eating gives your brain time to register that your stomach is full, which usually takes about 20 minutes, according to research and the CDC.
3. Practice in Your Car
Whether you drive to work or find yourself frequently running errands in your car, this environment is a great place to practice brain training, suggests Maria Gonzalez. Be aware of your body in the driver’s seat, your hands on the steering wheel, and your back against the seat. Notice what you see through the windshields and your mirrors — perhaps bicyclists, children playing, joggers, etc. Turn the radio off and pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. You might find that your mind wanders and when it does, take a deep breath and come back to the present moment.
4. Be Present in Water
For the most part, we’re fortunate enough to have access to clean, safe water in this country. Practice being in the present moment every time you encounter water one day this week. From your morning shower — focus on the water temperature, the steam, the scents of your cleanser—to listening to the running water while you prep your coffee or fill up a water bottle. Pay attention to the water running over your hands every time you wash them after going to the bathroom. Using this simple practice as a way to focus on the present moment is like training your brain’s muscle one rep at a time.
5. Be Mindful During Exercise
The next time you go on a walk, run, or bike ride outside, use your senses to stay present during the experience. Pay attention to sounds around you, how the air feels on your skin, and what you smell. One way to force yourself to be present is to look for something along the way, like searching for a red flower or trying to find a bird while on your journey. When you’re focused on looking for something in the present moment, you’re training your brain not to concern itself with all the other things going on in your life. You might find that you enjoy exercising outdoors more once you involve all of your senses.
6. Steal Tips From Your Pet
If you have an animal at home, you know they usually don’t seem to be worrying about much at the moment. When you’re playing with them and their toys, they are focused on you and those objects. If you’re petting them, they’re probably lying still and enjoying the attention. The next time you play with a pet, make sure you’re focused on them fully for a few moments, not checking your phone or watching TV.
7. Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Lots of research studies in recent years have examined the effects of gratitude, with results showing that people who make it a regular practice tend to have better relationships, less stress, are less likely to be depressed.
Begin a gratitude routine when you wake up in the morning and give thanks to the universe for another beautiful day. You can also start a gratitude practice in the evening where you write down a few things you are grateful for that day. Research shows that actively practicing gratitude might even improve your sleep. Buy a journal and pen to keep next to your bed and write down a few specific things you’re grateful for that day.