You know the feeling — you’re at a loose end. Everything seems to be falling apart. The days roll right into one another without a break. You can’t seem to focus and you’re always stressed out about something, but still can’t seem to find the time or motivation to cross any of it off your list.
But you’re reading this article. Why? Because you don’t want it to be that way.
You’re sick of the endless anxiety cycle. Of stress ruling your life. You want to enjoy your time, not feel tossed around by the waves of your emotions. You want to feel focused, productive, fulfilled.
But maybe the solution isn’t quite so complicated as quitting your job, moving to Spain, and becoming an oil painter (though if that’s what you want, go for it!). It might just be that you need to become a bit more mindful.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more present and aware of what’s happening around you, right now. Google defines it as:
“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Or, as Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, puts it:
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.”
If you’re looking for ways to become more mindful, here are eight simple things you can incorporate into your life to befriend yourself and your experience.
Meditation is an ancient practice that helps clear your mind, focus your energy, and calm your emotions.
If you find yourself struggling to stay productive on your work or study for the big exam, sit down for just five minutes and focus on your breath. There are tons of great meditation apps online that can help guide your practice.
If you’re really looking to unplug, set a timer for your desired time and spend your meditation focusing on your breath. When your mind begins to wander (it always does!), work on remembering to refocus on your breath. Such a simple little exercise can help you feel more grounded and relaxed.
Incorporating 5 or 10 minute meditation practices into your day at key points can help you refocus during the day, feel mentally prepared, and reduce anxiety.
A gratitude journal is another easy practice to incorporate into your daily life.
Just pick a notebook or your current journal and set aside time every day to write down three to five things you’re grateful for. Right before bed is a great time to write in a gratitude journal so you can reflect over the day and end it on a positive note.
Give yourself a challenge and try to pick different things every day. At first, you’ll pick obvious things to be grateful for, like your new car or your best friend. But over time, you’ll start realizing you’re grateful for lots of things you hadn’t really taken the time to appreciate before. Like the smell of fresh-baked bread or the way the sun shines through your blinds in the morning.
Eventually, you’ll have a whole long list of things you’re grateful for and some of those things might just surprise you. Plus, you’ll practice mindfulness in a way that cultivates positivity.
Yoga helps you connect with your body and get a little exercise in, depending on how hard you decide to go.
And all you really need to get started is a mat.
Try adding in some yoga to your life early in the morning. Sign up for a class before work to get you up and going before your day really starts. It’s the perfect way to center yourself and practice mindfulness before the rest of the day.
Another great time to add some yoga is right before bed. Turn on a five or ten minute yoga session on Youtube and come back to your body as you prepare for deep sleep.
Take Difficult Things Bird by Bird
In the book, Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life, by Anne Lamott, she describes that her little brother once had a school project coming up that he had forgotten about:
“We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ’Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
When it comes to our daily tasks, or any task that’s stressing you out, remember the bird by bird method. Simply do the first thing you need to do. Then do the next thing. Then the next. Before you know it, you’ll have completed the project. Don’t let the enormity of your task stress you out. Mindfulness is about focusing on what’s right in front of you — the first bird.
Another great way to become more mindful is to create little rituals during your day. A ritual can be a moment to reflect, ground yourself, and refocus.
A ritual could simply be brewing your morning coffee and giving yourself time to drink it before you head to work. Or it could be taking your lunch break outside in a park. Or it could be turning on a certain music playlist before going to the gym.
Little rituals can give us a chance to slow down and reset. Take these moments to appreciate that you have the opportunity to even enjoy them. Focus on the taste of your morning coffee. On the feel of the sun. On the simplicity of the moment.
Limit Phone Use
It’s no secret that phones can be a huge distraction and probably cut down on your mental focus.
Unfortunately, it’s also easy to let phone use get out of hand. We have tons of apps and games and shows to keep us preoccupied. But when you think about it, how much good does being on your phone for hours on end really do for your life? Do you feel fulfilled and happy at the end of one of those binges? Probably not. Probably, being on your phone so much doesn’t make you feel that great and you wish you weren’t so reliant on it.
Make the conscious effort to limit your phone use by putting it out of sight in a sock drawer or in another room when you’re working, studying, or trying to focus on something else. When it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.
Just like having your phone out of sight puts it out of mind, having too much clutter in sight causes a cluttered mind.
Clutter might not seem like that big of a deal on the surface, but it has a huge impact on your mental state and can keep you feeling anxious even if you don’t realize it.
Visual clutter can be on your desk, in your house, in those drawers you’ve never bothered to organize. It can also be on your computer, in that mess of documents and files you haven’t sorted.
When your physical (and digital) space is a mess, it makes finding the important things more difficult, wasting your time and causing more stress.
Take 20 minutes every day to clean your space. You’ll probably be surprised at how much cleaning you can get done in 20 minutes. During your cleaning, put on some fun music and jam out. It’ll make the time go faster, and give you another moment in the day to practice mindfulness. When you’re done, your space will be so much easier to work and live in, reducing your stress and improving your ability to focus.
Spend some time outside as much as possible.
Plan hikes on the weekend or strolls down your neighborhood park. Take ten minutes every morning to drink your coffee outside, rather than inside. Instead of spending the evening on your phone, take a good book outside and read. Plan a picnic or a sports game.
Spending time in nature not only improves mindfulness, but it also improves your mood.
In conclusion, get outside, take time for yourself, appreciate the little things, and remember to breathe.
With a little extra mindfulness, you’ll find your days feel more full. More enjoyable. You’ll feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions. You’ll reduce your stress and anxiety. And you may even begin to befriend your experience, and yourself.