The ability to stay grounded in the present moment is not as easy as it sounds. We all want to be more mindful but don’t know how to get started.
Most of us keep busy, and our minds, for the most part, are preoccupied with routine tasks like paying bills, cleaning the house, dishes, laundry, cooking, etc. The list goes on forever. It can be such an energy drain that even a moment of silence alone feels like bliss.
We live in a hustle culture where time is money, and trying to cope and fit into the social structure, we miss out on the opportunity to discover who we truly are. This disconnect with our authentic nature shows up as stress, anxiety, and depression.
The more we strive to be efficient and effective, the more pressure we create on ourselves, which is further perpetuated by society and the environment. The problem is not that list of tasks on paper but the mountainous load of expectations we carry in our minds.
We have reached a point where mental health issues are normalized every day. It’s completely inhumane to normalize something as serious as depression. I’ve often heard the phrase, “Oh! I feel depressed today,” thrown around casually. That’s not depression!
Now, this article is not to offer a cure for depression or any other mental health issue, but some simple ways to cultivate mindfulness and become aware of going on within. As we become more aware of the mind’s internal chatter, it begins to calm down. Awareness is all that is needed.
The whole idea of mindfulness is to be fully conscious of thoughts arising in the mind while performing mundane tasks without labeling, judging, or reacting to them. So we continue to work with as much awareness as possible.
I have been practicing mindfulness for a while now, and I can confidently say that it has made a tremendous change to the quality of my life.
Studies show that practices like mindfulness and meditation reduce stress, blood pressure, increase focus, and improve overall physical and mental health.
The following list of 12 pointers comes from my own experiences. I thought I’ll share some things that helped me cultivate peace of mind in daily living.
This list is not exhaustive. I encourage you to identify your own mindfulness moments and come up with a list of your own. For the time being, here are some pointers:
Step #1 – Use Technology Mindfully
If the first thing that you do when you get up in the morning is to check your smartphone, ditch that habit, and build a healthier one. Catching up with social media posts and likes can wait.
Mornings are the most important time of day, and what we do at that time sets the tone for the rest of the day. Our minds and bodies are totally relaxed after a good night’s sleep. Therefore, it’s a good time to practice mindfulness.
I wake up every day at 6:00 am and start my morning by drinking one and a half glass of water (approx. 600ml) and after that, I perform just 2 minutes of stretching exercises for blood circulation.
Following that, I practice meditation for about 45 minutes, eat a healthy breakfast, take a walk outside in the open for 10 minutes, and finally head off to work.
I make sure not to touch my phone or any other gadget for at least two hours after I wake up. So I keep all of these on silent the night before. I also like to keep the notifications off. The urgency that these devices and apps indicate leads to compulsive usage and even addiction in some cases.
Before I started mindfulness, my usual morning routine was to wake up late in the morning (around 9:30 am or so), pick up my phone and start flipping through the social media feeds, reply to text messages, check emails after every two minutes, eating breakfast in haste, and rushing off to work.
I kept on with this behavior for a long time, and I used to feel dull for the rest of the day. I was living a stressful life simply because I couldn’t give up on the bad habits.
Setting a mindful morning routine helped me feel better and be more productive. I started feeling good and had lots of energy throughout the day. Reducing my screen time helped me to sleep better at night, and I started getting up fully fresh every morning.
Technology is meant to serve humans and not the other way around. We can do wonderful things with technology only when we’re mindful of their usage.
Step #2 – Perform Routine Activities Mindfully
You experience a greater sense of joy when you combine mindfulness with daily activities like brushing your teeth, bathing, ironing your clothes, washing the dishes, taking out the trash can, changing your bed covers, cleaning the garage, and so forth, and they stop feeling like chores.
Imagine the situation where you are struggling to fix that broken closet and your kids are creating commotion behind you. I have kids, so I do understand the feeling. It’s natural to feel a little irritated because this was supposed to be your time, but this irritation, if propagated in time, is likely to turn into anger or rage.
Sometimes even simple activities that can be completed within a few minutes, seem to be overwhelming. It can be quite stressful.
One of the ways in which I do all of these activities is to do them slowly and keep my attention focused on my breathing all the while I work.
It’s not that these activities are frustrating; the problem is that the frustration is in us, and it shows up sneakily when our attention is diverted. The unproductive afflicting thoughts and feelings remain in the background of our mind even while we’re working.
Slow and gentle breathing allows me to be more mindful of each breath; as a result, I’m more focused and less stressed. Most of us tend to get angry while doing such chores. At times, we inadvertently get so frustrated that we even start shouting, only to feel bad later.
Step 3# – Learn to Prioritize Your Work (Do What Matters Now)
We spend maximum time in our workplace, and we interact with all kinds of people. This is where we require mindfulness the most.
We have emails, phone calls, deadlines, meetings, and presentations to deal with. So how to be more present and productive at the same time?
Learn to do what is important now, rather than thinking about things to do later. For example, if you are attending a meeting, focus on what is being discussed in that meeting.
If you find yourself thinking about an email that you were supposed to send earlier to a client, some work your boss told you to do, or paying your bills, just ground yourself in the present moment and bring your awareness back to the breath.
Try to do short 2minutes’’ mindfulness breathing exercises whenever you get a break. There are a handful of mindfulness apps that can help.
At work, you may deal with people of varying degrees of consciousness. Some of them will be extremely pleasant while the others will be downright nasty. For example, your coworkers or your boss might be negative. What to do in that situation?
Mindfulness helps you to accept people as they are. I’m not saying that you should take abuse from anyone, but at the same time realize that their level of your consciousness might never match yours. With that realization in mind, you will never be shocked whenever any one of them behaves rudely and irrationally.
Step 4# – Learn The Art of Mindful Listening
Listening is an art we have almost forgotten in present times. All of us are always so eager to speak. We have so much inside of us that we just want to bombard the first person we get access to with all that’s wrong with this world and people.
For most of us, life always revolves around us. We have lost our capacity to listen to what is going on in other people’s life. Even when someone else is talking, our mind is busy spinning up its own stories. We are physically present most of the time, but we are not listening.
There are two types of listening; inner listening and outer listening. Unfortunately, modern lifestyle stresses disconnect us from paying attention.
Our overactive mind is also known as the monkey mind, always distracts us from being in the moment. Therefore, we must learn to deal with the monkey mind.
Mindful listening helps us develop more empathy towards others, self-awareness, and overall improve our focus and concentration. Not only that, but it also helps us in professional life by improving communication between coworkers, encouraging collaboration.
Step 5# – Eat Mindfully
This one is very close to my heart. I had been struggling with my weight for years. Nothing worked until I learned about mindful eating and started practicing it.
The problem is that most of us eat unconsciously because we feel that eating is just a basic need of the human body and can be done alongside other work.
We don’t even bother to think about what we are consuming. That cupcake, coffee ice cream, the sweetened beverages are all so tempting that we don’t care what it’s doing inside our bodies.
Our relationship with our food is completely messed up nowadays.
In my quest to lose weight, I was working out like crazy, but nothing worked. Every time I was a little successful in losing a few pounds, it used to come back in double quantity. I was getting stressed and depressed, and it was affecting my work and relationships.
Once I learned mindfulness, I started realizing what I was consuming. I started researching more on the types of food I was eating, how much quantity I should consume, and what was good and bad for me.
Few things you need to understand regarding mindful eating:
- Eat your food slowly and chew it properly for good digestion.
- When you are eating, keep your focus on food. Don’t watch the phone or television.
- Observe your food color, smell, and texture.
- Don’t eat when you are upset or angry.
- Avoid the temptation of eating desserts when in stress or anxiety.
- If you are eating out, don’t feel shy in asking about the contents of the dishes you order.
- Learn to differentiate between hunger and cravings. Whenever you get a craving, drink a glass of water first before you satisfy your craving with unhealthy items.
- Your body sends a signal when you’re full. Learn to understand these signals.
- Feel gratitude for the food you are eating.
Step 6# – Focus Only on One Task At A Time
At one point in time, I was trying so hard to be successful as a Solopreneur. I was under the illusion that I’m good at multi-tasking and that I can do the work of 10 people all by myself.
Boy, I was so wrong …
There is no such thing as multitasking in reality. When people say they can do multiple tasks simultaneously like watching television, responding to emails, and having a conversation with someone, they are simply switching between multiple tasks quickly.
People who multitask lack the ability to differentiate between the relevancy of tasks they are performing.
Most people believe that we need to multi-task in this highly competitive world to get things done faster, but our brain is not designed that way. If you want to be more productive, you need to focus only on one task at a time.
Multitasking only creates an illusion of productivity; in reality, not much gets done of anything. Some researchers have indicated that our productivity reduces by 40% when we try to multitask.
There are two main reasons why people multitask. Either it is the fear, like, for example, you need to complete a task within a short period, and failing to do so might upset your superiors, or it can be your own belief that you are good at multitasking.
Through mindfulness exercises, we can learn to build more focus. That way, we keep ourselves free from stress and anxiety and also be more productive overall.
Step 7# – Go For A Walk Outdoors
For some of us, practicing mindfulness throughout the day gets challenging. I understand because I have been in this situation—hectic work schedules, long hours in traffic, attending meetings back to back, and more. I used to feel exhausted by the end of the day.
I started mindfulness walking even before I began to meditate and practice other mindfulness exercises. And to this day, I practice mindful walking every single day. I feel this is one of the best and the most effective way to practice mindfulness.
I like to go for my walk two times; one in the morning (outside in the park) just for 10 minutes before I leave for work, and the other in the evening for about half-hour after I come back from work.
Inhaling fresh air in the morning is very exhilarating and sets the tone for my day ahead, whereas the evening walk (which I do inside my house only) helps me clear my mind, unwind and relax.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes and begin by standing still for a minute or two. Slowly inhale and exhale and observe the flow of air in and out of your nostrils. Move forward by taking small steps each one at a time and keep awareness of your breathing throughout.
Again, don’t force your breath, just go with the natural flow.
At times you will notice your mind wandering away to your thoughts, gently bring your awareness back to your breath and maintain the flow. After some time, you will get a feeling of serenity and calm.
Finally, come to a halt, keeping your awareness of your breathing for about a minute, before you get on with the usual stuff.
Step 8# – Be Mindful While Driving
The place where I live has one of the worst traffic jams in the world. It’s New Delhi, India. I have been driving here for the past 15 years, and the situation is not likely to improve any time sooner. So what to do? Again, use this opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Whenever we are in a stressful situation like being stuck in a traffic jam, our mind tends to bring out all the negative emotions. That’s the reason we sometimes start honking, shouting, and even name-calling other people.
Mindfulness keeps us grounded in the present moment, even when someone cuts us in the middle of the road. Rather than reacting in a fit of rage, we can calmly assess the situation and respond with kindness and move on.
Step 9# – Reconnect With Nature
For most of us, life is all about meetings, deadlines, expectations, productivity, and much more. We live in an environment where we don’t get the opportunity to connect with nature. We work in concrete buildings, in closed cabins and desks, devoid of fresh air and sunlight.
I used to work in such offices for long hours, and over time I started having joint pains; as I was not getting enough sunlight, my vitamin D levels were abysmally low.
My point is that it’s essential to stay connected to nature, no matter where you are or what you do. Now, most of us won’t be able to help it much, especially if we are working in closed spaces like cubicles, but now and then go outside and take a stroll or walk during the lunch break.
Spend your weekends out in nature, rather than staying at home and consuming junk content sitting in front of that idiot box. Take your children to a nearby park, rather than going to the mall.
Step 10# – Focus on Your Breathing Sensations While Waiting in a Queue
There were times when we had to stand and wait in queues to pay bills. Nowadays, we stand in line waiting for the table in a fancy restaurant. Laughs.
Well, my point is that nobody likes to wait in line. Still, I think such situations offer an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness, simply by bringing awareness to the breathing sensations.
Whenever I have to wait in a line, or in general, when I travel by the metro train, instead of putting on headphones, I start mindful breathing. Even though it’s noisy and chaotic outside, the inside is peaceful.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with listening to music (if you like it that way), it’s entirely your choice. But it does not make you as aware, and instead, you get lost in the music. In the case of mindful breathing, the effects stay for a more extended period.
Step 11# – Be Mindful While Shopping
I think this is more of a compulsion now, considering the poor state of the economy coupled with people’s mounting credit card debts.
We are suffering from the consequences of consumerism. We all are busy buying things we rarely need. We are always on the lookout for what’s new in the market. Big advertising banners from giant media houses lure our minds into believing that we need more to be happy.
On top of that, we are constantly reminded by society about what we should and should not have. Do we need a new phone every couple of months just because a new version has been released? Do we need to buy those new shiny shoes just because the old ones are dirty?
If there were a surprise check on our cupboards, most of us would be embarrassed. Buying stuff makes us feel better only for a short moment, and boy, we become slaves of that quick burst of pleasure just because the rest of our time we feel unhappy. It’s like an addiction.
Being more mindful, we learn to realize what we need. Just take a note of your feelings whenever you go out to buy something and ask yourself whether you actually need it or not.
Step 12# – Practice Meditation
I have been practicing meditation for over six years now, and it has given me clarity of thoughts and judgment.
Meditation practice is simple to follow. It can be practiced anywhere and at anytime. Just choose a quiet place in your home or outside in the park, sit in the cross-legged position (if you are not that flexible, you can opt for a chair as well), and keep your spine straight.
Close your eyes, and gently bring your awareness to your breathing. As I mentioned earlier, keep your awareness of the movement of air inside and out of your nostrils. Don’t force your breath and just main a natural rhythm.
During this process, you will notice your mind wandering away from your thoughts. This is very normal, and it happens to all of us. If that happens, gently bring your awareness back to the breath.
It takes some time to get used to meditation, but don’t get discouraged in the initial stages. For beginners, I recommend just 5 to 10 minutes, morning and evening every day. Once you start becoming more proficient, increase your time to 20 or 30 minutes.
For more information on meditation, read this guide. This is a sample chapter from my book – meditation is not about emptying your mind.
Mindfulness is something that is much more than an exercise or a practice. It is a complete lifestyle in itself. Buddha himself said that mindfulness is the path to enlightenment. It can help us in our path to self-discovery.