Improve your life by focusing on things as simple as walking through doorways… Literally?
What is mindfulness? How is it useful? Great questions, however I will save them for the end of the blog. First, let’s start by saying that my observation is that most people are very poor at being mindful. Let’s review what the average person’s daily experience is like so you can see where I’m coming from on that statement.
The Typical AWFUL Day…
We wake up, have a cup of coffee while we are desperately trying to get ready to go to work, maybe, if we planned accordingly, shovel some food into our mouths while continuing to run around and get ready for our day. Running a few minutes behind, we zoom away in our vehicle on the way to work. On the way, we have a few near miss accidents, a few frustration moments with other drivers who are “in our way,” and spill some coffee before we get there. When arriving to work we avoid conversation and quickly “dig in” to our daily tasks. The time flies by and before we know it, its lunch. Lunch goes about as smoothly as breakfast, with the emphasis being on speed rather than flavor. Directly after lunch you have a particularly unpleasant interaction with a coworker. The rest of your day you go about your duties, but still feel quite frustrated by your earlier unpleasant interaction. Later, you find yourself in another coworker’s office, and due to the “baggage” you are carrying with you from being frustrated earlier, also find that interaction pretty unpleasant. FINALLY, the end of the day arrives, you breathe a sigh of relief as you hop into your car, blast some music on the way home, although you aren’t quite listening to it, it’s more-or-less “background noise” since you are focused on replaying the events of the day, and what you need to deal with tomorrow at work. Once home, you quickly cook dinner, shovel it down, and proceed to sit down and watch TV. You don’t even really know what you’re watching though since you’re also mindlessly flipping through social media and emails on your phone. You go to bed, set your alarm, and fall asleep wishing tomorrow was not going to be ONLY TUESDAY.
Sound familiar? I’ve obviously dramatized this some for the effect, but I truly don’t think it’s far off from our daily experiences. Why is this? Does it always have to be this way? Do I just hate my job? Do I need to work for myself? Should I switch careers? Do I want to keep doing this?… All questions that many adults ask of themselves and their counselors if they see one. Especially Millennials. Let’s take a moment to see what this day COULD have been like.
One Of Those “I’m Happy To Be Alive” Days…
You wake up in your bed to an alarm. You lay there in bed for a few minutes and practice some deep breathing, and attempt to keep your mind from wandering too far into the future. You just lay there and focus your mind on the warmth of the spot you are lying in bed. You slowly stretch and then get out of bed, taking note of the temperature change. You brush your teeth, but take the time to really focus on the sensation and flavor in your mouth. You sit down and slowly eat your breakfast of two over easy eggs and two slices of bacon… cooked JUST right… As you slowly eat the bacon you can’t help but notice your saliva glands. That bacon flavor just lingers there for a few minutes after you’re done eating. You notice this because you’re still sitting at your table just about to enjoy your morning coffee. You notice the coffee’s distinct smell before pouring the cup. After pouring it, you take your time slowly sipping it, feeling the warmth on your tongue, roof of your mouth, and down your throat. You can’t help but let out a smack of the lips and an “ahhhhh.” Off to work, you climb into your car, tune the settings of everything to “just perfect” including your radio station, which is a talk radio channel you listen to every morning. The 25-minute commute to work is uneventful and relaxing due to you allowing 15 extra minutes to arrive to work. You pull in, and rather than sit in your car for the extra few minutes, you go into the office and take the time to talk to coworkers and ask them about their weekend. Work is still work, but when lunchtime comes, you “unplug” from work, and even though you didn’t plan very well and don’t have a packed lunch, (this is against my budgeting advice) you go to a local fast food restaurant, and because you are taking your time, can’t help but have a truly sensual experience with that food. Later in the day you have a VERY unpleasant interaction with a coworker. After they leave your office, you can’t help but sit there a few minutes noticing your heartrate, blood pressure, and tensing of your muscles are still affected. You take note of these things and actively observe this feeling in order to relieve it with some deep breathing and allowing the feeling to pass without forcing it. The whole ordeal was upsetting, but at least it only lasted 10 minutes. Later in the day you go to speak to another coworker in their office, but on the way notice that you are feeling rushed, and probably still upset about your earlier interaction with that other person. You take the time to “ground” yourself, and acknowledge those feelings are baggage you are bringing with you into the rest of the day. A little more deep breathing and allowing those feelings to pass, allow you to navigate your next stressful situation as a singular event, not a cumulative one. At the end of the day you walk through the outside door and take a deep breath, appreciating being outside and allow the sun to hit your face for just a few seconds before venturing to the car. You repeat your driving experience home from this morning. To wrap the day up at home you take the time to cook a dinner, you take note of how all 5 senses are engaged while preparing and cooking the dinner before consuming it and enjoying every bite. When it’s time to go to bed you take the time to feel the temperature climb with your body heat and appreciate the warmth reflected back to you before drifting off to sleep.
Does that experience sound better? It certainly does to me. I will point out to you that both experiences are possible for everyone. The same job, same coworkers, same car, same food, same commute… What was the only thing that differed? The answer is mindfulness, and often the lack of it is the only thing that stands between us and being content with our daily lives.
In a future blog I will discuss the mind-body connection, and how using the 5 senses can sooth you among other things, but for the purposes of this blog I want to leave you with some questions you can answer today, and some simple daily things you can do to be more mindful, but since I promised you I would identify what mindfulness is, and how it’s useful, I’ll address that first.
What Is Mindfulness And Why Does It Matter?
Mindfulness is the act of focusing one’s mind on the present, focusing on the internal and external experiences of that moment, and avoiding feelings and thoughts of the past or future. It has been shown to bring about a reduction in a variety of psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety, and can bolster a substance user’s ability to remain sober. In short, it rocks! I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you the one BIG catch though… It takes PRACTICE.
Here are some simple things you can do in everyday life to be more mindful:
Deep Breathing: Don’t give me the excuse you don’t have time to do this since you take about 23,000 breaths per day! Of course, for most of us, all 23,000 of them go unnoticed by our conscious mind. Take the time several times a day to do some “belly breathing”, deep, concentrated breaths from the core of your body. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Take time to recognize how the cool air feels going in, and how the warm air feels going out, try to focus on nothing but the breathing itself and what you can sense from it.
Mindful Listening: I used to have an old CD series of different natural settings. When I would really focus it was almost like I was in the scene I was listening to, whether it was ocean waves crashing on a beach, or a jungle full of birds. I never found the thunderstorm one quite as relaxing as the others, but it still brought me there in my mind. You can practice this one even in a city, the point is to close your eyes and just listen, try to make out as many different noises as you can, some far away, others near.
Walking Meditation: Try just walking one city block, or a short venture down your street and be very vigilant to what is around you. Notice the feeling of your feet as they walk on different surfaces like gravel, grass, and pavement. Look more to the left and right, and higher up than you normally do when you are just walking from one spot to another with the motivation of speed in mind. What do you notice? Try this and you’ll be amazed at what you miss every day. Take the time to take it all in.
Eating Meditation: I’m not perfect at mindfulness, it’s unrealistic to think that I am, or that any of us can attain perfection, but I’m ashamed to say that upon my return from Germany, visiting relatives, the Bavarian and Swiss chocolate I returned with was consumed with VERY LITTLE mindfulness. Looking back, I wish I had taken the time to consume it slowly and appreciate it more… It was darn good. If I had just one piece of that chocolate here I would do the following with it right now, and what you can do with any food… Put it in your mouth, don’t do what we automatically do with most food and chew it up quickly. Instead, allow it to melt on your tongue. Feel it melt some, move it around in your mouth. Slowly bite it, feeling the texture crumble under your teeth. Slowly consume it while concentrating on what your mouth and mind experience before finishing it. Do something similar to this for every meal and you will thank me forever.
Mindful Rituals: This refers to the brushing your teeth ritual, or getting up in the morning ritual, pouring and drinking coffee etc. We all have our daily rituals that we go through every day, and sometimes do them so quickly and without thought that we can’t even remember if we did them. Since they ARE our daily rituals, what better points in the day to make sure we practice mindfulness? Simply focus your mind on nothing other than the task you are performing and really try to EXPERIENCE it rather than just get through it.
Grounding or “mini-break”: It’s simply not fair, but we tend to tarnish our future experiences with our past experiences due to carrying the thoughts and emotions with us into a new setting. For that reason, this is probably my favorite technique of them all. When you shift from one setting to another, or from talking with one person to another, “ground” yourself by taking note of where you are, dig your heels into the ground and plant your feet flatly there. Take a few deep breaths and notice your point in time, no matter what just happened, it has passed and you are in a different moment. This is meant to prepare you to leave your “baggage” behind before you transition into another moment in time. I have a friend that uses the act of walking through a doorway to que him that he needs to ground himself. If you think about it, every time you walk through a door, you are probably bringing with you the stress, worry, anger, and other emotions that would probably be best left in the previous room.
Do Yourself A Favor… Don’t Try To Be A Monk!
Don’t think of mindfulness techniques as something you need to acquire while studying with a Buddhist monk for five years. Heck, you can literally get better at it while brushing your teeth, eating, breathing, and walking though doors! Do yourself a favor, and practice each of the above techniques once or twice in a single day. That’s a reasonable amount of mindfulness considering I’m not asking you to do anything different other than focus your attention on the moment while doing something you’re going to do anyway. I’ll give you twice your money back as a guarantee you will notice a difference in your daily life. Since this blog is free, I’ll give you two more if you keep reading in the future, but you have to read them to claim them.
Happy small doses of mindfulness everyone!
Rory K. McLaughlin, CEO