Today I wanted to share a distillation of simple and practical ways in which you can live a more mindful life. If you only have time to read one of my posts today, make it this one. Then, you can dip further into the topic knowing some of the basic ways of integrating mindfulness into your life.
The simplest ideas and approaches can often lead to the deepest insights. Something as simple as mindfulness of breath, which is just feeling your breathing, can completely transform your life at the deepest of levels. So, read this post with a sense of appreciation for the ancient tradition and modern science of mindfulness. You never know – your life may never be the same again.
1. Engage in Daily Mindful ‘Me Time’
Mindful ‘me time’ means taking time out, every day if possible, to practise a mindfulness meditation or other mindful activity. If you're a constant giver – always thinking about others, perpetually active and never have a minute for yourself – this could turn out to be a valuable principle for you. Regular mindfulness meditation is probably the hardest and yet most powerful way to become more mindful. You probably lead a busy life, and perhaps feel you can’t find any extra time anywhere. But presidents and prime ministers have managed to find time to meditate, and so can you!
You can practise your daily quiet time at any time of day, and for any length of time. However, we recommend morning or early evening for ten minutes a day, which is a great start. Here is how to enjoy a deeper meditation.
2. Meet People Mindfully
Relationships are so important. Humans are social beings, but getting on with others can sometimes be tough.
Here are three little ways to improve your relationships mindfully:
✓ Let go of judgement. Each time you find yourself judging a person as you listen to them, try to let go of the judgement. You probably wouldn’t like it if another person judged you, so try not to judge others. Chapter 3 has more on letting go of judgement.
✓ Make someone a nice drink. By doing an act of kindness as simple as offering to make a cup of tea, you feel better and so does the other person. Make the drink mindfully and offer it with a smile as a gesture of goodwill – don’t look for thanks or anything else.
✓ Be aware of your facial expression. Be more aware of your expression when you’re around others. Give people the gift of your beautiful smile. Everyone looks gorgeous when they smile. Smiles can keep spreading from person to person.
3. Enjoy the Nature
I was fortunate to go for a beautiful walk on holiday recently, passing along a gurgling stream, walking across a sea of pebbles and up through a forest, along a path that wound up through to a clearing. I could see mountains, rivers and a small road with a few cars passing by. Above me, the mountain’s summit was hidden by thick, white clouds that slowly drifted along. Every now and then a bird flew across the horizon. I could continuously smell the scent of forest vegetation as I gazed across the landscape.
How did you feel, reading that description? For me, just reliving the experience through writing about it made me feel calm. There’s something special about nature that soothes the senses and settles the mind.
Take time out to be in nature on a regular basis. Listen to the wind as it whistles past your hair. Watch the trees stand tall and straight. Smell the sweet perfume of a rose in bloom and feel the gentle rain as it touches your skin. Spending time in nature is a way to rest your inner being – your deepest self.
4. Embrace Mindful Influences
You’re constantly influenced by the people you spend time with, the newspapers and magazines you read, the television programmes you watch and the advertising you see. When you’re mindful, you can be aware of unhelpful influences and seek experiences that lead to the kind of life you wish to lead, instead of being heavily influenced by external factors.
Here are some key influencers and ways to handle them:
✓ The media. Positive information and the millions of good deeds from around the world aren’t widely reported as they don’t grab people’s attention. Believing everything’s falling apart is easy if you constantly watch the news - especially recently. Give yourself a break. Don’t tune in to the news before work or last thing at night before bed. Doing so sets up your day with a negative start or ends your day on a downer so that you may not rest well. Instead, check the news or read the paper in the middle of the day or afternoon so it doesn’t affect how you start or finish your day. Stop reading beauty magazines if you read them at all, as the airbrushed unreality can knock self-esteem.
✓ Friends and family. If you want to be more mindful in your life, find friends who value mindfulness. If you want to have a more positive outlook on things, spend time with positive people. Maintaining a positive outlook is tricky around negative people.
✓ Books and music. Read something inspiring every day; perhaps a page of a mindfulness book, a story of hard-won success or someone who’s overcome a great difficulty or fought for something they really believed in. Enjoy a little bit of daily mindful inspiration! Listen to uplifting or classical music to create a mindful atmosphere. Any music with a relatively slow rhythm can help you feel a bit more calm, centred and present.
5. Appreciate your blessings
Gratitude is a simple but hugely powerful emotion and habit. You have much to be grateful for, yet you may find yourself focusing on things you don’t have. Switching your focus on your many blessings makes life more enjoyable. Here are five tips to become more grateful in your life:
✓ Keep a gratitude journal. The act of writing down what you feel grateful for can really boost your levels of wellbeing. You begin to notice more things that are going well. Give it a try for a week.
✓ Be mindful of your thoughts. By noticing your thoughts, you may notice more times when you’re thinking negatively about a situation. In this case, notice them as just thoughts and reflect on the question: ‘What can I be grateful for in this situation?’
✓ Make a commitment in front of your friends or family. By letting those close to you know that you’re making efforts to be a more grateful person, you’ll feel more compelled to ensure that you put the time in to reflect on what you’re grateful for. And your friends and family will remind you to be grateful too.
✓ Hang out with grateful people. Robert Emmons, Gratitude Researcher at the University of California says, ‘If we hang out with ungrateful people, we’ll “catch” one set of emotions; if we choose to associate with more grateful individuals, the influence will be in another direction. Find a grateful person and spend more time with him or her.’
✓ Use reminders. Stick gratitude quotes on your wall, mirror or computer, and bring a picture of your family to work – these things may all remind you to be grateful.
I also have a guide on how to practice gratitude ready for you to read.
6. Live in the present moment.
Right now, as you’re reading these words, this is all that exists. This moment is the only ultimate reality. Your thoughts about the past are just that – thoughts. Your plans for the future are just that too – plans. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the next few seconds, let alone tomorrow. So, by living in the moment, you’re living in the only reality that you can be sure of.
Living in the present moment is a question of balance. You don’t need to live every second in the present moment: that’s impossible, unrealistic and perhaps even stressful! But mindfulness helps you to live more in the here-and-now to help you live with that same freshness as a young child does. Living in the here-and-now is especially helpful when you’re going through a tough time.
You can take things moment by moment, rather than worrying about the whole problem. Say to yourself, ‘I’ll live my life one breath at a time and see what happens.’ You can read more about letting go here.
7. Accept what you can't change
Acceptance. This is a powerful concept! Accepting that things can’t always change has been shown to be hugely therapeutic in many studies.
The most transformative area for cultivating acceptance is your difficult, uncomfortable emotions. When you feel sad, anxious or frustrated, although you may not like the feeling, you can try not to avoid the sensation which, unless the feeling is mild or fleeting, can end up giving the feelings more power. You’re fighting or running away from your feelings.
Instead, try accepting your emotions. Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like your emotions, or resign yourself to feeling bad for the rest of your life. No. Acceptance means that in this moment, this is how you feel, and that’s okay. You acknowledge that this is the way things are at the moment.
8. See Thoughts as Thoughts
Thoughts are just sounds and pictures that arise in your consciousness. And yet, problems with thoughts arise when you believe them all to be absolutely true. By seeing thoughts as just thoughts, you become the master of them and can decide if a thought is helpful for you or not.
Mindfulness isn’t about positive thinking. That’s just putting another thought on top of any negative ones. Mindfulness is about seeing thoughts from a different perspective – from the bird’s-eye view of mindful awareness. From this vantage point, thoughts are like words coming from a radio or images on a cinema screen. They’re interesting, but they don’t define you.
Mindfulness empowers you to be in the driving seat rather than your thoughts.
9. Have some fun
Light-heartedness can be hugely helpful in putting the everyday hassles of life into perspective. An injection of light-heartedness does just that – lightens the load on your heart. So we say, let there be a bit more fun in your life. Try to see the funny side of your situation.
But best of all, have fun and laugh just for the sake of it. Children don’t think about why they want to have fun – they do it just because it feels so good! And you were a child once, so that same innate desire is still inside you.
10. Use the ACT Approach
You can use this ACT exercise (usually used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), whenever you’re faced with a strong emotion or difficult situation that you need to deal with to help you live life more mindfully.
✓ Accept. Accept your reactions, feelings and thoughts by being present with your sensations, but taking a step back and watching them from a distanced perspective. Have an attitude of allowing or letting be. Hold the sensation in your body, notice what the feeling is actually like without judging it. Allow the sensation to rest in your being. Feel your breath and just be present with things as they are. You’re making space for thoughts and feelings to be present without overwhelming you, if you can.
✓ Choose. Choose to move towards actions that can enrich and add meaning to your life. Have a sense of being together with your feelings rather than running from or fighting with them. When facing strong emotions, you may choose to go for a walk, talk to a friend or have a long bath. Let your choice be conscious and mindful rather than mindless and automatic.
✓ Take action. Take the action that you’ve chosen mindfully. Your choice may help you to soothe your emotions or deal with an issue. Be aware of how your choice, from a thought, turns into action. And make the activity mindful by connecting with your senses, your breathing or continuing to notice your thoughts and feelings that arise as you carry out the action. For example, if your girlfriend storms off in anger, you may choose to follow her and talk calmly to her.
Extracted and adapted from our book Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies by Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall.
What did you think of these tips? Are there any others you'd like to share with our community in the comments below?