What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, or sustained present moment awareness, isn’t just sitting in a quiet room with eyes closed and learning to find peace within. Mindfulness is a way of being fully present in your life out in the reality of a big and unpredictable world. Mindfulness helps you navigate through the entirety of your day, managing the bad and welcoming the good. Mindfulness can guide wise action within your personal relationships and professional obligations. But like anything, it takes practice and persistence. Here are my habits of a mindful day to help develop the skills to live a mindful life.
My daily habits of mindfulness
It is fundamental to have dedicated and separate practice time to develop your skills in maintaining mindfulness. My body is my first and most fundamental tool of learning to reside in the present moment and I use a mindful breath and movement practice to develop the mental capacity to keep my attention focused on the present moment. For me, that means a moderately strong and slow yoga practice that helps me feel awake and alive and healthy in my body and trains my mind to pay attention to the reality of what I’m feeling, rather than any mental storylines around it. In addition to my breath and movement practice, I have a seated and quiet meditation practice. Contrary to a moving practice, sitting leaves me with little else to feel and observe other than the contents of my mind. Here is where the work begins of being with myself fully, filtering out the toxic, and embracing the good.
What you can actually do: Have separate practice time that has some combination of movement, breath, and quiet. Commit to whatever amount of time you can commit to on a daily basis even if it’s as little as a single minute. Don’t overcommit and set yourself up for failure. Practise something every day.
Stick with the moment
Fundamental to mindfulness is keeping attention in the present moment not only in meditation but throughout your day. But for a variety of reasons, including aversion to pain and boredom and pure addiction to modern technology we, including me, distract ourselves out of the present moment. Smartphones, social media, streaming content, shopping, eating, and a million other enticing things can keep us from seeing, feeling, and dealing with what’s right in front of us. I’ve been working hard to make sure whatever I am doing, I have chosen to do it in that moment and am dedicating my full attention to it. So that means no more automatic smartphone obsessing for no good reason when I should be focused on wherever I currently am. That means one task at a time. That means re-building an attention span shot to hell by growing up in the internet age. To stick with each moment I can ask “is all this constant connectivity and distraction actually making me happier?” and “what can I learn or experience from this moment if I was to let myself have it?”
What you can actually do: So you know I’m going to say it, but put down your phone, take a break from the computer, take a break from checking likes and comments, and be in your life. It’s hard to go cold turkey, so build up the amount of time you are disconnected from distractions little by little day by day. See what shifts. Then re-build your attention span by focusing on one thing at a time. Listen to whole albums. Read for long periods. Watch a whole movie. Cook. Enjoy a long dinner conversation. And when you have to work, try not to ‘multi-task’ and let your mind stay focused and clear.
Get some green and blue
I’m fortunate enough to live in a part of London where I am surrounded by the old commercial docklands. To get to and from the tube I traverse bridges, see swans and seagulls, and watch the sun rippling off waves from small crafts moving through the waters of the Thames. I make sure I have a moment of contact and communion with the blue water every day. When we touch base with nature, we remind ourselves that most of our major neuroses are pretty petty in the grand scheme of the Universe. The rhythms of the natural world can help us recalibrate our priorities and viewpoint. This may be looking out to the water like me, or looking up to the blue sky, or finding some green park space. But make the effort and let it give you a bit of natural healing.
What you can actually do: Find a way to get to green space or blue space every day. Walk through it on your way home or sit outside during lunch. Just take a moment to pause and look out at what is natural and real.
Enjoy your life
The mind has a negative bias from our long history of having to avoid predators and war and plague. We remember traumatic and painful experiences much more clearly than positive ones. To shift this bias, we have to deliberately fire new neural pathways to keep us positive. If we take the time, we can pattern the brain to stay focused on the good stuff. After we came back from a yoga retreat I taught in Costa Rica, my partner got obsessed with seeking out the sounds of birds here in urban London. “Listen! Listen, can you hear it?” And of course we could if we made the effort. There’s so much out there to embrace and enjoy when you take the time and consciously let it in.
What you can actually do: When you are having a good time, stop for a moment and tell yourself you are enjoying this, and take in every wonderful moment of it. Recall this feeling when you need it.