How to practice mindfulness – 7 simple mindfulness exercises anyone can do today
We all need calmness, clarity and sense of direction, but in our busy lives we often feel we’re missing the tools or the time to figure out how to practice mindfulness. We’ve heard about the many benefits of mindfulness, but what we often run into is ‘mindfulness meditation‘. If you’re like us you may want to figure out how to practice mindfulness, but not limit yourself to meditation.
This post includes 7 easy mindfulness techniques anyone can do, anywhere to practice mindfulness. It does NOT involve meditation, mystique, gurus, or sitting under a cedar tree humming. It’s mindfulness ‘on-the-go’ – being present in the moment, being aware of yourself and your surroundings, and appreciating life’s small victories.
When practiced consistently, these mindfulness exercises may lead you not only to a healthy mind, but to simply notice and appreciate the good in your life – like a warm cuppa in the morning.
So let’s find your Zen without the ‘om’ with these easy mindfulness exercises.
1 – Find Beauty Around You
Simplicity and enjoyment meet in this first mindfulness exercise (this is also by far one of the most popular micro-actions for YOU-app users!). Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as focusing on the moment and giving it your full attention.
So take a moment to notice beauty around you. There’s beauty in every home, street corner, office cubicle and in that person sitting opposite you at the table. Beauty comes in many forms, so pick something you find beautiful – tune fully into it and simply enjoy and appreciate the moment.
2 – Practice ‘Everyday Micro-Mindfulness’
No need to visit a meditation studio – use everyday situations to practice mindfulness. Simply practice pausing and paying attention in an ordinary situation today. In their book “Finding Peace in a Frantic World” Mark Williams and Danny Penman give tips on “habit breaking” (we call it “micro-mindfulness”). The idea is simple: Choose a daily habit such as brushing your teeth, having a coffee or riding the tube and simply pause and pay attention. Be in the moment, and as Williams and Penman say: “allow a few moments in the day when you are ‘awake’.” Try to repeat that same moment every day for a week and see how you feel.
3 – Be Grateful
This action is simple, yet one of the most powerful. If you were to ask scientists, the simple act of gratitude can unlock vast happiness and health (and probably the Garden of Eden). So here’s the miracle medicine: Each day, write down one thing you are grateful for.
We tend to think about life in relative terms – was today better than yesterday, am I doing better than my colleague, where am I related to my goals? Being grateful is not to dwell on what you’re not, but be happy for what you’ve got.
Besides increased happiness, gratitude has many proven benefits: Improved sleep. Stronger relationships. Better mood and energy. So once per day – express at least one thing you are grateful for!
4 – Just Feel It
Mindfulness can be many things, but the goal is always to refocus on the present moment, without judgment. Try this easy practice – take a moment to just notice how you feel. Feeling the Monday blues? Excited about the week or weekend to come? Nervous, happy or hopeful? Don’t apply any judgment to your feelings – just notice that they’re there, accept them and move on.
Read up on other similar simple mindfulness techniques from Harvard Health here.
5 – Take a Tech Timeout
The newest scary mantra is this one: “technology is the cigarette of our generation”. As Arianna Huffington, a big proponent of tech timeouts, says: “Our generation is one addicted to technology, bloated with information and starved of wisdom”.
Without doubt, technology brings lots of incredible benefits to our lives in terms of connectivity, automation, and a WEALTH of information at our fingertips. But deep down, many of us know we’re a bit addicted, and that tech can be contributing to the phenomenon known as “scatterbrain”.
The solution is simple: take tech timeouts. For your own benefit (and the people around you) it’s good to draw some clear tech rules. So after you’ve read this (or later with better time), take a tech timeout and define at least one digital rule you will start following. Be it no phones at the dinner table, no digital devices an hour before bed, or turning off all digital beeps, buzzes and notifications.
If you have 20 min, watch this really thoughtful TED talk “Connected, but alone?” by Sherry Turkle. It will really make you think twice about all that night-time Facebook browsing of yours…
6 – Take a Real Breath
Here we need to cite the father of mindfulness – Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT-trained scientist who’s been practicing mindfulness for 47 years (!). He teaches mindfulness meditation, but if you don’t want to go the full meditation route (and we started off by promising you wouldn’t, and we keep our promises) just focus on the simplest part of it – your breath. Good breathing technique has lots of benefits – it calms you down, relieves stress and improves digestion and blood pressure.
Says Kabat-Zinn: “When your alarm goes off and you jump out of bed, what is the nature of the mind in that moment? Are you already like, “oh my God,” your calendar pops into your mind and you’re driven already, or can you take a moment and just lie in bed and just feel your body breathing” … “Our breathing can help us in capturing our moments. It’s surprising that more people don’t know about this. After all, the breath is always here, right under our noses. […] To use your breathing to nurture mindfulness, just tune in to the feeling of it… the feeling of the breath coming into your body and the feeling of the breath leaving your body. That’s all. Just feeling the breath.”
Simple as that. Nothing further to add here. Thanks Jon.
7 – Find Micro-Magic in Your Day
Let’s round off with something fun 🙂 Remember when you were a kid and EVERYTHING around you had the potential to raise wonderment and awe in you? The clouds, the way your dad could lift you up over his head, or that strange but fascinating lady next door. Why do we lose that (or forget it) when we grow up?
Try this: Every day for a week, try to find a bit of magic in your day. This is similar to the gratitude exercise, only smaller and can include more day-to-day things. It may be the sound of the rain, looking up at the moon, discovering something in nature, the laughter of a loved one, or a quiet moment alone. Make it magical, and make it as small as you want. Just make it count for you.
IN SUMMARY, HOW TO PRACTICE MINDFULNESS:
Living mindfully is a journey, not a destination. Here we’ve listed some non-scientific learnings you may discover to tell you you’re on your way:
- You are able to stop and think – even when you’re busy busy busy
- You’re more present – at least once per day, and even if it’s while brushing your teeth
- You don’t find it strange to celebrate washing a big pile of laundry. Nice job!
- You don’t feel stressed if you can’t live mindfully every day, because you accept that you’re “perfectly imperfect”
DO TRY THIS AT HOME. But don’t do it all at once. Pick one, try it consistently for a week, and feel the difference! If you like it, keep it up until it feels effortless. Then pick another.
That’s the “scientifically robust habit creation way”. Another approach for those of you who easily get bored is to pick one each day – the one that fits that particular day best (but set a reminder, otherwise you are 99% sure to forget). Because really – it’s your life, so do what fits you.
And remember: The small things do matter.
Like the concept of small steps to improve your life? Join the world’s most positive community by downloading YOU-app for iOS or Android, or read more about YOU-app with Jamie Oliver.