What does it mean to be mindful?
Simply, it's awareness of the present moment. Meditation is a popular way to practice being mindful, though there are some key differences with mediation and mindfulness. The point is to recognize what you are doing, where you are and who you are with. The best way to do that is to simply slow down, but of course that is always easier said than done in our always on-the-go society. I've found that being mindful is really about forgoing the default. It's turning off the auto-pilot and steering the car itself. Here are other ways you can help the mind be more mindful.
I came across this technique recently. It's nothing new, but just a different way of slowing down and taking your time. In meditation, breathing is important. On the many times I meditated, I counted my breath as a way to focus on what I was doing. Specifically, this helped me focus my thoughts on something.
The box breathing technique focuses more on holds and exhalations. A visual like the one below can be helpful as you expand and deflate your lungs. The advantage of doing this is that it allows you to take in more oxygen and carefully control how you release your breath. I've seen that this is credited to Navy SEALs, as well as by true spiritual yoga practitioners.
It doesn't use a counting system so I think that helps as it reduces the distraction. You can just literally watch it and mirror your breath along the expansion and inflation of the circle. With this technique, you actually have to stop what you are doing so that you can watch the image and practice your breath. This helps you take your time. I'm sure over time as you use it, you can do it without the image.
I've used this technique a few times (though I didn't know there was a name to this) right before any presentation. It slows down my heartbeat just a bit so that I'm not as nervous. By taking a breath, I also automatically slow down when I speak so I don't rush my speech. I tend to speak fast because I'm visual and believe I see images faster in the mind before the words come out (my theory).
Try it out. The image below is from quietkit.com and I've copied the instructions straight from their site.
Here are the directions:
- Inhale for 4 seconds (as the circle expands)
- Hold your lungs full for 4 seconds (as the circle stays fully expanded)
- Exhale for 4 seconds (as the circle shrinks)
- Hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds (as the circle is contracted)
- Repeat as often as needed
Use Your Opposite Hand
You and I are absolute creatures of habit. We take for granted that our brain actually does the action first before our body reacts. For most of us, we do a lot of things with our dominant hands. It's automatic. We turn knobs, brush our teeth or grab things with one hand almost all of the time. One way we can stop and take time to appreciate what we are doing is to use our opposite hand to do them.
Using your non-dominant hand (unless your are ambi) means it will take more time to do it. This automatically makes you slow down. The slow down process now means you have to think about your next move. You can no longer rush through things. You see this right away if you brush your teeth with the opposite hand or if you move your mouse to the other side of the computer. Here are other actions to try.
- Write with your other hand (makes your handwriting even worse so it requires practice)
- Move your watch to the opposite wrist (this takes some getting use to)
- Hold your coffee with the other hand (requires new coordination)
- Carry your bag in the other shoulder (changes the way you walk
- Hold your partner's hand with the other hand (what do you feel?)
- Smoke with the other hand (feels cooler)
- Use your phone with the other hand (my other thumb feels shorter)
- Lock your door using your other hand (which way do I turn the key?)
This technique keeps you focused on the present. Secondly, it allows you to appreciate how your body connects to things and how deliberate your actions can become. Lastly, it's better for your brain to learn something new on a daily basis.
Take a Different Road
Do you remember how you got to work or school today? You can probably describe to me the exits you took, the streets you walked on, but not what you saw or how you felt. We are on auto-pilot most of the time. We float in and out of our routines without really stopping to appreciate what we have. I understand having a routine for the sake of efficiency, but at some point there is a comfort zone that you reach.
At the height of comfort is also the suppression of creativity. You know where to go. You grab coffee at the same place. You meet the same people. By doing so, you stop paying attention, you stop solving problems and you may encourage habits that could use a break. Part of the joy of everyday living is actually the ability to face and solve problems. Whether it's as simple as how to get home, by creating a new problem for your brain to work on and successfully completing it, you can create a positive feedback loop. You also open yourself up for new opportunities. A stroll or a drive on a different street may expose you to an old friend who works nearby or a new restaurant that you didn't know existed. You may also find that a new routine is more efficient than an old one.
Get mindful with your commute because if you are like most folks, you probably spend a lot of time traveling for work, you might as well take in some wonder and experience a feeling of newness here and there. By exploring a different street, you can bring out the adventurer in yourself.