Everyday mindfulness: Make it easier to start
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Focus at work is a crucial skill that employers seek. And we all want to focus on precious time with family and friends. Everyday mindfulness will make it easier to be fully aware and present in these moments.
In this article, we’ll explore:
Issues you may have faced in trying mindfulness for the first time.
Some of the factors that make mindfulness harder or easier.
Everyday mindfulness during daily activities.
And lastly, we’ll look more closely at what being non-judgmental means.
Before reading the rest of this article, take a look at the first article in this series, which describes an easy introduction to mindfulness. Follow the tips in that article before continuing.
1 Learning everyday mindfulness takes time
Starting anything new is a challenge when you’re rushing all day. Learning everyday mindfulness takes time.
So it’s important to let the process happen, without pushing to reach unrealistic goals you may have set yourself. Let go of the desire to be the best.
Every new skill feels awkward to start with. Progress can be slow and bumpy. If you reach a plateau, it can be frustrating.
Notice and accept this as part of learning. Be aware you’re consolidating your skills, ready for the next learning phase.
Looking back over the past week or so:
How often did you find 30 seconds to focus mindfully on one thing?
Could you name and describe your thoughts and feelings?
How often did your mind send you critical comments?
And how hard was it to return to your focus?
Learning mindfulness takes patience
Most of you probably found it hard. However, remind yourself that you did well to find an oasis of calm for a few seconds daily.
Even finding 30 seconds to focus on one thing is challenging – especially these days when we flick from one device to another. We’ve lost the art of staying focused on one thing at a time.
If you’re a “hurry addict”, you may have been underwhelmed by mindfulness. The idea of just “noticing” may have seemed silly or trivial. Your focus probably jumped around. You may have felt twitchy and wanted to stop.
Don’t be hard on yourself
You’ll get the hang of it with practice. These reactions are all OK.
Next time, be interested in these reactions. Accept them without any particular need to do better. Notice and describe them to yourself without any emotion.
As you practice, you’ll realise that everyday mindfulness is calming. It leads to a private, inner, quiet state. It isn’t flashy; there’s no hype or glamour. But it does need the willingness to be patient.
Trust that you’ll improve in your ability to focus on one thing.
Take the time to practise
Find as many 30 second spots in a day as you can, to focus all your senses on one thing only.
There are plenty of little spaces in your day: waiting for others, standing in line. Notice these opportunities to make it easier to practice everyday mindfulness.
In fact, right now focus for 30 seconds on one thing, using all your senses. It can be anything at all; perhaps a pencil or a book cover.
Notice every colour, every scratch or mark. Notice the shape, and the feel and weight in your hand. Notice how it smells, and what different materials it contains.
Spend 30 seconds focussing on everything you can about that object.
2 You’ll soon notice small benefits
Even a little practice may trigger small changes in your mindset.
You’ll be more aware of things like:
The intricacy of a flower or a piece of bark.
The brushstrokes in a painting.
The angles and roughness of an old building.
Or the lines and creases on your own hand.
Your heart rate may slow a little:
Your mind may also slow its frantic pace for a few seconds.
You may also have started to breathe more slowly.
Each mindful pause is a moment of reflection:
A moment to linger, to stay in the present, right here, right now. A moment to slow down your racing thoughts, and to distance yourself from the stresses of the day.
Some times to practice might be:
When you first wake in the morning.
As you walk the last 50 metres to work.
After you finish eating lunch.
After you pack up for the day.
Before you walk into your house after work.
Before you turn out the light at night.
3 Mindfulness is easier some days
You’ve probably found that it was hard to focus on some days. That’s OK; it’s just the way it is. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t manage to focus much at all every now and again.
At these times, notice that your mind is jumping all over the place. Notice the urge you have to give up.
Accept these feeling and thoughts; describe how you are feeling to yourself. Keep gently bringing your mind back to your focus, without pressure or stress.
Be intrigued or amused, rather than annoyed, at how active your mind is. Be interested in what may be causing this. Notice if your first reaction is to be angry at yourself.
Learn how to make the practice of everyday mindfulness easier.
Notice factors that make it easier or harder
How much sleep you’ve had.
How alert or bored you are.
If you’re constantly interrupted.
If you’re in pain.
Whether you have a lot on your mind.
How critical you are of yourself, or of others.
How “sticky” some thoughts are.
How “sticky” some emotions are.
Be a scientist gathering information
Take note of these factors with curiosity. You’re learning valuable information. This can be used later, to refine your mindfulness practice.
Choose to work on one factor that’s affecting your practice. See if small changes can make it easier or harder.
4 Focus on easier situations for now
If possible, pick times when you can focus more easily. Later you can practise in more difficult situations.
It’s important not to judge yourself as doing well or badly. Simply accept what you’re doing, and build on it gradually as you’re able.
Acceptance of the process leads to long-term mastery. It’s the same with any new skill or habit you’re trying to learn. Often it takes at least three months, rather than the 21 days touted by pop psychology books, to develop a new behaviour.
As you extend your skills, make the practice of everyday mindfulness easier, by using more mindfulness exercises in everyday life.
5 Being non-judgmental
As mentioned above, an important part of mindfulness is being non-judgmental. And we’ve looked at lots of examples. But what exactly does this mean?
a) Stick to facts, not judgments
Wherever you are, remain neutral when describing and naming what you see, hear, smell and so on. Describe only what a particular object is actually like, rather than your opinion or perception of what it seems to be like.
This is also true when you’re observing behaviours as well. Only describe what someone does, not what you think their motives are.
Use phrases like:
I notice that ……..
I can see/hear/smell/taste/touch/taste ………
I notice this coat is woven from fuzzy brown wool.
The wool is scratchy and rough.
The lining is of a smooth shiny fabric.
The coat smells of mothballs.
b) Notice and let judgments go
Notice the temptation to judge whether something is good, bad, ugly, useless or silly. Example of judgments might be:
That brown is a horrible colour.
The coat is out of fashion.
It smells horrible.
Be aware that you’ll slip into making judgments within 2 seconds. Our minds naturally like making judgments, and particularly negative judgments.
Don’t be annoyed by this. Notice when you’re tempted to make a judgment (or string of judgments). Then go back to listing facts you can observe.
When your mind sends judgmental messages, notice your desire to add even more judgments. Be interested in that reaction; then return to your observing.
You may need to do this over and over. Accept that this is the way it is. Notice if you find it difficult to accept this calmly.
c) Notice thoughts, emotions or sensations
You may be thinking or feeling things like the following:
I don’t like that.
I can’t stand that person.
I’m getting sick of this.
This is stupid.
I’ll never get the hang of this.
That’s the dumbest thing I ever saw.
d) Acknowledge thoughts, emotions or sensations
Acknowledge your thoughts, emotions, or sensations. For example, I notice the thought X has come back four times now.
Tell yourself it’s OK for the thought, emotion or sensation to be there. Then bring your mind back to observing. Let these thoughts, emotions or sensations run alongside your observations. Eventually they’ll fade away.
Notice the feelings that arise in your body when you have sticky thoughts that you find hard to let go. Name these feelings or sensations if you can. Be assured they are normal.
e) Accept thoughts, emotions or sensations
You don’t have to like what you are noticing in your body. All you have to do is notice the feelings or sensations. Allow them to be there without trying to get rid of them.
If you don’t feed them with more thoughts, they will eventually subside.
f) Let the thoughts, emotions or sensations go
Allow these thoughts, emotions or sensations to drift past you.
Imagine they are:
boats gliding along a river
balloons floating into outer space
leaves on a stream
feathers drifting in the breeze
cars passing down the road
skiers gliding down a slope.
Let them grow fainter as you focus on something else. They are just thoughts and emotions. You don’t have to act on them in any way. You don’t have to worry about them.
Allow these thoughts or sensations to sit in the background. Then focus your attention on what you were observing.
With practice, you’ll slowly lose the urge to respond with more thoughts. Treat judgments as interesting information.
g) Refocus attention over and over
Refocus your attention on whatever you were observing. After practising mindfulness for some time, you’ll notice fewer judgments popping up. For example, at workplace meetings you may have thought like this in the past:
They’re a bunch of idiots.
This project will be a disaster.
We’re all going to lose our jobs.
Now you may think:
I notice I have a range of thoughts about the presenters.
I’m aware I want to judge them and the project negatively.
I can choose to help with the planning stages.
I can choose to speak up about my concerns. Or I may choose not to do so.
Either way, I choose not to worry about what’s going to happen.
I choose not to replay what may have happened previously.
I choose to focus on the person speaking right now.
Notice you can short-circuit negative thinking. With practice, you can choose to stop piling negative judgments on top of each other. Avoid getting caught up in cascades of negative thoughts.
h) Accept it takes time
If you are often critical about yourself or others, accept it takes time to learn to be non-judgmental. You’ll need to repeat this process many times. Be patient and kind to yourself. Being non-judgmental is harder if you are emotional or stressed.
Begin with simple situations: sitting outside, or at home. Move on to interpersonal situations only after lots of practice in easier situations.
6 Judgments may be useful sometimes
Sometimes we need to work out the best way forward. Then we do need to make some judgments.
Perhaps we need to work out the pros and cons of a particular decision. Perhaps we need to recognise a harmful situation. Using judgments can help you make a plan as to how to manage these situations.
However, most judgments are not helpful to ourselves or others.
So switch off the habit of being judgmental most of the time. Learn to reduce unnecessary and unhelpful evaluations during mindfulness practice. Make use of those free moments, and begin today.