Mindfulness easy first steps: tips for busy people

Water trickling from a green bamboo pipe in a mindfulness retreat
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Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The concept of mindfulness has been popular for a few years now. Like to try it but don’t know how to start? Read on to learn some mindfulness easy first steps. 

But what if you’re busy, and you don’t need another chore on your to-do list? Let’s face it – most of you can’t spend hours meditating every day.

And you don’t want to spend time or money on classes. Moreover, you’re only trying it because everyone says it’s good for you.

Luckily, mindfulness is free and fully portable. And it doesn’t matter where you are or how little time you have. 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is noticing what’s happening inside and outside you, without making judgments.

You observe what’s happening right now, without deciding if it’s good or bad, easy or hard, nice or nasty.

And you remain neutral, without getting caught up in your thoughts. Without listening to your internal chatter; that running commentary that’s in your head, all day long.

Just because the chatter is there, doesn’t mean you have to take any notice of it. Mindfulness allows you put to one side all your self-talk and the emotions that go with it. Then you can focus more easily. 

To start with, it’s usually easier to focus on simple things in your environment, for 30 – 60 seconds at a time. This lets you learn the skills in short bursts, without too much pressure. As you get more used to the process, gradually build up the time you practice mindfulness easy first steps.  

More practice = greater mastery

Any level of practice, no matter how small, will give you some benefit.

Of course, the more you practise, the more quickly you’ll master the skills. But even if you practise for a few 30 seconds bursts each day, you’ll notice small changes. For example:

You can direct your focus a little better.
You’re not reacting as much when things go wrong.
You’re letting go of worrying thoughts and emotions a little more.
And you’re not hashing over difficult situations as often.

It will become second-nature

Soon your skills will become second-nature. You won’t have to think so hard about how to do it. You’ll be more neutral when observing yourself and others. 

That means you won’t be drawn as easily into emotional dramas around you. You’ll be more able to stand back more, and see what’s actually going on.

Practice any time, anywhere

You’ll soon learn to take advantage of those dead times through the day when you’re:

standing in a line 
stuck in traffic
waiting for a meeting to begin
during ads on TV
before starting a new task at work.

Any time you’re hanging around, not doing anything particular, can be used for mindfulness practice. 

So what’s a helpful mindset to get into before you start? Here are a few tips to make it easier to start mindfulness easy first steps.

A helpful mindset for mindfulness 

1 Free up your mind

Firstly, free up your mental space by jotting down anything you need to remember. For these few minutes, you don’t have to do anything or be anywhere.

While you’re doing your chosen task, do only that task. If you’re watching autumn leaves falling, only watch autumn leaves falling. If you’re noticing sounds in a café, only listen to the sounds.

2 Switch off technology

Before you start, switch off any technology around you. Turn your mobile to silent. Turn off the TV or any distracting music.

If you can, sit in a comfortable, quiet position a little away from others. You can be inside or outside – whatever suits you best.

3 Willingness 

Be willing to give it a go, and just see what happens. Be willing to keep going, even if nothing seems to be happening at first.

Notice with curiosity. Be like a child moving out into the world, when everything is new. Imagine you’ve suddenly strayed into a foreign land, or you’re an alien investigating our culture.

Use any technique that lets you step back from what’s going on. Your only aim is to observe with a spirit of gentle interest. 

4 It takes time to learn

Accept that it will take time to learn this attitude of detachment from what you’re observing. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect to learn the piano over the weekend. 

So each time you practice, start with the thought of being patient with yourself. Allow yourself to slowly become comfortable with the concept of mindfulness.

5 Accept imperfection

Be aware of any demand within yourself to “do mindfulness the right way.” Notice if your internal voice starts to grumble about how well or badly you’re doing. Accept that your practice will be imperfect, as life is.

However, sometimes in life, it seems as if we’re getting close to greatness. But this is usually a fleeting sensation, and then we’re back to normal.

Be aware that the same will happen with your mindfulness practice. Simply accept these ups and downs as part of the process. It’s the way it is.

This can be hard to accept if you’re a high-achiever, or often critical of yourself. So be aware of the urge to practice mindfulness perfectly, and then be willing to let it go.

6 Let judgmental thoughts go

Resist the temptation to follow any critical thoughts about yourself or your life, or to add more thoughts to them. Simply notice that they’re there, and let them float away. Then refocus on your chosen object. 

Be interested in how strong these critical thoughts are, and how often they pop into your head. Each time they appear, remind yourself to let them go, without reacting to them.

Over time, being non-judgmental will become easier.

7 Accept mind-wandering

Forget the popular picture of someone sitting in the lotus position, fully engrossed in meditation for hours at a time.

From the start, expect that you’ll get distracted. That’s OK. It’s the way it is. Even gurus who practice for years find their minds wander at times.

Don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong, or aren’t good at this. Just notice your mind is wandering, without reacting with surprise or annoyance. 

Then gently bring your attention back to your chosen focus – even if you have to do this dozens of times. 

8 Understand life will get in the way

Most people who start a new skill are keen at first. Then after a few days, work or family issues get complicated, and they forget all about their new fad.

Accept that this will probably happen to you too. Don’t get worried or discouraged by this. It’s entirely normal. It happens to everyone at times.

Simply start up again, right where you left off. Don’t be annoyed at yourself for forgetting.

Just notice what made it difficult for you to practice mindfulness on those days. Be interested in this, rather than angry or disappointed in yourself.

Tell yourself it’s better to start after a short break, than to never do it again. In the scheme of your whole life, a few days here and there don’t matter.

Even if you drop it over and over, it doesn’t matter. Each time, just start where you left off.

So let’s start mindfulness easy first steps, with a few examples of how you could practise. 

Mindfulness easy first steps

1 Outdoors

Let’s say you’re outdoors – in a backyard, on a balcony, in a park, or at the beach.

Focus your attention for about 30 seconds at a time on things like:

A child or dog running round
Leaves falling onto the ground
Grasses swaying in the breeze
A beetle crawling on the ground
The breeze wafting on your cheek
Sunlight playing on the ground or across your hand
The pattern of clouds gathering on the horizon
Sounds of traffic on nearby roads
Sounds of music from someone’s radio
The way the fur on your dog’s nose and ears sits so perfectly
How sunlight highlights the different colours in someone’s hair
The patterns and colours of bark on a tree
The shapes of leaves on the ground or on a bush.

Study each aspect of your chosen focus in as much detail as you can. Notice all the changing colours and sounds, movements and sensations. 

Notice each time your attention wanders, then bring it back to your chosen focus. After 30 – 60 seconds, take a short break. Then choose something else to focus on, and try again. Do this as long as you wish, and as many times a day as you wish. 

Gradually increase the length of time you spend focussing on one thing. 

It may be hard to find somewhere quiet during the day. That’s OK. You can still start your mindfulness practice anyway.

2 On public transport

If you’re on public transport, here’s how you could start to practice mindfulness easy first steps.

NB: Just be mindful of not staring at others, as this may make them feel uncomfortable.

On a bus or train, you could focus on things like:

The sound of the engine as it speeds up and slows down
The bumpiness or smoothness of the ride
Roads or scenery rushing past the window
The feeling of the seat against your body
Sounds of people talking and moving around
Details of someone’s shoes or briefcase
Colours and textures of people’s clothing
The taste and smell of a treat you’re eating
The layout of an advertisement on the wall.

Notice the quality of the sights, sounds, smells, textures or tastes. Are the sensations soft, loud, harsh, bright; jagged, smooth, hard; sweet, sour?

Accept everything you notice with your senses. Accept it as it is right now. Don’t wish for it to be different. This is how it is.

Each time you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to your chosen focus. As before, take a short break after 30 – 60 seconds, then refocus on something else. 

Simply observe and notice

Your only aim is to observe. You don’t have to do anything about what you observe. You may notice you’re feeling impatient or uncomfortable or bored. If so, say to yourself that I notice:

I’m feeling impatient (bored/uncomfortable/annoyed).
My mind is very busy.
I notice that …….

If you can, name any sensations rising inside you. Be interested in how annoyed or frustrated you are. Rate each sensation or feeling on a scale from 0 to 10.

Then move your attention to something else in your surroundings. Study that with interest for 30 seconds.

Notice the urge to do something else

If you feel the urge to do something else, notice the urge. Allow the idea to remain, while doing nothing about it. Let yourself know you’ll do that task later.

Bring your mind back to noticing what you can sense in this moment. Notice your continuing urge to label things – to call them boring, awful, bad, annoying, or frustrating.

Allow these thoughts to float away without thinking any more about them.

Congratulations!

You’ve started to practice mindfulness easy first steps.

In the next article, you’ll learn to extend your practice gradually, to make everyday mindfulness easier. We’ll also look more closely at what being non-judgmental means.

For now, keep practising, and focus on covering the basics. Notice and be amused by your urge to push forward before you’re ready. Only move on when you are comfortable in your practice.

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