Mindfulness For Dummies
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Mindfulness is simple in essence — it’s about cultivating present-moment awareness more than anything else — but the difficulty is in practicing mindfulness consistently. This article gives you a series of short, easy ways of integrating the principles of mindfulness into your everyday life.

mindful living ©Shutterstock/Patrick Foto

Don’t underestimate their value – they may take relatively little time and seem overly simplistic, but many of these tips have been proven to be effective. Try them out for yourself and hold back your judgment until you’ve given the tools a try for at least a few weeks.

Spend some quiet time every day for more mindful living

Having some quiet time every day is the most important tip for mindful living. The importance of connecting with some form of mindfulness practice on a daily basis can’t be emphasized enough, preferably for ten minutes or more. By deliberately practicing mindfulness every day, you strengthen your mind’s ability to be more aware and awake.

If you want to be more mindful, you need daily training, just as when if you want to become more physically fit, you need to exercise your body on a daily basis. If you only exercised once a week, you wouldn’t benefit as much. Your mind goes back to its original state even more quickly than the body does.

To practice mindfulness on a daily basis can involve sitting still and feeling the sensation of your breathing, or doing some yoga, or simply sitting in your garden and looking at the trees and birds with a warm drink before starting work.

Here are some ways to ensure that you remember to be mindful every day:

  • Use the principle of habit stacking. Practice at the same time and in the same place every day, following from an existing habit in your routine. This way, mindfulness becomes part of your routine like brushing your teeth, and you’re much more likely to remember.
  • Don’t push yourself too much. If ten minutes seems too long, just do whatever you can manage. You can gradually build up the time for which you practice.
  • Put reminders on your mirror, refrigerator, computer or phone. When you see the reminder, do a little meditation.

Connect with people to be more mindful

In the first instant that you meet someone, within a split second, you judge them. You may think they're too fat or too thin, you don’t like their hairstyle, they remind you of someone you don’t like. Your mind instantly tries to categorize, which is why first impressions are so important in interviews.

The moment you make an initial judgment of a person, you begin to look for evidence to support your theory. If they don't look you in the eye properly, or fail to say thanks, you take these moments as evidence about them, and your opinion becomes more fixed. Then, you create an image in your mind. You think that you know this other person, when all you know are your own judgments of them.

When you meet someone, connect with your senses rather than your ideas. Look the person in the eye in a natural way. Listen to what they have to say, rather than thinking about what you’re about to say.

Be curious and ask questions rather than imposing your own perceptions so much. See things from the other person’s point of view — what would you be like in that person’s situation? How would you feel, and what would you want? By being less judgmental of others, you’ll also become less judgmental of yourself, and vice versa.

Mindfulness is about paying attention with a sense of warmth and kindness, as well as a sense of curiosity and openness. Bring these attitudes to the relationship and see what happens.

Enjoy the beauty of nature to be more mindful

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir

Nature has a way of drawing a mindful awareness from you, rather than you forcing yourself to be mindful. Walking among old trees with their branches overhanging the path you’re treading, smelling the scent of freshly cut grass, or listening to the birds sing and the twigs crunching under your feet, you can’t help but be aware in the moment.

Gardening is also a wonderful way of connecting with nature and experiencing “flow." Absorb yourself in tasks, such as weeding and planting, and enjoy the fruits of your labors as you see tiny shoots grow into beautiful plants and flowers.

If you have a garden or live near a park or a bit of greenery, realize how fortunate you are. Take time to reconnect with mother nature — make time for doing so. Nature is a miraculous living being, and you’re part of that life.

As a child you may have loved to play in natural surroundings, jumping in puddles and sliding in mud. With your acute senses, perhaps you were quite happy to explore and observe all day long if permitted. Try reconnecting with a childlike innocence and visit a natural environment, whatever that means to you.

In a famous study in a care home, half the elderly folk were given a plant to look after themselves, and the other half were given a plant but told that the nurses would look after it. Those who had responsibility to water and nurture the plants lived significantly longer than the others. The study concluded that responsibility gave the elderly a sense of control, leading to longer life.

The study also suggests that not only looking at nature in a passive way, but also growing plants and ensuring that they thrive as best you can, is a healthy and life-enhancing activity to engage in on a regular basis.

Change your daily routine for more mindful living

Humans are creatures of habit. If you think about the things you’ve done today, they’re probably the same things you’ve done many times before. One way of being more mindful is to change your routine.

Yes, you have to get up, get dressed, go to work and so on, but you don’t have to do all that in exactly the same way. And what about the way you spend your free time (if you’re lucky enough to have free time)? Do you always do the same hobbies, watch the same kind of movies, read the same type of books, meet the same sort of people, think the same sort of thoughts? The answer is probably yes.

Try changing your routine to boost your mindful awareness. When you’re in your routine lifestyle, your mind goes into a sleep state. You’re less likely to notice the good things happening around you. You’re unable to think creatively.

By making just small changes in your routine, your brain wakes up. You gently nudge yourself out of your comfort zone. And in that more awakened state, you’re immediately more mindful.

Choose one of these options to help shift out of your automatic-pilot living:
  • Meet up with a friend you haven’t seen for ages.
  • Drive to work without switching on the radio.
  • Pick up a random book next time you’re in a bookshop or library and read a chapter.
  • Try signing up to an evening class to learn a new skill such as painting, photography, or pottery — ideally something that may push you out of your comfort zone a little.
  • Switch around your daily morning routine — maybe have breakfast before having a shower, or vice versa
  • Do a random act of kindness today. Make tea for a coworker. Pick up some litter from the ground. Or even just take extra care of some plants or your pet today.

See the wonder of the present moment

Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift: that’s why it’s called the present.

This moment is the only moment you have, and you have it right now. Memories of the past come up in the present moment. Ideas of the future are shaped by past experience and projected into an imagined tomorrow. In reality, this present moment is all that’s available.

If you’re currently going through a difficult time, you probably don’t think that the present moment is wonderful at all. That’s okay. You can remember that you don’t have to worry too much about the future and only need to cope with whatever you’re facing here and now. In this sense, being in the present moment is helpful — you don’t need to worry about the future.

To really appreciate the present moment, feel your senses. Connect with your sense of sight. Notice the range of different colors in front of you. Reflect on the fact that this experience of color is partly due to a large amount of biochemical reactions rapidly turning into electrical impulses going into your brain, leading to this incredible experience called color.

What would it be like to see color for the first time? How would you describe the experience to someone who’d never seen color before? Try looking without naming objects or people – just connect with the bare awareness of light itself. Be grateful you have eyes that are able to see in the first place. Look with the effortless gaze of a child.

Another way to really connect with the present is to focus on your breathing. Think these words while breathing in and out, if you find them helpful:

  • Breathing in: "I am in the present moment."
  • Breathing out: "This is a wonderful moment."
If you don’t like feeling your breathing, you could try feeling your feet on the floor, listening to the sounds around you or simply gazing at the sky curiously for a few moments. Experiment! Find what you find most enjoyable or engaging.

Listen to unpleasant emotions with mindfulness

How do you see the wonder of the present moment if you feel down, upset or annoyed? In these situations, don’t try to impose a different emotion on what you’re experiencing. Be in the present moment and open up the emotion as best you can.

Give yourself time to feel it rather than immediately running from it. Remember that all emotions have a beginning and an end — try to see the feeling as a temporary visitor. Additionally, see yourself as separate from the emotion. The emotion rises and falls, but you maintain a sense of stability and greater emotional balance.

Imagine that someone turns up at your front door and rings the doorbell. You decide to ignore the sound. The bell rings again and again. You get frustrated and try all sorts of ways of distracting yourself from the sound of the doorbell, but you can’t. And all that work distracting yourself means you can’t get on with your day.

By simply opening the door and allowing the person ringing the bell to come in, you can stop all your avoidance strategies and do what matters. You’re facing your fears. You’re looking toward the unpleasant emotions rather than running away (which is an understandable response).

Moving toward the emotion, without forcing it to go away, often has the effect of dissipating the emotion. The emotion comes in, has a cup of tea or whatever, and off it goes. The emotion just wanted some mindful awareness.

The idea is to offer just that — becoming aware of the emotions you spend so much time running away from with a kind, curious, open, non-judgmental awareness, as best you can. Explore and discover what effect this has on negative emotions in the long run, not to get rid of them, but to learn from them.

If you practice mindfulness to try to get rid of an emotion, that’s not mindfulness. That’s avoidance, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to cultivate. Avoidance is like putting fuel in the fire of your emotions: They’ll just get stronger. The idea is to allow the emotion space to be in your awareness, acknowledge and learn from it, and then to continue on with whatever matters to you. You are above your emotions as you’re aware of them. You don’t need to let the emotion rule your life.

Remember that thoughts are just thoughts

If you had the thought, “I’m a flying, pink chimpanzee,” you obviously wouldn’t believe it. That’s a crazy idea. Then why do you believe thoughts like “I’m useless” or “I’ll never get better” or “I can’t go on”? They’re thoughts too, that have just popped into your head.

Don’t believe everything you think. Your mind often makes assumptions and inferences that simply aren’t true. “I’m feeling low at the moment” may be true, but “I’ll always be depressed” is not. “I find it annoying when she doesn’t do her chores” may be true, but “She never helps me” is unlikely to be true.

Thoughts are just words, images and sounds that pop up in your mind. But most of the time, you get hooked to your thoughts and believe them to be true. But you don’t have to.

As you discover how to observe the nature of your mind in mindfulness, you realize from experience that thoughts are always arising in your mind, no matter how much mindful practice you do. Even people who’ve been practicing mindfulness for years have plenty of thoughts. The thoughts aren’t going to stop.

You simply need to change your relationship to thoughts. Seeing thoughts as just thoughts rather than facts makes a world of difference. If the thought “I’m pathetic” comes up and you believe whatever arises in your mind, you’re bound to feel low and uneasy.

However, if exactly the same thought comes up and you’re mindful of it, you see it as just a thought and not a fact. This takes much of the sting out of the thought, and you’re free to dismiss it and carry on with whatever you’re doing, relatively untouched. This is freedom.

Freedom, or peace of mind, isn’t about stopping your thoughts, but seeing thoughts as just thoughts and not giving them too much attention, and not believing them as reality. I believe that reality is contained in the here and now, beyond ideas and concepts. This implies that you’re not your mind — you’re the observer, the silent witness, always complete, whole, and free.

If you practice meditation regularly, you begin naturally to take a step back from your thinking. Normally, if you have a thought, you act on it, especially if you aren’t fully conscious of the thought. In meditation, you observe the thought without acting on it. You see your thoughts as a pattern, as energy moving through your mind.

Be grateful every day

Gratitude is the best attitude! Gratitude is when you discover how to want what you have and not want what you don’t have. Usually, people want what they don’t have and don’t want what they do have. This is bound to lead to a sense of dissatisfaction.

You can practice gratitude right now. Millions of people in the world don’t have a single book. Think about the fact that you can read — another skill inaccessible to millions.

Gratitude requires mindfulness. Let's say you're cooking. To be grateful of how fortunate you are to have food available to you requires you to be mindful, and that brings you into the present moment.

Here are some ways to nurture feelings of gratitude:

  • Sleep with gratitude. Before going to sleep, spend a minute or two thinking about five things you’re grateful for. They can be very simple things, and you don’t have to feel hugely grateful for them. Just go through each one and see what effect that has on your sleep. To enhance the experience, consider why you’re grateful for them too.
  • Say thank you. This is a simple act but very powerful. Saying thank you is both an act of gratitude and kindness — you’re making clear to the other person that you’ve recognized their generosity.
  • Carry out an action to say thanks. Send a thank-you card or a small gift, or do something like making coffee or helping someone with her work. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
  • Try being grateful for things you wouldn’t normally be. For example, when things are difficult, you can be grateful for the challenge the difficulty offers. Be grateful for access to running water or for your ability to hear. Or try being grateful for being alive in the first place — perhaps this is the greatest miracle.
Here’s an extract from a wonderful poem by an unknown author, on thanks and gratitude:

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary, because it means you’ve made a difference.

It’s easy to be thankful for the good things.

A life of rich fulfilment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings.

Use technology mindfully

Just as plants and animals evolve to better survive and thrive in their environment, technology has also evolved over time. And part of technology’s evolution has been to become both faster and more addictive.

With the advent of smart phones, you can use technology from the very moment you wake up until you drift off to sleep. And even if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can find yourself checking social media or surfing the web before you know it.

Video games are another form of technology that’s highly addictive. Some people spend so long playing games, it affects their work and home lives and has even lead to marriage breakups.

I’m not dismissing the huge benefits of technology, but you need to manage your use of digital devices. Here are some tips:

  • Have a digital detox day or half day once a week. Give your brain a break.
  • Charge your phone in your kitchen at night. This is a clever way of keeping your phone away from the side of your bed each night. This way you can start your mornings mindfully and tech-free.
  • Be courteous. Switch off your phone at mealtimes or when out with friends and family. Challenge yourself and see whether you can resist the temptation to check your phone at the table, even if your friend does.
  • Go for a walk without your phone. If you’re not used to this, you’ll probably find the experience strange at first and then tremendously refreshing. I love doing this regularly.
  • Make a note of how many times you check your phone in a day. That’s an experience of mindfulness in itself. Average users check their phones over 100 times a day! Switch off your phone for chunks of the day and find something more enjoyable to do with your time.
  • Surf the urge to use technology. When you feel the desire to use technology but don’t really have to, notice the feeling in your body. See whether you can ride that urge, just feeling it and relaxing into it. Each time you do that, your addiction will lessen until eventually the urge will disappear completely.

Breathe and smile!

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.

Charles Chaplin

The muscles in your face link with your feeling of happiness. When you’re happy, you smile — you know that of course. But did you know that smiling can make you feel better? Try the process right now, no matter how you feel. Simply hold a subtle, gentle smile as you read these sentences. Continue for a few minutes and note what effect the smiling has. Combine this with feeling your own breathing.

You can apply this technique of feeling your breathing and smiling gently in a systematic way every day for ten minutes, or while you’re going about your daily activities. Think of it as yoga for your mouth!

In this way you can be mindful doing whatever you’re doing, whether washing the dishes, writing a report or waiting in a queue. Each moment is an opportunity to come back to the here and now, the present moment. You don’t need anything extra — your breath and smile are both highly portable!

You may feel reluctant to smile right now, because you don’t think that the smile is genuine. You’ll smile when you’re happy, not now. Just try it out. Yes, you’re bound to feel unnatural at the beginning but that soon goes. Just give it a try, even though it feels strange, and see what happens after a time. As is often said: "Fake it till you make it!"

Mindfulness is not about forcing your yourself to feel better — it’s more about bringing a sense of curiosity to your feelings and thoughts and gaining information from them, whatever you’re experiencing. Being aware of thoughts or feelings and accepting them as they are is far more important than trying to change your thoughts or feelings.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Shamash Alidina is a professional mindfulness trainer, teacher, and lecturer. He has over 10 years' experience teaching mindfulness in schools and university courses. Juliet Adams designs and delivers professional mindfulness at work training, and co-delivers WorkplaceMT trainer development in the UK and Netherlands.

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