While meditation is a great way to develop mindfulness skills, the real benefit comes from applying those skills to everyday activities.
A friend recently invited me to give a short talk on mindfulness at one of his events. I was grateful for the opportunity to reflect on a few things that I’d been mulling over lately, and I thought it would be valuable to get these thoughts down in writing.
The subject I chose to talk about was how we can bring mindfulness into our everyday activities – something that I’ve been putting a lot of effort into myself just lately.
The first challenge was to clearly define what mindfulness means to me. If you look around online, you’ll find lots of different concepts of mindfulness, as well as a variety of traditions and backgrounds that contribute to thinking on the subject. I believe we’re all responsible for finding a wisdom that works for us by bouncing the ideas we receive from the outside world off our own personal truth. Doing this has led me to a definition that rings true for me:
Mindfulness is awareness and acceptance of our present experience and state of being
I don’t see mindfulness as a state that you can either be in or not at any given time, but more as a sliding scale – by the above definition we’re always mindful to some extent, but we can be more mindful in one moment than another. Having said that, I do distinguish between being intentionally mindful and not, so when I talk about ‘being mindful’ I’m referring to an active, conscious state of mindfulness. In my life, I aim to be as mindful as possible in every moment.
And that’s where the idea for this topic arose from – lots of people I’ve spoken to seem to have trouble distinguishing between practising mindfulness and meditating. For me, meditation is a great way to develop skills and techniques for mindfulness – in my experience though, the real benefit comes from applying those skills to everyday activities.
I think it’s important that we each find the techniques that work for us as individuals, but by way of introduction, here are a few that I’ve either used or been introduced to that you’re welcome to try out or adapt for your own preference…
1. Achieving a mindful state and bringing it into your everyday activities
If you’ve meditated before but haven’t explored the idea of being mindful in your everyday life, this might be a useful one to try. Unlike the two methods below, which bring mindfulness into activities that you’re already doing, the aim with this one is to achieve a target level of mindfulness and then begin engaging in an activity or task slowly enough to maintain the focussed and intentionally mindful state you’re in.
For example, you might do some washing up or a cleaning task – start the task once you feel that you’ve reached the level of mindfulness you want to achieve, and only do it at a pace that allows you to remain at that level. If you find yourself becoming less mindful, simply slow down or stop and bring yourself back to where you want to be before starting again.
At first, it might feel a bit fake if you’re doing something that you wouldn’t normally do, or in a way or at a pace that’s not normal for you, but it’s a great way of learning to remain mindful while being physically active, and the more experienced you get, the quicker you’ll be able to do the task while remaining mindful and the easier you’ll find it to introduce mindfulness into your other activities.
2. Setting an intention to be actively mindful whenever you think of it
A method that I find useful is to make an effort to be mindful whenever I think of it, or catch myself not consciously practising mindfulness. I might be working at home or walking to the shop, and suddenly I’ll remember that I’ve made it my aim to be as mindful as possible in every moment, and realise that I could be more mindful in this moment.
I’ll then work to make that happen – I find that bringing awareness to my breathing is a useful ‘gateway’ into mindfulness – just like when meditating, focussing on my breath allows me to gradually become more aware of my overall state of being. For this method, it’s important not to beat yourself up if you forget or get lazy one time, but to accept, move on, and keep in mind that it’s never too late to start again.
3. Setting up and responding to mindfulness reminders in your daily life
The idea here is to think of something that happens regularly through your typical day that you can use as a ‘trigger’ that will remind you to start actively and consciously being mindful. It could be the onset of an emotion or an event – for example, one of the triggers I’ve used is when my dog Miguel starts pulling on the lead – in the past I would just get irritated and snap at him, but now as soon as I catch myself starting to feel that irritation bubbling up, I’ll remind myself to focus on remaining mindful – not only does this happen several times every day, meaning I’m constantly reminding myself to be as mindful as possible, but it’s improved my relationship with Miguel as well as my patience in other situations that can make me irritated.
The hard part is getting into the habit of spotting and then reacting to your chosen trigger or triggers, but with a bit of dedication it can be done, and once it’s established this method can work wonders. Again, if you let a trigger or two pass you by, remember not to judge yourself too harshly – just make the commitment to getting it right next time.