Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean formal mediation and sitting still in a totally silent room! With the start of a new year, many of my clients talk about new ways to improve their emotional wellness in the upcoming year. In a recent discussion, a client mentioned this year he would really like to be more present in his life.
“I know you are going to suggest that I practice mindfulness with a guided meditation,” he went on to say. “But I just can’t see myself sitting and listening to myself breathe!”
While sitting meditation is one way to cultivate mindfulness, the informal practice of being mindful in our daily activities can be just as effective.
You can use the mindfulness skills of Observe, Describe and Participate to be aware of what is happening in your thoughts by noticing:
• Am I thinking too much or getting distracted by an unpleasant memory of a past experience?
• What are the physical sensations with my current activity?
• Has my attention wondered too far from what is happening in the present moment?
Many routine activities lend themselves to cultivating mindfulness … cooking dinner, folding laundry, even shoveling the walk! With any routine activity, begin by setting an intention to be mindful of your experience.
It is best to start with a simple activity like folding laundry. As you begin the task, gently pay attention to what is happening in your thoughts as they come and go. Notice when you hang on to a thought, then notice when you let go of a thought … just keep noticing!
Pay attention to the moment-to-moment details of an experience.
Notice what you are doing with your hands, your arms, the muscles you are using.
Curiously investigate your emotions as they come and go while doing chores around the house. Label them!
Observe your body and any physical sensations or changes during an activity, noting changes in body temperature.
During any routine activity, recognize the urge to “future trip.”
Or, think about and predict the future … and label it as “future tripping”!
When running errands, notice thoughts of judgment towards yourself or the urge to compare yourself to others.
Label it as “a thought of judgment”.
When you are walking, just walk.
Notice each foot as it hits the ground.
Use the observe skill when waiting in line.
Notice what you see around you; challenge yourself to describe its color and shape.
When doing one of your regular not-so-pleasant chores, such as washing dishes, throw yourself fully into the activity.
Note the temperature of the water, the color of the bubbles, etc. If you catch yourself thinking of all the other things you have to do, gently bring your attention back to the warmth of the water.
Making mindfulness part of your daily routine is a great way to improve your mental health … in the new year and beyond!
Kym Hansen-Duell, LMSW, ACSW is a licensed social worker at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. Kym has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Central Michigan University and a Master of Social Work from Grand Valley State University. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Kym is available to speak at community events on topics such as ADHD, depression, parenting, family issues and workplace stress.