Updated: Jul 22, 2019
No matter what it is that you’re trying to change about your life, mindfulness will help. This is because mindfulness essentially means that you are focused and aware of the present moment. Becoming aware of what’s going on around you and in your mind is the first step toward changing or improving your actions.
It’s pretty difficult to change your actions if you aren’t consciously aware of them in the first place. Once you are aware of your thoughts or actions, you give yourself the option to intentionally modify them.
Bringing little moments of mindfulness into your life is useful in a lot of situations. Mindful moments are great for dealing with anxiety and can help you slow your thoughts and reconnect yourself with the world.
Mindfulness also helps in dealing with procrastination. Often, we procrastinate because we don’t want to deal with the potential discomfort of doing something we don’t want to do. Mindfulness helps you to sit with that feeling and acknowledge its existence in order to face the problem, rather than continuing to ignore the whole mess and letting things continue to spiral out of control, all while feeling guilty about it.
Little moments of mindfulness are useful for assessing your current emotional state in any situation. When you consciously notice how you feel and observe the feeling without judgment, you give yourself the ability to react with intention, rather than ignoring it altogether or letting your emotions run the whole show. Your emotions are useful and certainly serve a purpose, but they can’t be trusted on their own with the steering wheel. Life is about balance.
If you’re trying to break a bad habit, mindfulness is a great tool. Often, replacing a bad habit with a new, better habit is easier than eliminating the habit loop completely. Some bad habits, like interrupting others and overreacting, can be replaced with a habit of mindfulness. Rather than focusing on yourself and what you want to say, mindfulness helps you to thoughtfully consider the circumstances and react with awareness and intention.
If you couldn’t tell by the number of times I’ve said them so far, some of the most important aspects of mindfulness are intentionality, awareness, non-judgment, non-reactivity, and remaining present.
Six Ways to Bring Little Moments of Mindfulness Into Your Life
1. Count Your Breaths
This is one of my favorites. I learned it from a meditation on the Calm app (which I highly recommend if you’re just getting started with meditation and mindfulness).
The focus here is on breathing slowly and deliberately, but naturally. Don’t force it. Pay attention to how the breath feels as it flows in and out of your nose and the feeling of your chest rising and falling with it. Whenever a thought crosses your mind, do your best to acknowledge it, let it go, and return to the breath without judgment.
There are a couple different ways you can go about counting your breaths, none of them complicated. One option is to breathe in and think “one,” then breathe out and count “two,” and that’s all the higher you go. After each breath in, “one,” and after each breath out, “two.”
Another method is to count after every exhale, up to ten. After you count ten full breaths, start back at one again. If you get distracted at any point and lose track of where you were, simply start back at one. The aim isn’t to literally find out how many breaths you’ve taken but to give your mind something to focus on as you breathe.
A supplementary strategy here is to think, “breathing in,” or “inhaling” as you inhale and “breathing out,” or “exhaling,” as you exhale. This helps you further focus on the act of breathing and prevent your mind from wandering.
This is a bit of a tangent, but one of my favorite strategies for mindfulness is labeling my thoughts and actions. For instance, if I’m meditating and start planning out what I need to do this afternoon, as soon as I catch myself, I’ll mentally label it, “planning,” and bring my focus back to my breath. It helps override those judgmental thoughts that can creep in.
Count your breaths for as long as you need to. Sometimes just a few seconds is enough to make you feel centered again; other times, it takes a few minutes.
2. Do a Body Scan
Body scans are a great way of feeling more grounded and connected to yourself and the world around you. If you’re feeling frazzled, they help you relax, and if you’re holding stress or tension anywhere, they’re your cue to let it go. Personally, I hold stress in my jaw and shoulders often, and body scans remind me to relax.
A body scan is exactly what it sounds like. Starting at your head, mentally check in with each area of your body, working your way down to your toes. Take a few moments to explore any sensations you feel in each body part. Don’t judge or react to them, but if you find any muscles are tense, gently relax them.
Some areas of the body are more likely to hold stress than others. As you do more body scans and become familiar with your habits, you’ll get better at recognizing your tendencies and letting go of the tension. Some areas to pay special attention to are the corners of the mouth (aim for a very slight smile), the jaw, the shoulders, and the forehead.
Journaling surprised me with how much it helps me stay mindful and carefully assess what’s going on in my mind. Because you’re writing things down, you can maintain a longer train of thought and dig much deeper into issues than you could if you were just thinking about them. Getting your thoughts onto paper brings clarity.
By writing about the events of the previous day, as well as anything that’s bothering me and potential solutions to those issues, I connect with my thoughts and feelings. Not only that, but I often figure out real solutions to the things I’m struggling with. It’s surprising how many of our problems have obvious, simple solutions if we take a few minutes to think them through and face reality with honesty.
Journaling gives you a safe space to deal with how you’re really feeling. Sometimes it can be difficult to talk through issues with other people because we are only barely aware of them ourselves. I’ve found journaling is a great way to tease out those thoughts that we haven’t fully faced.
The act of journaling itself is meditative. There are no special rules to follow. You can write anything you want. If you aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of journaling prompts online. Journaling is a zero-pressure activity. There’s no right way to do it. Go into it without any expectations, and accept anything that comes out of it with an open mind.
4. Tune into Your Senses
Mindfulness is all about awareness and remaining present. One quick and easy way to do this is to pick one of your senses and tune into it. List everything that that sense can tell you about the present moment.
For instance, you could choose the sense of touch and mentally list that you feel the softness of your blanket, the coolness of your water bottle, the warmth of the cushion underneath you, the bounce of the laptop keys beneath your fingers, and the softness of your legs touching each other. (Yes, those are all examples from my real life in the moment that I write this.)
Choosing a sense and using it to connect yourself to the present moment gives you one specific way to focus in and build awareness. It gives your mind something to do—a distraction, if you need it. It pulls you back to reality, back to the present, and back to your body and your experience of the world from within it.
5. Stop Multitasking
Multitasking inhibits mindfulness. Not only are our brains not actually capable of multitasking, but trying to multitask guarantees that your focus will be poor. You can’t give all of your mental energy to the task at hand when there are multiple tasks at hand, and switching rapidly back and forth between them also means that you’ll never achieve deep focus.
Whatever you’re working on at the moment should be the sole focus of your energy. If you’re reading, read. If you’re studying, study. Every time your mind wanders off and tells you to get on your phone for a quick dopamine hit, gently pull it back in. Acknowledge that that’s what happened, and remind yourself of your present focus.
Dive deeply into whatever activity you’re working on. Immerse yourself in it. Make sure that it has your undivided attention so that you can remain aware of your work without your thoughts drifting elsewhere.
This takes practice, but the more often you consciously pull your focus back to the task at hand, the easier it becomes to keep it from wandering off again. Be patient with yourself.
6. Practice Mindful Listening
This strategy brings mindfulness into your interactions with other people. Mindful listening means that when someone else is speaking, your sole focus is on listening to and understanding what they’re saying.
Forget forming a reply. I know that this is difficult, especially for people with social anxiety, but it will be okay. If you focus on understanding and listening to what someone is saying, you will have all of the information you need afterward to form a reply. No one will care that it took you a moment or two longer to respond—but they will be glad that you put your energy into truly listening to them.
To listen more mindfully, set an intention before each conversation to focus on listening. Consciously reminding yourself to listen mindfully is important because it takes a lot of practice to be able to do it automatically. Until you are confident that you listen mindfully out of habit, consciously reminding yourself to do it before each conversation is the way to go.
Mindful listening also means incorporating all of the usual aspects of being a good listener. Remain engaged in the conversation, summarize the things that your conversation partner has said to verify that you understand them, encourage them to speak more, ask thoughtful questions, and definitely don’t interrupt them.
Mindful listening benefits both of you: you come away with a better understanding of the conversation and a deeper connection to the topic, and the person you were talking to feels heard and understood, not dismissed.
Know that developing a habit of mindfulness takes a lot of practice. It’s something that many of us have never been taught before and goes against many of the things that our society pushes onto us. All of the constant phone checking, multitasking, and half-engaged listening are symptoms of mindlessness.
Bringing more mindfulness into your life will be a little weird at first. Don’t worry if you stumble often. Be patient with yourself and don’t judge yourself for your slip-ups. They’re completely normal. But stick with it. Mindfulness can completely change your life.