How to Live More Mindfully
Whether because it’s known to reduce anxiety and depressive symptons or improve our overall mental health, mindfulness has become a part of the conversation when we talk about our well-being. Described as “a state of active, open attention to the present,” it sounds simple enough. Pay attention. Be present.
However, with our long list of to-dos and the everyday noise of modern life, learning how to live more mindfully can be a challenge. We eat lunch in front of our laptops to get more work done, scroll through our phones while we’re with someone, or delve into negative self-talk when we remember a past mistake.
As author and educator Elizabeth Scott, PhD, writes, learning to be present in the moment can be a way of life. While there are mindfulness exercises we can do regularly, small adjustments in our routine can also be done so we can become more mindful each day.
1. Tuning into your senses.
One of the ways to teach ourselves how to live in the present is to take a few minutes to sit (stand or walk) and pay attention to our senses. When you do, you may start to notice more things happening around you.
According to mindfulness expert, Jane Bozier, it’s a good practice “to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings as they occur.” And when you become aware of them as they happen, it’s best to take a non-judgmental stance, which is one of the key attitudes to support a mindfulness practice.
When you care for your plants (like this soothing plantita vid of Roma) or get a chance to sit in front of a pottery wheel, for example, as you focus your attention on that particular activity, resist the urge to label what is happening. “Oh, another plant is dying, I really don’t have a green thumb,” or “This mug is starting to look like a bowl, this is wrong.” (Hey, if we can take anything from our chat with Pau Javier of Wabi Sabi Studio, there’s beauty in imperfections.
There are many benefits to keeping a journal. Artist and journaling enthusiast Nica Cosio reminds us of this in her Meet the Maker interview. For her, it becomes her time to tune in with herself and quiet down her mind. It is a chance to write down our emotions and how they affect us.
Journaling is recognized as a way to practice mindfulness as it can help “process and identify actions around your emotions.” When you take the time to journal, put pen to paper, it helps you become more self-aware, stay focused, and as Nica shared in her interview, journaling makes her feel grateful. (You can start on your own journaling journey with a few here)
3. From transitions to tea time.
When moving from one activity to the next or sitting down to drink tea (or coffee), even using the bathroom, practice taking a couple of deep breaths and “coming back to the present moment.” The Seleni Institute, a non-profit focused on women’s physical and mental health, writes that it’s one of the small ways we can practice mindfulness.
If, like illustrator and visual artist Louise Ramos, you have your routine in the morning—your “me time”—you can turn it into a mindfulness exercise, wherein you pay attention to what’s right in front of you (this cup might help you focus). Then notice when your mind starts to wander to the future (oh, those unopened emails) or the past (was the work you submitted for work good enough?), bring it back to the present.
As Seleni advises, it’s also easier at the start to try to be mindful in the moments that bring us joy. Eventually, it will be second nature and you’ll know how to avoid getting overwhelmed when something stressful happens.
4. Get moving.
We all know having a fitness routine is good for both our body and mind. According to Bozier, it’s also one of the six steps to get started with mindfulness as it helps relax the mind. Whether it’s through the gentle stretches in yoga or an outdoor run with your dog, exercise helps us to be fully aware of our body and our breathing. It can ground us and keep our focus on what we’re doing instead of having our mind jump into what you should be doing next or what you haven’t crossed off your to-do list just yet.
Crochet jewelry designer Nike Nadal-Reyes recognizes the benefit of working out after a full day of caring for her family and her business, because it’s the time when she doesn’t have to think about anything anymore. Think of exercise as a way to get some mental decluttering done to help free up your mind and find clarity when you need it.
It’s one of the best ways to improve our ability to be mindful, as meditation also teaches us to become aware of the present moment. According to PsychCentral, mindful meditation, particularly, is about focusing on our “breathing, thoughts, feelings and sensations as they arise.”
If you’ve never done it before, meditation might seem challenging, but you can actually start with as little as 5 minutes a day using a meditation app or a YT video. Remember to take deep, slow breaths, you can also look into different breathing exercises, and if you want to further soothe your senses, open up a reed diffuser… and breathe.
As we take any of these steps to becoming more mindful, realize that when we forget to be present, it’s simply a chance to pull our attention back to what’s right in front of us. It’s okay. You can always try again. Only when we keep trying do we get better.