Mindfulness is a big buzzword these days, but what is it really? Simply put, mindfulness is nonjudgmental acceptance of living in the moment.
Let’s break that down. Nonjudgmental acceptance: letting experiences come and go as they are, without any resistance or conditions.
Living in the moment: letting go of your ideas about the past and future, focusing on the sensations of the current experience and concentrating your energy on engaging in the present.
Combined we can understand mindfulness as simply being right here, right now, without any mental resistance. What is the benefit of that? Simplicity. Contentment. Mental clarity. Peace.
By living in the moment we don’t waste energy thinking about the past or future, instead we make action where it counts: right here, right now.
Staying in the moment sounds easier than it is, our mind is trained to think endlessly and we enjoy imagining and playing out scenarios in the mind.
These daily practices will help you slow down and live in the present by concentrating your mind on the sensations in your body and the task at hand.
For further reading and more scientific literature on these practices, I have provided some sources at the end of the article. Please check them out if you’re interested in learning more!
1. Shower With Your Eyes Closed
Studies suggest that by engaging in activities with our eyes closed, we develop better memory recall.¹ When we close our eyes it challenges our brain by deviating from the routine.
This strengthens different neural pathways than the ones that we have been using, quite literally growing the brain by generating new synapses.
Jump in the shower and close your eyes. Don’t open them until you are done. Focus on the sensation of the water hitting your skin, and of the soap or shampoo as you wash yourself.
Just relax and notice how each part of your body feels both from your hands perspective and that of the body part.
If you would like to continue the challenge, keep your eyes closed while you dry off too. Focus on the sensations of the towel on your skin.
Through focusing on these sensations we naturally calm our mind and slow down our thoughts.
I notice that when I shower with my eyes closed, I am much more precise and steady with my movements since I am cautious about losing balance and falling down.
This focuses my mental energy and as result calms down other mental activity such as thinking. When I am finished I feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
2. Meditate (duh)
This is an obvious one, but it needs mentioning because even just a minute of meditation everyday has positive effects on the mind and body.
There is a mounting body of neuroscientific research on meditation and the many benefits it has for brain health.²
There are many ways to meditate, you can do it actively (yoga, walking) or inactively (sitting, lying).
Some people meditate with audio guides, some prefer silence, and some can meditate in extremely busy environments. Regardless of the way you prefer, the essence is to quiet the mind and focus your attention.
Below is a simple meditation that I like to do. It works for me but everyone is different!
Please adapt and modify to your liking, there is really no “wrong” way to meditate as long as you are relaxing the mind and harnessing your attention.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you lose focus, just gently guide yourself back and let the thoughts pass by.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, with eyes open or closed. Set your intention to quiet the mind for a time.
Begin to focus on the sensations of your breath, the feeling of the air filling your lungs, the expansion and collapse of your diaphragm, the coming and going of the air.
Start counting your exhales, after you reach 10 start back at 1. For the first few meditations, aim for 10 sets of 10.
If you lose track, don’t stress – just continue from the last number you recall. As that becomes easy for you, go for 20 sets or even more.
3. Practice Mindful Eating
Put away your distractions. Silent your phone, turn off the TV, and focus on simply eating.
Slow down and pay close attention to the sensations: the taste, texture, and temperature of the food, the feeling of holding the utensils. Really take in each and every feeling you encounter.
Reflect and visualize the supply chain that brought that food from the farms to your table.
Find gratitude for everyone and everything involved in that process: the plants and/or animals, the farmers, the processors and packers, the truckers and logistics personnel, the grocery store or restaurant, the workers or cooks there.
There are many people and things to be grateful for.
4. Listen Deeply and Really Engage With People
Throughout the day as you talk with people, listen deeply to what they say. Don’t just wait to talk and think about what your response will be.
Quiet your mind and focus on them. Let their words be your only mental occupation.
Look them in the eyes and observe the nonverbal communications such as microexpressions – the brief and subtle muscle movements in the face that communicate our feelings, just notice them.
There is no need to attempt to intellectualize and understand the expressions, two parts of your brain are responsible for automatically processing them and predisposing you to feel the same emotion.
These are the amygdala and hippocampus regions.
Simply listen deeply and focus on the other person, empathy will arise naturally through your awareness of them.
One of my favorite books, Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, is an in depth look at the psychology and neuroscience behind human relationships.
I highly recommend it to everyone, it taught me how emotion spreads between people and how we maintain emotions through our thought patterns, and much more.
5. Remember to Take Deep Breaths
Set a gentle reminder every hour to take a minute and breath deeply. Fully inhale through the nose, expanding your diaphragm (stomach) first and then your chest.
Pause briefly before letting out a slow and steady exhale, fully evacuating the air from your lungs.
Focus on the elongated exhale. By slowing down your breath rate you trigger a biological “brake” by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and suppress the biological “gas” of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
This makes it easier to feel the relaxing effects of the PNS which guide you to a calmer state.³
Sometimes I like to imagine I am breathing in feelings of gratitude and breathing out feelings of worry. Play around with visualizations that helps you relax further.
At the end of the day, reflect on your experience with each of the exercises.
The effects that these daily practices produce are gradual and subtle.
The long-term benefits include a stronger memory, more focus, calmer state of mind, and better relationships with others.
Allow yourself time to learn and adapt to these exercises, practice will make them come more naturally with time.
I’m Ben! I’m a travel-obsessed abstract thinker here to help you extract the hidden lessons behind your day-to-day experience.
1. Mastroberardino S., Vredeveldt A. (2014). Eye-closure increases children’s memory accuracy for visual material. Front. Psychol. 5:241
2. Lutz, Antoine & D Dunne, John & J Davidson, Richard. (2007). Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness: An introduction. Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness.
3. MacKinnon, Matthew. “The Science of Slow Deep Breathing.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Feb. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuraptitude/201602/the-science-slow-deep-breathing.
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