“Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.” ~ Sonia Ricotti
I’ve been on a mindfulness “journey”, for lack of a better word, for a few years now. I used to be the person who’d stress and worry about everything. I found it difficult to be still, to be present. If I wasn’t thinking about the past, I was feeling anxious about the future. Then, one day, I asked myself: “where have all those years gone?“
It was almost like I was running on autopilot for many years and suddenly woke up. I was so concerned with my future, that I forgot to live in the present. Do you ever get in your car after work and suddenly realize you’re already home? Or you start eating a sandwich, take a bite and then realize it’s gone and think to yourself “did I really finish it already?” Honestly, one of the most disappointing feelings, ever.
Things like these happen because we stop paying attention. We’re constantly running on autopilot, and often don’t know how to turn it off.
Practicing mindfulness can change that.
The thing about mindfulness though, is that it takes effort. It also isn’t easy at first, especially when you don’t know how to be still- and MANY of us, don’t anymore.
Concentrating on your breathing is one of the best ways to connect yourself to the present moment and become more aware of what’s happening around you. Focus your attention on breathing; the inhale and the exhale. If you find yourself in a stressful situation or feel yourself feeling overwhelmed take a deep breath inhaling through your nose counting 1-2-3, hold your breath at 4-5, and exhale through your mouth at 6-7-8-9. So 3 second inhale, 2-second hold and 4 second exhale. Do this several times, it’ll gently bring your attention to your breathing and away from your anxious thoughts.
This breathing technique is something I recommend you try especially when you’re waiting for something and start feeling anxious. Like when there’s a long wait at a doctor’s office, long line at a grocery store or when you’re stuck in traffic, in a hurry and have to wait at a red light.
The thing about multitasking is this: we all think we’re good at it. Most of us aren’t. Our productivity goes down as much as 40% when we’re attempting to do several things at once. I have a bad tendency to multitask, especially when I’m at work so that’s an area where I get to practice mindfulness and train my mind the most. My work can get hectic- there’s paperwork to be completed, deadlines to be met, documents to be filed, all while the phone is ringing, emails are coming in and clients stop by. Whenever I do try to multitask, whenever I don’t give something my undivided attention- like when drafting a legal document while answering emails or sending out any requests- I almost always make mistakes. I then need to proof-read my work, correct my mistakes, read it again, only to find more small mistakes. This is what happens when you’re trying to do several different things at once; you end up being less efficient and make things complicated for yourself.
Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed with work, I try to step away from everything, try to re-center and ask myself “okay, what is my priority right now? what needs to get done first?” I noticed that with practice, I need to do this less and less, but unlearning to multitask, definitely isn’t easy at first.
DON’T JUDGE YOUR THOUGHTS
Very often, when trying to be more mindful, you might find yourself getting distracted by anxious thought. You start to notice just how many things you worry about. You then start worrying about the fact that you’re worrying, so you end up feeling anxious… about feeling anxious.
The anxious mind loves distraction. The main reason for this, is to escape the suffering. Turn off your TV, phone, put your laptop away and spend five minutes in complete stillness and silence. At first, this can feel very uncomfortable. Um.. okay, this is weird. It’s too quiet. I don’t like it. And then your mind might start to wander. Eventually, you might end up thinking about something you’ve been dreading, something that’s been bothering or annoying you for a while. Let that thought be. Don’t resist it. Recognize it as just that- a thought. It’s sort of like removing yourself from your mind and observing your thoughts- without judgment. Then, allow that thought to pass.
As you practice taking that 3rd person perspective, you will be able to recognize those anxious thoughts and emotions, without the need to react or suffer from them. You’ll learn to detach yourself from those situations or emotions- therefore they won’t have that control over you. You’ll be able to move on, and will no longer identify with that pain.
BE MORE PRESENT
Being present isn’t always easy to do and it might feel a bit unnatural at first. This is why you need to practice it. Using tools like “mindfulness bells” is a good way to start. Using these will remind you to come back to the present moment. I have a few: a sparkling light- like when the sun hits the key chain that hangs on my rearview mirror, or I hear a certain sound or see a certain number. If I walk around the office, or my house, and happen to hit my elbow on something, or when I accidentally drop my keys- I use that as a reminder too. Whenever I hear or see those “mindfulness bells” I stop and think “what am I doing right now, right this moment? Where are my thoughts wandering?” This is a really good way to start practicing being in a present moment.
I like practicing mindfulness when doing simple things like washing the dishes or folding laundry. I love how warm the laundry is after I take it out of the dryer, that fresh smell, and soft feel as I fold it- when you start paying attention to these things, without thinking about your next task or chore, they become more enjoyable. You can find pleasure even in those very simple things.
See, most of the time, to us, present moment seems quite ordinary. We often seek to escape that moment, whether it be going through our phone while eating dinner or not paying attention when someone is trying to have a conversation with us. I think that this is exactly what makes this present moment extraordinary; we don’t get to just “be”, we’re always busy doing other things. When you train yourself to actually feel that sunshine on your skin when you’re going for a run, when you actually look into the eyes of someone close you’re talking to and realize how good it feels to be around them, you’ll see that there’s some magic hidden in those “ordinary” moments.