If I were to ask what you thought about while eating your breakfast this morning, would you be at a loss for words?
If you’re like most busy people, the answer would be yes. So much of our day is dictated by duties—household chores, work, child-rearing, commuting, studying, and social obligations, that we busily rush from one task to the next without being aware of our mental state.
Now if you’re thinking, Great—one more thing I need to add to the to-do list!, consider this: Mindfulness can be practiced in as little as five minutes per day. Better still, slowing down and paying attention can actually improve your mental clarity and productivity.
Here are seven simple mindfulness activities that can help you focus on the present, and leave the past and the future alone.
1. Mindful Hand Awareness Exercise. Grasp your hands tightly for five seconds, then release and notice how your hands feel. Keep your attention focused on the feeling for as long as you can. This is a wonderful exercise for getting out of your head and into your physical awareness.
2. Music Appreciation. Yes, singing along to your favorite song counts as a mindfulness exercise! Pay attention to how this piece makes you feel. What emotions do you experience? What memories come up, and how do those memories make you feel? Savor these emotions and see if they carry over throughout the day.
3. Close Your Eyes. Spend five minutes in silence while you appreciate your surroundings. Keeping your eyes closed helps to block out stimulation and sharpens your non-visual awareness.
4. One-Minute Breathing. Talk about an anxiety buster. This exercise can be done anywhere at any time, standing up or sitting down. Start by breathing in and out slowly. After a few seconds practice the 4-4-4: Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Let the breath flow in and out effortlessly. Repeat four times.
5. Game of Fours. Notice four things in your day that generally go unnoticed. For example, fire up your senses and appreciate the sound of children giggling while riding their bikes, the fresh scent of soap in your shower, your coworker’s hearty laugh, or the brightest flowers in your garden.
6. Turn Down the Volume. Society can be so loud and imposing. Between the endless ring tones and chimes of mobile devices, to the music in the coffee shop, we rarely spend time in quiet. Set aside five to 30 minutes each day and turn off the television, the radio, and your phone, while giving your mind the gift of quiet. After all, the most interesting moments in life are the ones you can't capture in 140 characters or less.
7. Smile at Five Random People. Intentionally making eye contact and smiling at someone you don’t know can unintentionally make their day. Despite what the internet may reveal, civility and kindness never go out of fashion.
When we purposely devote time and attention to mindfulness practices daily, we are promoting inner peace and awareness. Slowing down means we appreciate the simpler pleasures of life. Most importantly, getting out of busyness grounds us in the present so we can leave autopilot behind.
Copyright Linda Esposito, LCSW. 2015.