Are you new to meditation? Do you have a meditation practice you’ve enjoyed but it keeps dropping to the bottom of your to-do list? Or maybe you meditate in yoga when guided by an instructor or maybe you are one of those people who says, "I hear good things about meditation, but I don’t have the time." Or perhaps you’ve tried, become frustrated and shouted: "it’s impossible to still my mind!" Whatever the case may be, you are certainly not alone.
Meditation does not come easily to the naturally wandering mind! But with all its known benefits, you may consider adopting one of my suggested mindful hacks and allow meditation to become a part of your everyday life.
Meditation has been around for centuries and we have oodles of research to support its ongoing practice. Meditation promotes stress reduction, reduced rumination, better memory, focus, emotional stability, relationship satisfaction, cognitive flexibility, self-compassion, and insight. One of the most important domains meditation strengthens is emotional intelligence — a set of skills far more consequential for life success than cognitive intelligence2. Even with all the scientific evidence behind it, meditation is a hard sell for a lot of people. Sitting quietly with one’s own mind is not something easily supported by our busy day-to-day lives. And for many who try to do it, their minds often instinctively protest like a toddler having a tantrum.
Our unique capacity to be fully conscious and aware is part of what makes us human. Unfortunately, we are usually in this attentive state only for brief periods of time, as we quickly become reabsorbed into familiar patterns of daydreams and personal narratives1. So, if you think you’re a ‘medi-hater’ but want the benefits of meditation, a solution awaits you.
There is a practice called mindfulness, which simply asks that you notice what you are doing in the present moment without criticism or judgment. You don’t need to be sitting in a dark room or holding triangle pose to actively cultivate this state of being. You could wash the dishes and notice the feeling of the suds on your hands; feel the textures of your clothes as you get dressed in the morning; notice the taste of minty toothpaste on your tongue. Though deceptively simple, this practice exercises the parts of the brain that help us pay attention, and meditation helps you voluntarily regulate it2.
Mindfulness is the simple (yet effortful in its own way) act of staying in the present moment without radically altering your daily routines. And here is the icing on the cake: You have everything you need right here, right now. You don’t need money, a degree, a uniform, the right ambiance, or Enya. Just you, wherever you are in this time and place.
Pick a mindfulness practice that already fits into your daily routine. Take one thing each day and train your mind to just be present for that thing. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Anderson Cooper, CNN, says that when he is with someone for an interview, he is focused on the here and now. However, in his personal life, he finds it much harder to stay in the present moment. He started practicing mindfulness every time he is in a cab, putting down his phone and centering his attention on the movement, the sights outside the window, the weather, and just about anything the journey brings.
Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), says that her daily mindful activity is making her coffee. She watches the coffee drip, smells the aroma in her kitchen and enjoys the first sips on her tongue. Hoda Kotb, ofThe Today Show, says she puts her phone down when she is with her two children so she can be present with them. For me, it’s brushing my teeth mindfully. When my mind wanders, I simply notice my thoughts straying and gently pull them back to the task of brushing my teeth.
Through the practice of mindfulness, you learn to accept the mind’s wandering in the way one might accept their eyelids’ blink. It’s the natural state of things; it would be futile to try to change it. Working regularly with the resistance of your own mind, rather than fighting against it, builds inner strength and resilience. As Jon Kabat-Zinn (the researcher who introduced mindfulness to mainstream U.S. medicine) has said, we may not be able to stop the waves of thoughts in our minds, but we can learn to surf them.
If you’ve struggled to meditate, don’t give up just yet. We don’t meditate to get better at meditation, we do it to get better at life. We race around trying to fit in as much as we can, in order to get more out of life. But if we aren’t present for our life, how much are we really getting from it at all?
So, ask yourself: what will your daily mindful task be?
1. Siegel, R. D., Germer, C. K., & Olendzki, A. (2009). Mindfulness: What Is It? Where Did It Come From? Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness, 17–35. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-09593-6_2
2. Cullen, L. T. (2006). How to Get Smarter, One Breath at a Time. TIME Magazine.