There are probably lots of habits that can change your life, at least in little ways, but at the root of all of them is one behavior that can help turn your frustrated efforts into lasting success: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention. It’s being aware of what you’re thinking/doing/saying in the moment, and using that information to make conscious choices. By learning to be more mindful all the time, you can greatly increase your chances for success when it comes to achieving more specific goals.
Think about this – one of the hardest things about developing a new habit is remembering to do it. Your old ways of automatic thinking – the opposite of mindfulness – have made certain behaviors seem like second nature. You do them without thinking. If, however, you cultivate the habit of mindfulness and begin evaluating every situation in the moment, it will be much easier to remind yourself to practice the new habit.
Learning mindfulness is a tough habit on its own. How can we remember to remember? Well, it takes practice. By starting with a few short practice sessions each day, you’ll start becoming more aware of what’s going on around you and within you all the time. Here are a few times and situations that can start you off on your mindfulness practice.
1. First Thing in the Morning – Set your alarm three or five minutes earlier and spend that time in quiet meditation, gently reminding yourself to be more mindful throughout the day. Don’t let your mind wander to all that lies ahead in the day, but rather, sit and listen and look at what’s immediately around you. Learning to pay attention to your senses is a good mindfulness technique.
2. Just Before You Sit Down to Eat a Meal – Many of us wolf down our food while we’re doing other things, hardly tasting what we’re eating and not really paying attention to when we’re full. For some, this can be a big part of why they are overweight. Learning to be more mindful at mealtime can not only help you curb how many calories you consume, but it can make every meal more enjoyable. Since most meals only last about ten to fifteen minutes, it’s a good opportunity for beginners to practice mindfulness.
3. During Your Workout – I can’t think of a better time to pay attention to what you’re doing than when you’re exercising. Especially true for strength training, mindfulness can bring a level of focus and intensity to your workout that can really boost results. By concentrating on your form and the speed of each single repetition, you’ll maximize contractile force in the muscle fibers. For aerobic activities, mindfulness can also bring big rewards. Focusing on your running form, swim stroke or cycling cadence can make you stronger in those activities. Rather than trying to “blank out” or distract yourself during your next workout, try paying attention and see how different it feels.
4. In Conversation With Others – Listening can be a form of mindfulness. Paying attention to what others have to say, and pausing to absorb not just the words, but the feelings behind them, will add a new dimension to your social interactions. Rather than thinking about how you will respond, or how this line of conversation pertains to you, give the other person your full attention and be mindful of their point of view.
After you’ve practiced mindfulness in these situations for a couple of weeks, you’ll start to notice when your mind is “tuned in” and when it is “tuned out.” Just noticing that is a sign of great progress! If you can remember to remember, mindfulness has taken root.