Practicing Mindfulness for Busy People
Most of us fly through our days with just enough time to get dressed, eat and go to work. Who really has the time to stop and smell the roses?
But we don’t need much time to practice mindfulness, which is a great thing because being mindful can really perk up our lives. (Plus, it comes in especially handy when we’re knee-deep in dull tasks.)
As author Jan Chozen Bays, M.D., writes in her book, How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness, “Mindfulness unifies our body, heart and mind, bringing them together in focused attention.” Mindfulness helps to build intimacy, overcome fears, alleviate anxiety and support spirituality, she notes.
The title of this post is inspired by a section in Russ Harris’s book The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt. In it, Harris, a physician and stress management therapist, says that “when we are mindful, we are able to engage fully in what we are doing, let go of unhelpful thoughts and act effectively without being pushed around by our emotions.”
So how can the busiest of busy people be fully present in their lives? He provides readers with suggestions for engaging mindfully in a variety of activities, from your morning routine to chores to, as he says, “anything and everything.” In other words, you can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere.
Mindfulness in the Morning
For your morning routine, Harris gives the example of preparing tea and taking part in every step of the process. He writes beautifully about paying attention to something so seemingly small:
Notice all the different sounds involved, listening to the changes in pitch, volume, timbre, and rhythm: the crescendo of the kettle filling up, the sharp click of the “on” switch, the rumble of boiling water, the hiss of escaping steam, the swoosh as you pour the water into the cup, the trickle as you lift the teabag out, and the gentle splosh as you add sugar or milk.
Notice all the different visual elements, including shapes, colors, textures and light and shadow: the thick rush of steam spouting from the kettle, the misty swirls of steam rising from the water in the cup, the light rippling on the surface as you dunk the teabag, the dark stream of tea diffusing from through the hot water, the fluffy clouds of milk billowing up to the surface.
Notice all the different body movements required: the effortless interaction of your shoulder, arm, hand and eyes as you’re lifting up the kettle, turning on the tap, replacing the kettle, pouring the water, dunking the teabag and so on.
If thoughts of your long to-do list pop up, Harris says to “Let those thoughts come and go like passing cars, and engage in what you are doing here and now.”
Mindfulness with Chores
Whether it’s folding the laundry, washing the dishes, sweeping the floors or scrubbing the bathroom, chores are called chores for a reason. We dread them, we avoid them and we tend to curse through the entire process. Not surprisingly, this kind of attitude doesn’t help.
Engaging in a chore is a great way to observe mindfulness. Harris gives the example of a client who picked stacking the dishwasher as his mindfulness practice. Harris asked his client to:
…place every single cup, plate, bowl, spoon, knife and fork with the greatest of care; to put each item down gently, noticing the sound it made as it slotted into place; to notice the colors and patterns that food and drink have left on the various surfaces; to notice the movements of his shoulder, arm and hand. And I reminded him “As you do this, let your mind chatter away like a radio in the background…”
Sure, this might sound silly at first. But it does give us some ideas on turning typically tedious tasks into possibly engaging ones.
Maximizing Pleasurable Activities
According to Harris, because we’re usually not fully present or engaged in pleasurable activities, we don’t get the most enjoyment out of them. I bet you can relate to this: “We take [these experiences] for granted, or do them on autopilot while thinking about what we have to do next.”
He suggests readers practice mindfulness with two pleasurable activities, at a minimum, every day. Take the example of taking a shower. Harris talks about using the five senses to:
…notice the patterns of the droplets on the shower screen, the sensations of the water on your skin, the smell of the shampoo and soap, and the sound of the spray coming out of the nozzle.
When you’re eating:
… pause for a moment before your first bite, and notice the different aromas of the various ingredients and the colors, shapes and textures of the different foods. Then, as you cut up the food, notice the sounds made by your cutlery and the movements of your hands and arms and shoulders. And as you eat the first mouthful, notice the tastes and textures in your mouth, as if you were a gourmet food critic who has never tasted a meal like this before.
More on Mindfulness
Here’s a sampling of other pieces on mindfulness from Psych Central you might enjoy:
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). Practicing Mindfulness for Busy People. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 8, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/09/26/practicing-mindfulness-for-busy-people/