Many of us move about our days like robots. So when we want to make positive changes in our lives, things can get tricky. That’s because our self-awareness may be slim.
According to therapist Andrew Peterson, EdD, in his book The Next Ten Minutes: 51 Absurdly Simple Ways to Seize the Moment, “Big changes in our lives start with small shifts in our state of mind.” They also start within the routines of our daily lives.
When we engage in the most mundane activities mindfully, we’re actually able to effect change. It’s as though we open a different door, another option we didn’t realize had existed.
We use our senses fully. We become more aware of the decisions we’re making. We may get some clarity. Things that looked the same may have a different hue.
Here are three simple — even seemingly silly — activities from The Next Ten Minutes that’ll help you shake out of autopilot and plant the seeds of change.
1. Move like you’re underwater.
“Moving in slow motion interrupts the numbed, thoughtless activity of our bodies, making it intentional, purposeful, and experienced,” Peterson writes.
First he suggests picking a simple task, such as dusting or folding laundry. Next take a long, slow breath, close your eyes and imagine you’re underwater. Then proceed with your task. Be deliberate with each movement.
It also might help to repeat a sound or phrase, such as “Slowly, slowly, slowly.”
Buddhists view the mind as a yapping dog, according to Peterson. Repeating a sound or phrase is like giving that dog a bone to quiet down.
2. Stare at the wall.
Peterson isn’t sure why staring at a wall gets such a bad rap, because doing so with purpose actually helps to “reveal the lush and lively activity within your own mind.” Setting such limits forces your brain to create novelty.
Pick a wall that doesn’t have anything on it besides paint (one solid color is best). Stand six to eight inches away from the wall. Minimize distractions (for instance, silence your phone). Study the wall, keeping your head in the same position and your body still. But let your attention move freely. For instance, you might find yourself focusing on the color.
Then let your eyes soften and blur. Let the wall’s solid surface dissolve. “Try to let yourself see without seeing, the same way you do when you close your eyes and watch the patterns on the backs of your eyelids.”
Finally, take small, slow steps away from the wall. Take several deep breaths. Then come back to the wall, putting your palms on its surface, and feeling it as a solid space.
Peterson suggests taking several minutes to focus your awareness on the physical movements that usually seem involuntary, such as stretching or blinking or crossing your legs.
“Experience these small movements as conscious choices and allow yourself to become aware of the paths you have chosen not to follow at any given moment.”
Sit as still as you can in a chair. Keep your eyes open. Let your arms rest by your sides, and keep your legs uncrossed. Face forward, and just breathe normally. Notice what your body is doing – maybe your eyes are scanning the room – without making a conscious decision to take those actions.
Next focus your mind on an action that has a beginning and an end, such as crossing your legs. Think about crossing your legs, but refrain from doing it just yet. Notice what it feels like not to act. You might feel a great urge to cross your legs. Keep noticing that urge without doing anything.
Then decide to take action. (Or don’t. As Peterson says, “Stillness is also a decision.”) Move slowly. Make every movement deliberate. Try “to maintain awareness of both the physical action of your body and the mental act of deciding.”
Practice making other movements, such as blinking or even breathing, intentional. For instance, you might say the following to yourself: “Inhale. Wait. Exhale.” Or: “Blink. Look to the left. Blink again.”
Simply moving about our days more mindfully helps our minds to shift and even get creative. It also creates mini meditations, helping us to relax and recharge.