Have you ever been driving somewhere and, instead of heading where you want to go, you have found yourself driving the route that you usually drive to work? Or have you ever entirely missed your exit off the highway?
This happens when we are functioning on auto-pilot. It happens when we have slipped into a state where we are no longer consciously aware of the present moment.
We might be in our heads, thinking about the grocery list, or everything we have to get done in the day. Or we might be thinking about a conversation that we had with someone earlier that day.
It is easy to slip into this state of auto-pilot. It likely happens to most of us, many times throughout the day. What’s more, we may not even notice that we are slipping into this state of auto-pilot.
Cultivating a practice of mindfulness can help to increase our awareness of the present moment and get us out of this state of auto-pilot.
Mindfulness is simply a practice of bringing our attention to the present moment, rather than focusing on the past or the future. It is cultivating a moment to moment awareness. This which helps us to stay in tune with what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing in the moment.
Mindfulness is a heightened state of conscious awareness. It is acceptance of what is going on in the present moment without judgment or trying to change what is going on. It is accepting that things are the way they are and trusting that thoughts and emotions will pass.
So how can we fit mindfulness into our busy schedules?
Incorporating daily mindful moments is not actually not time-consuming. In fact, if we are committed to retraining our brains to stay in the present moment, incorporating shorter daily mindful moments into our routine can be a powerful way of doing so.
- Start your day with a 5-10 minute meditation. At the end of your meditation, set a positive intention for your day.
- Drive to work with the radio off.
- Focus on your breathing while waiting at a stop sign or red light, or while waiting in line for your daily coffee. Note if your breath is deep or shallow and how your breathing changes as you bring your attention to it.
- Focus on one task at a time at work. Multi-tasking decreases our awareness of our present experience and actually decreases productivity overall.
- Close your eyes and listen to relaxing music for 10 minutes during your morning break. Do nothing else.
- Eat your lunch with no distractions – no technology, no conversation. Just you, concentrating on your body and the food you are eating. Bring your attention to the experience of eating your lunch. Note the smell of the foods you are eating. Notice the texture of the food and how that feels in your mouth. Focus on how this changes as you chew. Note the flavour of the food. If you notice your thoughts straying, simply acknowledge this without judgment and bring your attention back to your experience of eating.
- Mid-afternoon, close your office door and sit quietly for 5-10 minutes. Scan the muscles of your body, from head to toe, noting any areas of tension and breathe into those areas to relax them.
- When you get home from work, before you get out of your car, close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Focus on how this breath feels in your body.
- Walk to pick up the mail and focus on how the wind feels on your skin. Connect with any sounds around you.
- Close the day by writing down 3 things that you were grateful for today in a daily gratitude journal.
Behavioural change is not easy, even when we have a strong desire to change. Start by choosing 1-3 daily mindful moments that you would like to incorporate into your daily routine. Focus on consistently incorporating these changes into your routine, until doing them daily becomes automatic. Until then, you may wish to set a reminder on your phone, or use Post-It notes to help ensure that these daily mindful moments remain a priority in your schedule.
As you incorporate daily mindful moments into your everyday routines, note the impact that this has on your overall stress levels and on your interactions with others. If done consistently, you will find that these small changes in your routine will help to decrease your stress levels, both at home and within the workplace, leaving you in a better state to engage in challenging conversations.
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