10 Mindfulness Habits for 2020
These days you can’t pass the magazine stand at the grocery store or surf the net without seeing references to mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation; live more mindfully; cultivate mindfulness, how to lose weight with mindfulness; mindfulness for anxiety, etc., etc.
So what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that mindfulness actually helps. It’s a remedy to today’s fast-paced life and faster pace of incoming information. Practicing mindfulness gets you closer to what our neurology is capable of handling well. As I like to say, “everything works better when you work WITH your neurology instead of against it.”
And the temptation in 2020, and really in an increasing way over the last 3 decades, is to work AGAINST your neurology: multi-task, take on more, have your mind on many things at once, reduce both the amount and quality of your sleep, and on and on.
I see the results of this trend in my office all the time, in people from teens on up whose systems are telling them loud and clear of their need for some peace and quiet. But don’t take my word for it. Americans’ anxiety levels increased 40% year over year in 2018. And 1 in 3 American adults are not getting enough sleep.
Mindfulness is an antidote. And it’s free. It’s also simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Well, it IS actually easy to do. What people have a hard time with is changing their mindset so that they actually practice it.
If you can commit yourself to practicing mindfulness, here are 10 ways to practice mindfulness to improve the quality of your life in 2020.
1: Develop the mindfulness habit
Making any lifestyle change asks for commitment and regular practice. Developing a regular, consistent habit of mindfulness will help you stay in the present and not be distracted by busyness.
But you don’t have to set aside a half hour mindfulness session every day. Mindfulness shouldn’t be a burden! While it’s good to schedule mindfulness breaks in your day to help you focus on the present moment, you can incorporate mindfulness into your regular schedule. The most mundane of tasks can provide an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
When you take a shower, instead of thinking ahead to that upcoming meeting or report, take a moment to feel the water on your skin, notice how the shampoo feels in your hand, how your body feels under the water. You can practice mindfulness while you’re waiting in line, commuting, or stuck in traffic. Take a breath and really notice what’s happening around you. Get into the habit of dropping into mindfulness!
2: Practice gratitude
Practicing gratitude is a great mindfulness habit to develop. It’s important to really notice and appreciate the small details of life, the little gifts that come along every day. Every task, every moment gives you another opportunity to notice what’s good in your life from the basic gift of clean water, to other blessings like literacy, music, good food and the love of family and friends.
A good mindfulness habit to get into is doing a quick count of your blessings. Count them off on your fingers. Consider both large and small blessings. If your mind goes blank, look around you. Start with that fresh cup of coffee in front of you. We all have many, many things to be grateful for, and you’ll become more aware of your blessings as you start practicing being present in the present.
3: Be aware of your body
Being mindful, totally aware of the present moment includes feeling into the physical space you take up in the world.
Right now, stretch your arms and legs, really experiencing the lengthening of your muscles. Clench your hands into fists and then release them. Clench and release. Clench and release. Tighten your feet into balls and release. Wriggle your fingers and toes. Gently move your head clockwise and then counterclockwise, drawing a circle with your nose. Raise your shoulders up to your ears and then drop, drop, drop.
Move slowly, deliberately and notice all the physical sensations as you move.
Really look at your hands and observe how they connect to your arms, your arms to your torso, and so on through your body. We spend so much time in our heads, thinking, anxious, busy, before falling into bed each night that we forget what a marvel the human body is.
Taking a moment to focus on the experience of being in the body, physically anchors you into self-awareness in the present moment.
4: Be aware of your environment
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t need a meditation cushion or a quiet darkened room. Mindfulness focuses your attention on what’s happening in your environment. It means stopping to really notice what’s going on – hearing your colleagues tapping on the keyboard, a muffled phone call, traffic noise outside the office.
If you’re feeling distracted or stressed, then you should take a break and go for a walk. Choose a place preferably where you can reconnect with nature like a park, nature trail or even just in the grassy area around the building. Find somewhere outside where you can disconnect from the busyness and demands of everyday life. Allow your mind to take in the sights, smells, and textures of the environment. Feel the air – is it crisp, damp or soft and warm? Feel the sun on your skin, listen to the wind in the trees and the birds singing. Observe your place in all of this – how does it make you feel?
5: Breathe mindfully
Focusing on your breathing immediately anchors you into the present moment.
You can use conscious breathing to detach your mind from whatever is worrying or distracting you, to lower stress levels and to become calmer. Practicing mindful breathing increases the levels of oxygen throughout the body, and that immediately improves your relaxation.
To practice mindful breathing, relax your body as much as you can – raise your shoulders up to your ears and then drop them. Consciously make room for the breath entering your body. Gently inhale to the count of four, feeling the breath going down into your belly. Hold for two and then gently exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. Feel your body relax as you gently breathe out. Do this three times and feel the breath moving through your body.
Mindful breathing will focus your mind on the present moment, you will feel more relaxed, and you will find it much easier to deal with everyday life.
6: Prioritize mindfulness
Make mindfulness a priority in your life. Like any other lifestyle change, you need to practice mindfulness every day, so it becomes a regular part of the way you live your life.
Once you’ve made the conscious decision to live mindfully, you must build prompts and strategies into your life to maintain your mindfulness habit. Be aware that it is human nature to slip back into old, well-established patterns of thinking and behavior, such as brooding over past hurts and events, or worrying about future possibilities. Get into the habit of noticing when you start to think in the old way. Be kind to yourself when you get distracted and gently bring yourself back to the present.
One way to prioritize mindfulness is to complete a daily task deliberately, with mindfulness. To do it just for the sake of doing it. Do the evening dishes simply to do them. Notice how the warm water feels as you move your hands through it. Breathe in the fragrance of your washing liquid. Put a half-smile on your face and appreciate the fact that you have hands that can wash up. Notice when your mind jumps into the future to think about what you’ll do after you finish the dishes. Then, bring it gently back to focus on doing the dishes.
Every simple, repetitive task we do throughout the day becomes much more enjoyable when we do it mindfully.
7: Switch off
The noise and constant distractions of everyday life are not just irritating, but they can also be actively bad for your health. Have you ever become overwhelmed by the noise and lost your temper because you ’just can’t hear yourself think’?
While you don’t need complete silence to practice mindfulness, it’s not easy to be mindful when there is a sea of noise around you. Schedule in regular breaks from the noise-makers in your life. Turn off the television, your smartphone, your tablet, and computer. Allow yourself the luxury of silence for a time and feel the textures of quiet.
You can build more quietness into your life by decluttering your environment. Keep the television turned off unless you’re watching a particular program. So many people have the television on as constant background noise. Try driving or commuting without the radio or music playing. Unless you need them, turn off reminders and alarms on your devices. Allow space for quiet mindfulness.
8: Focus on listening
So often conversations can become a two-way battle to be heard, with each participant just waiting to say their piece and not listening to the other.
A conversation should not be a competition. It is also an opportunity to practice mindfulness and be completely in the present.
Conscious, mindful conversations allow the discussion to develop a dynamic process based on active listening and responding.
Focused listening also shows respect for the other person. It allows space for them to think and properly communicate. By being present for them, you will really hear what they have to say.
In meetings or groups, try not talking for a short time. If you don’t focus on being heard, you’ll listen a lot more, you’ll notice a lot more, and you’ll have a more thoughtful contribution to make when you do speak.
9: Build mindfulness into your routine
It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget to be mindful. If we aren’t careful, we can end up living most of our lives on autopilot, slogging our way through the day so we can finally get to the end of the day and collapse in front of the TV. By building into your day, regular mindfulness prompts, you can take back control of your life.
Download an app or extension to your computer, phone or tablet. Try the Insight Timer app, Headspace app or Bell of Mindfulness Chrome and Firefox extensions and find a pleasant chime or tone on them. Set the chime to go off at random times during the day. When you hear it, stop what you’re doing and observe how you feel, what you’re thinking and what’s going on around you.
Use the breaks to center yourself, breathe deeply and stretch. Notice how your body is feeling. Have you been sitting for too long? Get up and walk around, take a break and tune into what you’re thinking and feeling. That can take as little as a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on how much time you have. Regardless, it will refresh you and get you re-engaged in the moment.
10: Be kind to yourself
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to disarm your inner critic. You know, that voice in your head that is constantly undermining you by telling you that you’re not good enough, you’re too whatever (fat/thin/young/old). Your Inner Critic gets a lot of support from social media and the pressure in our culture to be hyper-critical of ourselves.
Practicing mindfulness brings you back to the present moment and allows you to drop the baggage of the past and the anxiety of the future. Right now, you’re doing your best, and you’re doing it well.
Every time you gently bring yourself back to the present, pat yourself on the back for showing up. You did it! You’re practicing mindfulness!
And if you’re finding it hard to stay in the present, try a mindfulness checklist by going through your five senses. What can you hear, see, smell, feel, taste right now? This straightforward exercise will help disconnect from the grip of past and future worries and ground you firmly in the present.
Live a mindful life.
Building mindfulness into your life is a fantastic way to take the pressure off your neurology. It’s most effective when you practice it for short periods of time, several times a day. Think of it as a release valve. You’ll find that when you practice this way, you’ll come back to whatever task is at hand feeling more creative, focused and productive, and you’ll likely be less anxious and even sleep better, which is great because insomnia leads to anxiety.
You might not even need to come in and see me! LOL!