Mindfulness is the ability to apply complete focus and attention to our conscious experiences. With practice, mindfulness can be developed and improved upon just like any other skill.
One popular practice that focuses on the development of mindfulness is a breathing meditation. The concept is simple: watch the breath rise, watch the breath fall. If your mind drifts – take note – and then bring your attention back to your breathing. Continue to build your focus and awareness around the sensations of breathing.
For many, this exercise by itself can have many benefits to our psychology and mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. However, an important goal in doing meditation and improving your focus is to eventually bring this same focus into your everyday activities.
The advantages of having a stronger focus and attention span are almost endless, especially after we get better at applying it to our actions. With better attention, we can become better learners with practically anything, whether it is a physical skill (throwing a baseball, playing the guitar), or mental skill (more critical thinker, greater ability to absorb information).
Basically, we can apply mindfulness to practically all physical and mental activities – almost everything we do consciously. This is one of the big lessons I learned in Mindfulness in Plain English, which teaches just how applicable mindfulness is throughout our daily lives.
The main purpose of this article is to touch upon some everyday activities that I feel are good for developing a consistent mindfulness practice outside of just meditation. Some of them we may already enjoy doing, others we may typically find more boring – but hopefully with mindfulness they can become more interesting and engaging.
Showering is a great activity to become mindful of your body and bodily sensations.
While showering, we can pay attention to a variety of things: the feeling of water on our skin: its temperature and the pressure of the water hitting our body. We can also pay attention to: skin-on-skin and skin-on-hair contact. And as we wash ourselves, we can pay attention to our body movements, joints, and muscles. You may even experience a subjective feeling of “cleanliness” – both physically and mentally – after your shower has been completed.
We all shower on a frequent basis, so why not use it as an opportunity to build more mindfulness and awareness?
2. Cleaning (vacuuming, sweeping, mopping)
Cleaning is another great everyday activity that we can practice doing more mindfully, whether it’s vacuuming, sweeping, dusting, or whatever.
When I vacuum, I like to turn my mind toward the motions of my body. Sometimes I pay attention to the movements in my legs (especially how my weight shifts on my body when I turn or change direction), other times I pay attention to the movements in my arms (the physical motions of moving the vacuum back-and-forth).
Also, you may notice how when we use “tools,” they often become an extension of ourselves.
In fact, a study in neuroscience shows that the brain often represents tools as “temporary body parts.” I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon when I drive, the car seems to “become a part of me.”
Mindfulness in Plain English is a classic book by Buddhist monk Bhante Gunaratana which teaches anyone how to apply mindfulness to their daily life. It’s not just about meditation, but also improving your awareness toward any conscious aspect of your life, even simple daily chores like cleaning, showering, and eating. One of my favorite books about mindfulness and truly a must read for anyone interested in meditation.
Eating is another very useful everyday activity that you can apply mindfulness to.
First, you can pay attention to the many different aspects of the food: how it tastes, the temperature of the food, and the texture of the food. Second, you can pay attention to the actual physical sensations of eating: chewing, swallowing, and even digesting.
I have found when I apply mindfulness to eating, it usually makes me enjoy my meals more. Also, it causes me to eat slower, and consequently eat less because I am more observant of when my stomach feels satisfied.
Interestingly, a recent study confirms that “mindful eating” can indeed reduce food intake and improve flavor – because you’re more likely to savor every bite and feel more satisfied.
These are just 3 simple everyday tasks to apply mindfulness to, but obviously there are so many more possibilities to apply mindfulness in your daily life.
Try just choosing one of these activities for now, and schedule time to do it with complete focus and awareness. This also means doing these activities without any other distractions (no music, TV, phone, etc.)
If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend Mindfulness in Plain English, which was a big influence for this article and one of the best books on mindfulness I’ve ever read.
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