11 Easy Ways You Can Fit Mindfulness into Your Busy Life
Being present is the only way to enjoy life to the fullest. These realistic tips turn everyday activities into opportunities to be mindful.
Are you living in the present?
The idea of being mindful—being present and being more conscious of life as it happens in a nonjudgmental, goal-less way—may seem contradictory to those who are used to sacrificing living in pursuit of their goals, but cultivating mindfulness will help you achieve your goals and enjoy life even more. Not only are you more productive when you’re mindful, but you can also reap numerous benefits in all aspects of your life. “Research has shown that people who practice mindfulness have better immune functioning, lower amounts of stress, and improved focus and memory,” says Pooja Lakshmin, MD, a psychiatrist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Being present also helps you enjoy life to the fullest. By being mindful, you enjoy your food more, you enjoy friends and family more, you enjoy anything you’re doing more. Anything. You can practice mindfulness while doing something as simple as brushing your teeth or checking the mailbox. “Pay attention to what you notice, whether that’s focusing on the breath going in and out or on the sights and sounds while you’re walking down the street,” says Dr. Lakshmin. “The specific moment of mindfulness is when you notice your mind wandering and you bring your attention back to what you choose to focus on.” Check out these science-backed benefits of meditation.
Do one thing at a time
Single-task, don’t multitask. When you’re pouring water, just pour water. When you’re eating, just eat. When you’re bathing, just bathe. Don’t try to knock off a few tasks while eating or bathing or whatever else. “Even though multitasking [may make] us feel more productive, studies show that we make more errors when juggling tasks and don’t retain information in working memory,” explains Dr. Lakshmin. “Taking on one task at a time has us go more deeply into the task at hand, allowing us to think creatively and utilize problem-solving skills, which in turn enables us to get more meaning from the task. Though there can be a rush that comes with multitasking, ultimately connecting deeply with one activity leads to greater feelings of fulfillment.”
Act slowly and deliberately
Even when you do one task at a time, you may still be rushing that task. Instead, take your time, and move slowly. Make your actions deliberate, not rushed and random. “When we rush, rush, rush and don’t slow, even for a few seconds, we don’t truly see what we’re doing,” says Brittany Bouffard, a Denver-based psychotherapist and yoga teacher. Slowing down can also decrease stress levels. She recommends this trick that you can utilize at the office: Tape a note to your door that reminds you to breathe and go slow instead of running to your next meeting. “Even if you take three paces at half speed and notice one in-breath on your way,” she says, “this, with practice, can be enough to shift your mindset and help your nervous system regulate.” Put your day on a track to mindfulness with these mindful morning exercises.
If you do less, you can do those things more slowly, more completely, and with more concentration. If you fill your day with tasks, you’ll be rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you’re doing. But you’re busy and you can’t possibly do less, right? Wrong. “Sometimes we don’t want to say no to a project or a favor, but when we become aware of our own needs and well-being, it can help us kindly give a ‘no’ to increase more moments of open, free time,” says Bouffard. “When we do fewer things, we can focus more on the ones we keep, offering them the attention we want to give.” The key? Figuring out what’s important and letting go of what’s not.
Put space between things
This is related to the “do less” rule, but it’s a way of managing your schedule so that you have a little breathing room to allow for mindfulness. Bouffard recommends leaving 10 minutes at the start or end of every hour if you have to schedule back-to-back meetings. “Give yourself time for water, food, walks outside, and social engagement with colleagues,” she says. “We know that a stressed, hyper-driven mind and body keep us from be our most productive and creative selves.” She also advises adding in extra hours or days to even a short deadline as a rule. This is probably not only more realistic, but it also gives you some room to breathe and do your task with intention. Don’t miss these other time-management tips that actually work.
Spend at least five minutes each day doing nothing
Just sit in silence. Become aware of your thoughts. Focus on your breathing. Notice the world around you. Become comfortable with the silence and stillness. It’ll do you a world of good—and it just takes a few minutes. Dr. Lakshmin recommends doing this in the morning since it’s often the only reliable time of the day when you’ll be alone and without distractions. Plus, if you attempt this at nighttime, she says, you might simply fall asleep.
Stop worrying about the future
Become more aware of your thinking. Are you constantly worrying about the future? Learn to recognize when you’re doing this, and then practice bringing yourself back to the present. Of course, that may be easier said than done. Instead of being hard on yourself when nagging thoughts seep back into your brain, try to create distance from the thoughts, says Dr. Lakshmin. “One simple technique is to add the phrase, ‘My mind is saying…’ in front of each worrisome thought,” she says. “This small shift reminds us these worries are a creation of the mind and they do not control us, making it possible to refocus on the present moment. The content of our thoughts is less important than our relationship to them.”
When you’re talking to someone, pay attention
How many conversations have you had where you’re not truly listening but you’re actually thinking of what you want to say next—or compiling a completely unrelated to-do list in your head? This not only detracts from your enjoyment of the moment but also hurts the quality of your relationships. “When we give someone our undivided attention, we can mirror them and provide reassuring non-verbal communication,” says Dr. Lakshmin. “This is what makes people feel heard and understood, and ultimately, this leads to deeper, more fulfilling relationships.” These magic phrases can save any conversation.
Eat slowly and savor your food
Food can be crammed down our throats in a rush, but where’s the joy in that? Savor each bite, slowly, and really get the most out of your food. Interestingly, you’ll eat less this way, and digest your food better as well. “Sitting down and paying attention to each bite gives us time to tune into whether our body is hungry or full, and to deal with feelings of shame or anxiety about mealtime,” says Dr. Lakshmin. “Research shows that intentional eating allows people to make healthier decisions about food. This is partly due to the mind-gut connection, as it takes time for the brain to register that the gut is full.” Here’s what mindful eaters do at every meal.
Live slowly and savor your life
Just as you would savor your food by eating it more slowly, do everything this way. Slow down and savor each and every moment. Tune into the sights and sounds and awaken your senses to the world around you. Make sure that you’re doing this by periodically checking in with yourself. “During transition times of your day, check in,” says Bouffard. “When you get in the car before starting it, sit for a moment to breathe and notice. Before putting your key in the door to come home, take three full rounds of breath and ask yourself what is one thing you especially need from your evening to take the best care of yourself?”
Make cleaning and cooking become meditation
Cooking and cleaning are often seen as drudgery, but they can both provide great ways to practice mindfulness each day. Try doing them as a form of meditation by putting your entire mind into those tasks, concentrating, and doing them slowly and completely. Notice the smell of each ingredient, feel the metal of a spoon or the texture of a sponge on your hand, see the shine of a cleaned countertop, and so on. “Practicing being mindful can be wonderfully simple,” says Bouffard. “Sometimes life is about the simple parts, in fact, that we tend to miss or ignore while on autopilot.” Here are more ways to sneak meditation into your everyday life.