How to be Mindful in Everyday Life

Mindfulness has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other distress. Anyone can learn how to be mindful in everyday life, but perhaps it is easier for children.  So we’re going to start where my children started, just for kicks.  Bear with me while I tell you a short story about an even shorter story. Then read on to learn how to be mindful in everyday life.

 

A Mindfulness Story

One time years ago, my kids experienced disappointment when an exciting event we’d been anticipating was canceled without notice. Instead of attending the event, we decided to hang out at one of our favorite parks.

The girls were enjoying themselves for the most part, but my seven-year-old son just could not tear himself loose from his disappointment and it was coloring everything in his world to the point that nothing else really mattered. When simple distraction and a brief passage of time did not pull him out of his funk, I decided to tell him my adaptation of an ancient story. It went something like this:

Once there was a man walking through the forest, when suddenly he came upon a huge tiger. The tiger was very fierce and angry, and starting chasing the man, trying to catch him and kill him! The man ran and ran, and the tiger chased him and chased him, until the man reached a huge cliff and could run no further. The man looked around frantically, as the tiger growled and prepared to pounce, and just then the man spotted a vine hanging over the edge of the cliff.

He jumped off the cliff, hanging onto the vine to keep from plummeting to the bottom. After he had gone about halfway down the cliff on the vine, with the tiger growling at him above, he heard a noise from below—a scary and now familiar noise.

He looked down with trepidation and saw, to his horror, a second tiger growling up at him with a ferocious hunger in his eyes. The man looked frantically up at the tiger on the top of the cliff, then down to the tiger below him. As he looked up again to the top of the cliff, he noticed a swarm of large insects on the vine just above him, eating the vine! Full of fright, he tried to shoo them away with his words, to no effect.

Just then, a small wild strawberry plant growing on the cliff side caught his eye. It held just one perfect bright red strawberry. The man tightened his grip on the vine with his left hand, and let go with his right hand, then reached over and plucked the succulent fruit and popped it in his mouth. It was delicious—the most perfect strawberry in the world. (Cue big dramatic pause…)

His eyes were huge, and he asked, “But then what happened?” and I told him I didn’t know and that I didn’t think it mattered. We talked about how the man, even in the worst hardship of his life, found himself immersed in a single moment and took in the pleasure that he could. Within minutes, my boy was showing me the leaf of a flower that reminded him of a seashell, we observed furry honey bees sucking nectar, and ran our hands over the bark of a paper birch tree for the pure pleasure of the sensation on our palms.

When the girls rejoined us, he asked me to tell them the story as well. This time the ensuing conversation between the four of us went a little deeper, and we saw how the tiger at the top of the cliff was the past, and the tiger at the bottom the future, while the vine-eating bugs were the unpleasant elements in the present. We continued our journey through the park, reminding each other to “Savor the strawberry!” as we watched birds take flight, appreciated the beauty of a passing toddler, and felt the warmth of a family hug.

Now eight years later, we still strive to savor life’s strawberries, and we’ve all gained nutrients from the messages that will stay with us forever: Live in the moment. Live in the best part of the moment.  Savor the strawberry.

 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a core part of both Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which I draw from often here, and which both have many skills you can learn and practice outside of a therapy session.

Mindfulness is simply being present, paying attention to this moment without judgment or overthinking.  Accepting this moment for all that it is.  It sounds simple, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  It does take practice.

How to be Mindful in Everyday Life

To learn mindfulness, it is not necessary to do traditional seated meditation.  Instead, mindfulness can be learned through any of many, many simple free mindfulness exercises that you can practice on your own, of which these are only a few:

walking silently

mindfully watching bodily sensations

eating slowly and mindfully (try closing your eyes!)

eating slowly and mindfully (try closing your eyes!)

preparing and drinking tea (including watching the entire steeping process)

listening to classical music while shifting your focus to different instruments

working to keep attention on your feet while reading nursery rhymes

working to keep attention on your feet while reading nursery rhymes


mindfulness exercises and tips in 2 minutes

It sounds simple, right?  It is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  Be patient with yourself and practice.  Mindfulness is a skill that anyone can learn.  Pick one of the activities from the list above or the video, or create one of your own.  Put sticky note reminders in visible places to remind yourself to be mindful, Then it’s all practice.  Practice being mindful during your chosen activity as often as you can, until you find yourself doing it automatically.   Then expand to other mindfulness activities, and then other areas of your life.  Life will start feeling different then.

You can learn how to be mindful in everyday life and feel less stress, less distress, and more peace and contentment.  Start right now by replaying the above video, closing your eyes when the music starts and keeping your attention on the music until it ends.  There, you’ve completed 2 minutes of mindfulness and know how to practice mindfulness.  Comment below to share your experience!

FYI, when you combine mindfulness with really good self-care, amazing things can happen in your life.

Keep reading:  Self-Care Activities for Adults

 

Resources:

Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center
UMass Center for Mindfulness
UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
UC San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness
Cita Education

 

3 Replies to “How to be Mindful in Everyday Life”

  1. Wow. I love your story, I couldn’t stop reading and like your son I too wanted to know what happened to the man.
    I agree with you – Mindfulness is simply being present. I try to be mindful and remind myself to enjoy the simple things in life.
    Thanks for this wonderful post.
    Paulina

  2. Great story! Very educational and didactic! I really enjoyed it! I would use it as a paradigm for my child and why not for my client, too! You are so right when you are talking about living the moment and particularly the best time of it! We people, make the mistake to live in the past and afraid of the future! All we have to do is embrace the present with all of our power and live every minute intensively ’cause if it passes then it’s gone! We also have to find something good in every situation; even these that look back, to do what we psychologists call “positive reframing”! Great article, indeed! Thank you!
    Best wishes,
    Rebecca!

  3. Great story!

    I like how you are making easy to practice mindfullness as you go about your day to day life.

    This is also one of the pillars of yoga of being in the moment. and a very great story and well written!

    I am not mindfull at all as my mind keeps trying to jump forward to ‘what’s next’.

    This causes a lot of stress on me to be honest.

    Ravi

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