Have you ever sat down to eat a delicious meal, then the next thing you know your plate is clean and you don’t even remember the act of eating or savoring each delicious mouthful? Have you ever been racing around looking for something you lost, only to find you’ve been holding it in your hand the whole time? Or simply jumped in the car to drive home from work, then found yourself miraculously pulling into the driveway without any conscious recollection of the drive itself?
These are all examples of a lack of mindfulness (in essence, “mindlessness”), of switching into autopilot and letting habit or instinct carry you through a certain task, activity or your day in general. While you may be delighted at the prospect of being able to set your brain to autopilot on that otherwise monotonous and stressful daily commute, such a state of mind can be a real problem and signifies that there’s some important pieces missing from your life.
For starters, falling back on habits and cultivating a state of mindlessness in your everyday life detracts from the very joy of living, the gift of being present in the moment and savoring every interaction and event that takes place. In my opinion, such mindlessness is not far removed from becoming a zombie-like being, stumbling blindly through your days without ever really being aware. And rather than feeding on the brains of others, that zombie is feeding on yourself — your humanity — as it removes those vital emotions and reactions which make us who we are.
Next, there’s no way you can ever be successful in life if you’re always running on autopilot. Sure, it gets you where you need to go and carries you through those moments of monotony during which you’d rather be elsewhere, but this means that you’ve essentially accepted your fate as a mindless, soulless worker bee, that you’re okay with living a life of mundanity. If you don’t feel real passion for what you do, you cultivate a state of mindlessness, which in turn detracts from any goals you might have had or any dreams of creating a better life for yourself and your family — it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Finally, mindlessness doesn’t always imply that your mind has gone to a better place (a.k.a. your “happy place”). Unfortunately, the human brain has a tendency to dwell on the negative, to conjure up the worst possible scenarios or repeat unfortunate or unenjoyable events of the day, over and over. So when you’re driving home on autopilot, are you sitting on a white sand beach in the Caribbean or are you remembering that snarky comment your co-worker made about you earlier in the day? Statistically, it’s the latter scenario, and allowing your mind to subconsciously dwell on such negative self-talk can affect your health, your mood and the people you love.
The only way to reverse this process of increasing “zombieism” is to fight back with consciously living in the present, a state known simply as mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention to not only the world around you, but also what is going on in your own head. It means being aware of the “self-talk” taking place in your mind, the conversations you subconsciously hold within your head that dictate your moods and how you interact with the physical world.
You’ll be surprised with just how abruptly and positively your life will change with the simple act of consciously living in the present, of cultivating an active awareness of both yourself and the environments you find yourself in. Experiences will be richer, you’ll reconnect with life goals and dreams, develop more meaningful relationships and actually enjoy that delicious meal you took so long to prepare! Here’s a few things you can do to make your transition to a more mindful existence an easy one.
1. Pay attention to everyday tasks
The time during which you’re most likely to escape within the recesses of your mind is doing what many people call “mindless chores.” While many people treat these chores as necessary but mundane, they can be anything but. If you’re washing the dishes, focus your attention on the sensory experience, on the temperature of the water, the feel of the scrubbing brush in your hands, the feeling of mild satisfaction with each clean dish. While such tasks may seem inconsequential, they can prove a vital step in training your mind to be more aware.
2. Start your day mindful
Make it your goal to wake up mindful. This means that as soon as you gain consciousness, swimming up from the sultry depths of sleep, you become aware — aware of your state of mind, of your mood, the feeling of the pillow under your head, the covers on your skin, the temperature in the room and the sounds coming from outside. Most of us, upon waking, would simply roll over, get out of bed and start the day tromping around getting ready for work in a zombieish state.
Far from being just an exercise in cultivating mindfulness, this can really benefit your day. When you’re aware of your moods and surroundings, you can pick out those which are negative and consciously work to fix them. A classic example would be feeling tired when you wake up, which puts you in a bad mood. Why do you feel tired? Do you need to go to bed earlier each night, make your room darker, wear earplugs or get more sunlight during the day? Being aware of things which affect your mood through mindfulness can really improve your life in the long run.
3. Think about what you eat
Remember that delicious meal I talked about earlier, the one you didn’t even really enjoy because you were in a state of mindlessness, just chewing and swallowing out of habit? Try being present at every meal, smelling the food before you eat it, thinking about every morsel you put into your mouth and savoring the delicate flavor and texture of every bite. You’ll be amazed by how much enlivening eating can become, and studies show that being more mindful of what we eat actually helps to avoid overeating and prevent conditions like binge eating disorder.
4. Practice mindfulness in the shower
Like any other task during the day, showering can easily become just another moment to let your autopilot take over while your mind wanders of its own free will. Rather than letting this practice perpetuate, try being entirely present in the moment. Think about the feel of the water pattering on your skin, the change in temperatures, the growing feeling of cleanliness and refreshment. You’ll be surprised by just how pleasant that shower can become when you fully experience every sensation. It can almost take on a meditational aspect of relaxation.
4. Be aware of your surroundings
Rather than letting your eyes rove across a room or through a stand of trees, take note of and analyze every detail. While you might not have the time or the attention-span to do this 24/7, just taking 10 minutes to do so every day can be an excellent practice in flexing your mindfulness muscles.
5. Practice mindfulness while waiting
Normally, having to wait for something can be a frustrating experience. Sitting there waiting for your partner to get ready for a partner, or waiting in line at the bank, you’re probably not consciously aware of your annoyance levels rising and your stress elevating. Instead, take the time to be aware of your surroundings and mood and consciously reverse those negative feelings.
6. Actively listen
In today’s modern age, there are so many things which can distract us from paying full attention to what others are saying. Next time someone speaks to you, weigh every word and really think about what they’re trying to communicate. They’ll really appreciate it and nothing will get lost in translation!
7. Practice meditation
Perhaps the ultimate form of mindfulness, meditation is an excellent way to hone the mind and bend it to your will. Set aside 10 minutes every day to practice meditation, either guided or self-directed, and work on consciously controlling your breathing and thoughts. You’ll experience an unparalleled level of relaxation and greater control over your conscious mind
— Liivi Hes
Self-talk is an essential component of mindfulness. Find out how you can reprogram your self-talk for success.