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Kathy Whelan

Posted on August 20, 2018

I was shocked the first time I read that nearly 50% of the time, the average American adult is not paying attention to what he or she is doing. Instead, we’re thinking about something that has already happened or something we will do later. I’ve learned that it’s normal for our minds to wander, and today’s digital environment exacerbates this natural tendency. But research shows that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

By now, you have probably heard of mindfulness, which appears regularly in the media. Maybe you’re even aware of its benefits: mindfulness improves stress management, focus, productivity, creativity, sleep, anxiety and more.

For those who aren’t sure what it is, mindfulness is focusing on what’s happening in the present moment – with curiosity but without judging it good or bad. Everyone has the capacity for mindfulness just as we all have muscles in our bodies. Like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise, mindfulness becomes stronger with practice. And here, you may be thinking, lies a problem: anything that takes practice also takes time, and time is what you don’t have enough of already. Let’s look at this challenge to see if you can find time to bring the many benefits of mindfulness into your life.

When you think of mindfulness, you may automatically think of meditation, which is one way to develop mindfulness. Did you know that meditation can be as simple as sitting in your favorite chair in a quiet place and opening an app on your phone? Meditating for ten minutes a day is a good start to a formal meditation practice. But with our busy lives and constant distractions, even ten minutes can be hard to find.

Planning a time for meditation and committing to your plan is a way to approach your day proactively. Schedule a meeting with yourself as if you are your most important customer or client to keep distractions from derailing your plan. Communicate your plan to someone else for extra accountability. Meditating at the same time each day will help you build a habit. But life can be unpredictable, so your plan should include alternatives for obstacles that might arise. For example: “If I can’t meditate before my early flight on Wednesday, I will meditate on the plane instead.”

But maybe you aren’t ready for a formal meditation practice. Fortunately, meditation is not the only path to mindfulness. Informal mindfulness practices don’t require doing anything different, but rather being in a different state of awareness about what you are doing. Opportunities for this kind of mindfulness abound throughout the day. When you realize you’ve lost the thread of a conversation because your mind wandered, gently bring your mind back to the conversation. Eat a meal without scrolling through your email, watching TV, or reading the newspaper. Noticing in detail what impels us to eat and what we experience while eating, when combined with self-compassion, is associated with being able to control urges, cravings, and emotional eating. No moment of the day – when you’re brushing your teeth, showering or combing your hair – is too trivial to be an opportunity for practicing mindfulness. The skill is in noticing when your mind has drifted from what you are doing and gently bringing it back.

For building a habit of present moment awareness, an excellent suggestion comes from Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp, authors of Start Here, Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing: choose one activity you’re going to do anyway and use it every day for mindfulness practice. They suggest you start with showering, which has the extra benefit of taking you away from your phone and other devices. By noticing what you experience in the eight or so minutes you are showering – the feel of the water on your head and the washcloth on your skin, the sounds, the smells – you are practicing mindfulness. When mindful showering has become a habit, you can add another activity and go about it mindfully. By practicing mindfulness while doing something you would do anyway, you easily solve the problem of not having time.

If you would like help making mindfulness into a habit or forming any other habit that will improve your health, consider partnering with an Integrative Health Coach. That’s what we do and we’re here to help you!

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