38-41: Simplify Your Mind
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis. – Mindful.org
When we hit pause on the mind’s constant commentary, we get to experience a sense of calm while our brain and body get a refreshing break. Free of judgement or interpretation, it’s simply about breathing and being present. If it’s that simple, why do so many of us have such a hard time? Take a breath. Relax your shoulders. And consider a few things we’ve found helpful in fostering mindfulness.
38. Mind, Meet Meditation
If you think meditation is for reaching enlightenment, you can relax: in modern Western cultures, meditation is essentially the ongoing practice of mindfulness – that is, making the effort to be in the present moment. It is a practice, not a destination, so there’s no pressure to do it “right” in order to enjoy the benefits:
Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well. –Headspace’s Meditation 101
While sitting comfortably still, see if you can transform your thoughts into clouds in your mind’s otherwise clear sky. Instead of engaging with them, simply observe them floating by; when your mind does engage with a thought (which it will, and often) simply note “thinking”... Inhale. Exhale. To return your attention to the sensation of your breath, you can even think to yourself I am breathing in. I am breathing out.
If your inner monologue is still too loud and watching thought-clouds isn’t enough for your busy brain, don’t give up – give guided meditation a try. Some of our favorite guided meditations are found at Headspace, co-founded by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. Take a moment to ground yourself before starting the day, or learn tools like body scanning to help fall asleep. Their free resources are wonderfully helpful, or spring for a membership that includes meditation courses to guide you into a meditation practice.
39. Guiding Your Mind's Eye
So you’ve tried to sit there and do nothing… which for most of us is frankly impossible! If your distracted mind starts making plans for dinner or reliving an embarrassing Zoom snafu the moment your lids lower, try listening to a guided visual meditation that’ll engage your brain enough to hold your attention in the present.
Put your earbuds in and tune in to Insight Timer, or conjure up a DIY session: For a few minutes, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a place where you feel calm – really allow the details to arise, like the feeling of warm sand between your toes, or the smell of the forest shrine you visited years ago in Tokyo (the author’s personal fave), or the feeling of floating among the stars as you gaze back at your home planet. Or even visualize your breath traveling into your body, visiting the places where there’s tension, and exhale fully; repeat. Then open your eyes and return to whatever you were doing with a renewed sense of calm and maybe even a healthy shift in perspective.
40. Finding Your Flow
Back in the real world, have you ever noticed feeling fully focused while immersed in some of your favorite activities? In times of peak performance it’s called entering the flow state, but it’s not just for athletes who find themselves “in the zone.” From running to fishing to making pottery, if it requires your body’s attention and focus, you’ll find that your chatty mind quiets down and time ceases to exist. And even if you don’t reach the magical flow state, you can certainly enjoy moments of mindfulness –
Think of mindfulness as a more accessible cousin of flow. “The concepts are very similar,” says Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard who has written several books on mindfulness, creativity and belief. “The major difference is that mindfulness is a state of mind that is available to everybody virtually all the time. It’s not an unusual thing.” –BBC
Whether it’s sitting still or swimming laps, doing downward-facing dog or walking the dog, practicing mindfulness transforms these moments from a pleasant unplug into opportunities to reap the benefits of being present.
41. Putting Pen to Paper
Journaling fosters mindfulness by requiring us to be reflective, focusing our attention inward. For the basics, here’s a great introduction to journaling by The Manual.
After being practiced for thousands of years, it’s no surprise that meditation and mindfulness have been co-opted by our culture of productivity. In fact, the founder of the popular Bullet Journal Ryder Carroll describes his method as “a mindfulness practice that’s disguised as a productivity system.” In his TEDx talk How to declutter your mind - keep a journal, Carroll explains that “we can’t take credit for a beautiful sunrise, but we can take credit for being there to see it.” Precisely! We must make time for the things that contribute to a fulfilling life; and to go a step further, practicing mindfulness will help ensure we’re able to be fully present when we do.
There are of course other approaches to journaling if “BuJo” is a bit too day-planner-y for you:
- Check out the MindJournal, designed especially to help men develop a journal routine in order to feel happier and healthier.
- Grab the Bloom Meditation Journal by Baron Fig to also help improve your meditation practice.
- Use whatever paper's handy for 20 minutes a day to answer these three questions recommended by philosopher Alain de Botton.
- As one of our favorite creatives Austin Kleon explains, try what sounds interesting and find what works for you.
Presence. Perspective. Peace of mind. Pretty good tradeoffs for easing the exhausting habits of worrying, judging, and obsessing. And all you have to do is practice doing nothing. We'll leave you with this note of encouragement from Ten Percent Happier (not coincidentally, they host one of our favorite podcasts)...