Perhaps you have a tendency to try to do two, three, or even four things at the same time. For example, you might be used to checking your cell phone while eating, or you might have a habit of texting while walking. Although it may seem very efficient to do multiple things at once, in reality, such multitasking usually doesn’t help people be more productive. Instead, it mostly just adds to their stress. Informal mindfulness is all about doing just one thing at a time, with full awareness.
Here are some examples of daily activities that can become mindfulness practices:
- Brushing your teeth
- Walking to class
- Getting dressed in the morning
- Walking your dog or petting your cat
- Cleaning your room
- Answering your phone
- Exercising or playing sports
- Playing a musical instrument
- Drawing or painting
Can you think of some more?
Pick at least one of these activities as a means of practicing informal mindfulness over the coming week.
The first step, before doing this activity, is to stop for a moment. Take a few mindful breaths, and observe what is happening for you right here and now. Then, proceed with the activity as if it is the most important thing in the world, with great curiosity and care. As you do the activity, tune in to your senses. What does this thing that you are doing look like? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like?
You don’t need to rush to get whatever it is you’re doing done. You don’t need to do three things at once. Let go of all that extra stress. Doing just this one thing, with mindfulness, is enough. If you are walking, just walk. If you are eating, just eat. If you are brushing your teeth, just brush—instead of trying to get it done quickly so that you can move on to something else, invest 100 percent of your effort in brushing your teeth.
As best you can, keep your full attention on what you are doing. Continue to breathe mindfully. Every time your mind wanders, simply notice: Where did my mind just go? Whenever stress arises—for example, when you start to think about all the things that you need to do or wish you had done—just come back to your breath. Don’t judge yourself if your mind is wandering; you’re not doing anything wrong. Remember, noticing that your mind wandered marks a moment of mindfulness. Stop, taking three more breaths. Return to the present moment, over and over again.
You can say a few guiding words silently to yourself to help you stay present. For example, if you are walking to class or to the bus stop, you can say to yourself silently, Breathing in, I know that I am walking. Breathing out, I smile. Walking… Smiling…
How is this experience different from your normal way of doing things? Do you notice anything interesting about this daily activity that you might not have noticed before? How might paying attention to everyday activities in this way help you be less stressed and more resilient?
(Excerpted and adapted from The Mindful Teen by Dzung Vo, MD)