Becoming more regularly aware of your current thoughts, feelings and physical sensations is another way to continue your mindfulness practice. While this intention seems relatively simple, it can be challenging to enact. Taking a moment to pay attention to yourself and what is happening around you is not the default mode for many, as we are often busy with other things (e.g., phone, daydreaming, radio/TV). You can train yourself to be more present during your experiences by setting specific practice times for mindfulness, as well as taking advantage of times that naturally occur (e.g., waiting in line, traffic or the doctor’s office). The goal is to be more aware of your current experience in the moment, including observing whatever thoughts, emotions and physical sensations arise in a non-judgmental and open manner.
In his incredibly helpful book “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life” (2005), Steven Hayes set some helpful guidelines for practicing mindfulness. Among them includes committing to practice mindfulness at a regular time for a set number of days (e.g., 10 minutes at 9 p.m. for four nights a week). Make your commitment as specific as possible to increase the likelihood you will follow through. Try to choose a time and place in which you will not be easily distracted, and turn your phone off or leave it in another room. If either internal of external distractions arise, such as a passing thought or a car horn, notice and label that experience and allow for the continued flow of your mindfulness exercise. Remember, this time is not for the set purpose of relaxing or clearing your mind of thoughts. Instead, it is about being present with whatever thoughts, feelings and sensations arise, observing them instead of trying to push them away. For this reason, it is possible to practice mindfulness even if you do not “feel good,” because you will always have thoughts, feelings and sensations to observe.
Interestingly, research shows that just observing and naming emotions that arise, even when they are unpleasant, can help to calm the brain and ease feelings of distress and reactiveness (Creswell et al., 2007). The process can be as simple as labeling what arises, such as “emotion,” “memory,” “thought” or “evaluation.” By keeping the label simple, you do not have to entangle yourself in the present content (e.g., sadness or an upsetting memory). Instead, just label the general experience and see what arises next. You can also scan from your head to your toes to notice what is present in your experience (e.g., physical tension, coolness or warmth, numbness or tingling). This practice gives a bit more focus if you have difficulty just observing content that arises.
In addition to setting aside a specific time to practice mindfulness, you can also create reminders for yourself to make mindfulness more of a habit. These reminders can be messages that you put somewhere you see regularly (e.g., mirror or steering wheel) or alarms you set on your phone. Some of the mindfulness apps, such as Headspace, also have push notifications you can set to remind you to be mindful during the day. Your reminder may be less explicit. For example, I have a small Post-It note on the door of my office as a reminder to breathe and be present throughout my day. Every couple of weeks, I will change the placement and color so that I don’t start overlooking it on busy days.
Furthermore, you can assign yourself the intention of being more mindful when doing daily things, such as whenever you get ready to eat a meal or enter a new room. The hardest practice I’ve heard consists of being mindful of every time you sit down and stand up. (You would be amazed at how frequently we do this activity!) You could also find a partner to provide accountability and support while you practice making the valuable skill of mindfulness more habitual. If you have any questions about mindfulness and putting these practices into action, please contact EDGE Counseling Solutions at (224)-676-2317 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cresswell, J. D., Way, B. M., Eisenberger, N. I., & Lieberman, M. D. (2007). Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labeling. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69, 560-565.