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Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to experiences in the present moment.
When we practice mindfulness, we are really in tune with the thing we focus on.
Often, the use of meditation can later heighten our sense of being mindful in a particular moment.
While making an ongoing effort to better myself and be of service to those around me, I have recently sought to be more mindful. I’ve been reading books like Thich Nhat Hanh’s No Mud, No Lotus and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chögyam Trungpa, both of which lay out the ancient Buddhist tradition of mindfulness in everyday language.
What I offer you here is my novice advice on five ways to prompt yourself to mindfulness.
I am not an authority on this, and far from perfect at any of it—I’m just a guy who found a way to live that is wholesome and caring. Getting any of this right is not a matter of correctness, but rather a commitment to always seek to do better.
1. Use a prompt to remind yourself to give your children and partner the time they need.
What parent wouldn’t want to form a better relationship with their children?
In the fast-paced hustle of family homes with two working parents, it’s easy to get caught up with what we have to do for our children (feed, clothe, and keep them healthy) and neglect other important things like listen to them, hold them, and help them.
Before ever learning what mindfulness was, I recall, I practiced a little self-direction in mindfulness back when my two boys were both young.
On arriving home from work each day, as I slipped the key into the door lock and turned it, I would say to myself, “Thirty minutes.” The prompt had two purposes. One was to remind myself to give my boys the first 30 minutes of my time home, and the second was to offer a break to my wife who had been with them all afternoon.
Let them know that they can tell you anything and everything by instilling that power in them early in their life. Above all, stay focused and have fun.
2. Be mindful of your life partner when you see them each evening, ask them how their day was, and listen to them—no distractions and no advice unless asked.
Of all the things we can offer our life partners, listening is probably one of the most underrated ones.
Being present in the moment when our partners speak can go a long way in letting them know that although we can’t always fix their problems, we can be attentive and empathetic toward them.
Asking my wife how her day was, and being mindful to listen to her responses is the first place I start. When my wife complains about her job, there is nothing I can do, so I practice the art of mindful listening. I need to say nothing, just listen.
3. Pocket your phone and listen to your co-workers by looking them in the eye and staying in the moment.
At work, if an employee asks to speak to me, it’s probably for a good reason. They need direction, they need approval, or they just need to be sure I’m aware of something.
I prompt myself to be mindful, to stay in the conversation, and not let my mind wander. My first step is to put my phone in my pocket. Then, I try to square up, face-to face with the person, and look them in the eye. This practice keeps me focused and present in the conversation
Let them know when you have constraints on the time you can spend with them, and then give them that time. Starting a conversation with, “Sorry, I only have five minutes but those five minutes are yours” prompts me to remain focused for those five minutes.
4. Be mindful of the people in your world and be kind to them.
Where are you right now? What are you doing? Who are you with? As people traveling through this same world, country, city block, or hallway, we often forget to focus on the people we see, and we often forget to be nice. We speed past people, ignoring them.
Remember to put yourself out there and engage with others. The attempts may be scary, but the rewards are great. Someone may not say hello back, but that’s okay—you will feel better for having tried.
I prompt myself in various ways to be aware of others around me. For example, saying to myself, “I’m headed into the market,” or “I’m getting into the elevator,” or “I’m walking down the hall.” Saying hello to people I pass in the hallway, that I don’t know, is a mindful way to make myself, and perhaps the other person feel good. The prompt is simple: remind yourself where you are and see the people there.
5. Mindfulness with food intake is a constantly moving target.
Many methods of mindfulness can be employed, but they have to be motivating to you. And when all else fails, just move!
Food is public enemy number one for so many of us. Being mindful of our eating habits can help us to make better food choices and eat only those portions that are appropriate.
When dining out, I sit straight and look at my food when it arrives. My prompt is to place my hands on my knife and fork—feeling the coolness of these utensils reminds me to decide how much of what’s on my plate that I’m going to eat.
At home, I try to stay active so as not to think of food. “Move a muscle, change a thought” is something I say to be mindful of remaining active.
I do none of what I mention here gracefully or easily.
My preoccupied mind often wanders to places it should not go, mostly to a self-absorbed place of mindlessness—a world of I, me, and my.
To remain mindful, I have to keep using these prompts, and turning my attention to the times when I could do better, as a father and husband, as an employee, and even when I’m eating.