How to be Mindful in the 21st Century

WELCOME TO THE GRATEFUL DUDE WEEKLY UPDATE FOR July 23rd, 2017


 

 Photo by Rachel Crowe

Photo by Rachel Crowe

Chip Grossman

You’ve probably heard the word “Mindfulness” popping up recently. Here are some tips for applying Mindfulness in a normal 21st century lifestyle.

In order to define 21st century Mindfulness, I’ll begin by defining what modern mindfulness is not...

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas and become a Buddhist Monk to become more mindful. Learning to be mindful doesn’t necessarily involve any drastic life changes at all, actually…

All it takes is a little more attention to what’s going on around you. In this modern day and age, it’s easy to let distractions (like that buzz of your iphone) take us out of the present moment. Let’s do the opposite, let’s take a second to come back to the present moment.

Take a second, right now, and tune into what’s going on around you. Pick one of your five senses (I suggest sound) and simply pay more attention to the sensation of sound.

I just unplugged my headphones and tuned into the sounds of Starbucks. As I did that, my mind quieted down. That’s how mindfulness works.

When you pay closer attention to the sensory experience of what’s going on around you, the thinking part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, quiets down. So, if you want to learn how to get out of your head, you need to learn how to get into the moment.

But how do I get into the present moment?

Mindfulness, my friends! As you practice mindfulness over time, you develop an ability to tune into the present moment more often and at a deeper level.

Sweet Chip...So how the heck do I become more mindful?

I’ve been thinking about this question for the last 7 years. I would sum up my answer to this question with two buckets:

  1. Establish some form of daily practice

  2. Create consistent micro mindful moments

 

1. Establish some form of Daily Practice

I struggled with getting to the point of consistent daily practice for years. I remember, back in my undergrad days at Colby and UVA, feeling like I absolutely NEEDED to get a 30 minute meditation in each day or my life wasn’t complete. I was a bit obsessive over it, to be honest. I thought that was the key to finding greater well being.

So, as a result, I frantically tried to find the time each day to get my 30 minute meditation in. I had the intention to meditate each day, but I was missing one key thing: A plan to make it happen!  I realized the importance of consistency, but without a plan I had to exert a ton of energy to consistently find time to meditate.

As a result of not having a plan to facilitate consistency, my meditation habits were somewhat streaky. In between the lacrosse practices, fraternity parties, and late night library sessions, some weeks I’d miss a few days. And each time I’d miss a few days, I’d start to get more anxious. I’d start to get more in my own head, and then I’d usually find myself feeling not great and realize I needed to meditate again. I would start a good streak, go strong for a while, then miss a day at some point, and the cycle would start itself over.

Then, earlier this year, I discovered the secret: having mindfulness as part of a routine. Every. Single. Day.

This realization came from reading about the neuroscience of mindfulness in research papers and books like Your Brain at Work. In all these readings I realized that if I could make mindfulness a daily habit that I could literally rewire my brain to become more mindful. That’s what neuroscience is now proving - the thoughts that we have every day form into the way our brain works.

So, if you have a negative friend, who only talks about negative things, and you as a result engage in those negative conversations, you are prone to becoming more negative yourself. Be advised - the people we hang out with have a huge impact on us. Get yourself around good people.

Back to the brain. The brain is like a muscle - if you work it out every single day, you’re going to have a sharp brain.

Building a sharp brain doesn’t require the “perfect” meditation session each day. Just like going to the gym, the habit of getting to the gym is what gets you on a path to making gains. Gains comes from consistency. Consistency is built upon habit and frameworks to facilitate your habits sticking.

For me, the time that works best is the morning. It’s now a part of my morning routine (if you don’t have a morning routine yet, my friend Scott Bradley has a great blog post on how to start doing it). My morning routine is 90 minutes long and involves Yoga, Meditation, a 3 minute dance party (Avicii Levels is the song), and a cold shower among other things. I’ll talk about how to build a great morning routine in a future blog post.

Anyways, as part of my routine I meditate for about 12 minutes each morning. I have a nice meditation that I do, it’s called the Wheel of Awareness and it was invented by Dan Siegel. It’s an awesome meditation that engages all of the senses and also opens up the heart with connection and compassion.

Morning is what works best for me. I’ve found my groove in the morning. But morning isn’t for everyone!

Whether it’s right when you wake up, in the middle of the day, or before you go to bed, find a time that works for you. It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes. It doesn’t even have to be 10 minutes. It can be 15 or 30 seconds. Start small. Keep it consistent. Find a short window of time where you can take some time every day to simply focus on your breath.

Starting a consistent mindfulness practice, however long, will change your life. I promise you that.

So now you’re more prepared to start a daily mindfulness practice. The next step is bringing mindfulness into your daily experience. How do you do that?
 

2. Create consistent micro mindful moments

Life is a series of moments. That said, it’s easy to miss out on the moments when we’re caught up in the past and future, caught up in our phones, or caught up in other people’s drama.

That’s where the beauty of of Micro Mindful Moments comes into play.

A Micro Mindful Moment is a practice of being mindful for literally a moment. It’s taking a break from the normal routine to take a deep breath and focus on the moment.

Let’s have a micro mindful moment right now.

Take a breath and scan your body, noticing if you can feel any tension.

Take another deep breath and see if you can let go of some of that tension. See if you can become 1% more relaxed.

Take another deep breath and see what sensations you can pay attention to that are going on around you.

***

In those few seconds I noticed tension in my forehead, then I noticed how my feet felt against the ground, then I noticed the Barista talking, then I noticed the song “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones that just started playing on the speakers. The sounds and the feelings are present moment sensations, and for a second I tuned back in.

Life is a series of moments, and if you want to become a more mindful person, you simply need to have more mindful moments. Just like the one you just had. If you create one mindful moment each day after reading this, whereas before you had zero, you are living more mindfully.

If you want the concept of micro mindful moments to become a part of your daily life, the key is to make micro mindful moments a habit. As Charles Duhigg notes in The Power of Habit, every habit needs a cue.

For me, one cue for a mindful moment is a red light. Red Lights used to be a time of impatience and frustration for me. I’d pull out my phone and check my texts. Text checking at Red Lights isn’t a great habit.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a great habit. So now, every time I get stopped at a red light, I take a moment to check in with my breath and body. I pay attention to the sounds around me. I have a mindful moment.

I try to have mindful moments at lots of different points throughout the day. When I take a shower, I try to pay close attention to how the water feels on my body and to how the water sounds as it hits the ground. When people are talking to me I try to check in and pay close attention to what they’re saying.

To clarify, I don’t intend to say you should be trying to live every single moment of every single day mindfully. If you want to make that your goal, that’s sweet. That’s the lifestyle monks live in Zen Monasteries.

That’s not my goal. I just try to practice mindfulness and have lots of mindful moments because it makes me more present. It allows me to show up each day and truly be in the moment with people. It helps me to connect with people. I’m not perfect at this, but I’m investing time and getting better.  I’m a work in progress, too.

So if you want to become more mindful, follow these steps and don’t forget to experiment. See what works for you! It will probably be different than what works for me.
 

SUM UP

  • You don’t have to become a monk and move to the himalayas to be mindful in the 21st century.

  • Mindfulness is like weight lifting for the mind. If you meditate once a week, you’ll be better off than not. If you meditate 3 times a week you’ll maintain. If you meditate 7 times a week you’ll improve your mindfulness levels and become sharper.

  • It’s difficult to consistently mediate if it’s not part of a routine. If you wake up each morning without a plan for when you’ll meditate that day, odds are you will miss days.

  • The key is to establish consistency in your meditation schedule. Whether it’s for 1 breath, 15 seconds, or 15 minutes, find a team each day in which you meditate without fail. For me, what works best is the morning.

  • Along with establishing a consistent daily practice, the applied side of mindfulness comes from creating more micro mindful moments. Find cues that can be a reminder to check into the breath (I recommend the Red Light Mindful Moment or the Mindful Shower).

  • Be curious, experiment, and find what works for you. Most importantly, don’t take it too seriously and have fun!

Thanks for reading!

Smiling,

Chip

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-Chip


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