Cultivating a Mindfulness Practice in 10 Minutes a Day
Have you been hearing about the power of mindfulness lately — the idea of bringing non-judgmental awareness to your experience — but are unsure how to cultivate it in your life? Have you even tried meditation, yet have struggled to consistently work it into your daily routine? If this describes you, you are not alone. Google searches for the term Mindfulness have been on a steady rise since 2004. Over that same time, searches for Stress have remained pretty much constant, dwarfing Mindfulness on the trend curve. While our interest in mindfulness has gone up, our inquiry into stress hasn’t gone down at all. Accordingly, what can the average person do to increase their own mindfulness and decrease their stress?
Mindfulness is about becoming aware of ourselves in the world around us. Mindfulness is generally described as, “1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. 2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” (Dan Harris, 10% Happier).
Science has shown that people who cultivate a strong practice of mindfulness benefit from improved memory, more compassion towards others, improved ability to fight off obesity and other diseases, better relationships, reduced stress and improved focus, amongst many others. For a detailed list of mindfulness’ benefits and links to their subsequent studies, check out Berkley’s Greater Good site here.
While I include meditation and various mindfulness apps in my own mindfulness practice, my daily go-to activity is a 5 minute morning and evening exercise a dear friend shared with me on a recent hike by Half Moon Bay. To do it, you don’t need any fancy tools. All you needed is your mind and something to record with. You can use any notebook and pen, or even your notes app on your phone. For me personally, in just 10 minutes a day, I have become more grounded and clear about how I feel and what’s important to me. My mindfulness practice has recently enabled me to heal from heartbreak, show up lovingly for my friends and family, and have the courage to make a bold and authentic life/career transition.
So how can you get started cultivating a mindfulness practice?
As I mentioned above, meditation is a great way to cultivate mindfulness, but it’s not the only tool available to you. Journaling your thoughts can be just as effective, and journaling is often an easier activity to build into one’s daily routine.
First, think of where you can journal for 5 minutes at the beginning and at the end of your day. For me, I do my activity on my train ride to and from work. Others record while eating their breakfast, when they first sit down at their desk in the morning, of first thing when they lay down in bed at night. The key is to find a quiet, reflective space that you can repeat on a daily basis.
At the beginning of your day, take 5 minutes to become aware of your thoughts, your emotional and physical feelings. Observe these without judgement. On a daily basis, all that we can do is our best. Some days we will have more energy than others, so it important that we acknowledge where we are on a particular day, and seek to bring today’s version of our best into the world.
As you consider your mood and energy for the day, ask yourself these three question. Capture your thoughts in your journal or on your notes app:
What are 3 things that will make today great?
Think about your goals for the day, but also the qualities that you want to manifest into the world. Things that could make a day great may include outlining objectives to achieve such as shipping the report to the client by the end of the day, drinking 64oz of water and moving your body for 30 minutes, or doing that giant heap of laundry that you’ve been sleeping with for the past week. But beyond measurable things to achieve, your list could also include certain qualities that you want to feel or embody in the day ahead. These could include the bravery to show up to the new club meeting you’ve always wanted to go to, or the confidence to smile to the crossing guard that you typically pass by, or the vulnerability to ask you co-worker for help.
Once you’ve captured your thoughts that will make today great, next capture 3 things that you are grateful for.
Gratitude, like mindfulness, has a host of positive benefits for increasing wellbeing and life satisfaction. These benefits range from increased happiness to reduced loneliness. (A more complete list of benefits can be found here.) People commonly believe that happiness happens from big life milestones such as promotions, weddings, graduations or birthdays, but in fact the research has shown that happiness is found in life’s simple moments. Noticing the warmth of sunshine hitting our face or seeing a smile on a loved one’s face is what actually drives our life’s meaning and happiness. Accordingly, focusing on these moments allows us to start our day already with our glass partially full.
Lastly, set your intention for the day.
An intention is the dream we want to manifest into the world. By setting our sights on something that is important to us, we can align our hearts and minds towards a common purpose, and even enroll the cosmos to bring us what we need.
Here are ten examples of what intentions can look like. The key is to understand that you can’t go wrong. You don’t have to overthink it either. Whatever comes to mind first for your day, go with it, and your intention can evolve from one day to the next.
- I intend to take care of myself first, and then take care of others.
- I intend to remember that I am a manifestation of God.
- I intend to forgive others.
- I intend to speak truthfully.
- I intend to make someone smile.
- I intend to find beauty in the mundane.
- I intend to give today my very best.
- I intend to love unconditionally.
- I intend to not take anything personally.
- I intend to be courageous enough to ask for help.
After you’ve thought about, and recorded, your responses to these three questions, go out and have a GREAT day!
When the day concludes, come back to your initial notes and reflect on how the day went. Without judgement, record answers to the following three questions:
What is something I want to keep doing?
In achieving your goals or embodying the qualities you set out at the beginning of the day, what tactics do you want to continue doing in the future? Maybe you did your laundry while watching a Netflix movie or you took power naps as the wash cycle ran? Maybe you broke “Big Heapy” down into a subset of the most important pieces of clothing you’ll need for the week ahead, and that worked well? For qualities versus achievements, maybe you noticed that going to the book club causes you to feel a little nauseous before arrival, but after you met one person that feeling started to subside? Maybe you realize that nausea is the feeling to follow if you want to challenge yourself and grow? Whatever tactics or feelings that you noticed served you, make sure to write them down to commit them to your repertoire and awareness for next time.
Additionally, record a list of changes, or improvements, you’d like to consider for next time.
What is something you want to do more of, or a new idea that today’s experience prompted for you? Remember this is not a time for judging or berating yourself, only a time to capture new ideas that popped up into your head over the course of the day. Maybe you will ask your partner to pre-sort their whites and colored clothes, or maybe you will do one small load per day moving forward? And for going to the club, maybe you will commit to not waiting so long to attend in the future? Again, by asking ourselves these questions and writing down the answers, we give ourselves a little space in our busy lives to reflect, become more aware, and codify our learning.
Lastly, to close on this activity, think of 3 things that you are grateful for happening during the course of the day?
Like at the beginning of your day, gratitude comes in small moments of beauty. If your experience doing this activity is anything like mine has been, the 3 things that you will end up writing will be completely surprising. In fact, you probably would not have been able to imagine them at the start of your day! For instance, the three things I wrote down as gratitude from yesterday were:
- The cool breeze on my back in the tuc-tuc ride after my long, sweaty, walk around Chiang Mai
- The warm welcome from the guy working the hostel’s front desk
- Laughing hysterically to a story a friend sent to me
This part of the practice is a great way to close, because it reminds us to be open to the unexpected and delight in the unknown.
And that’s a wrap! By thinking about, and answering these 6 questions, you are on the path to improved relationships, less stress, and better health.
As you do this activity everyday, feel free to use the image above as a daily guide to prompt your practice. Take a screenshot of it to keep on your phone, or print it out and stick it in your journal. As you do this activity everyday, feel free to use the image above as a daily guide to prompt your practice. Take a screenshot of it to keep on your phone, or print it out and stick it in your journal.
As you play with this activity, I would love to hear how it’s going for you! I can be reached at email@example.com
Your friend in Mindfulness,