Like any skill, mindfulness takes practice. Just as you practice physical exercise to build a stronger body, you can practice simple mental exercises to develop the muscle between your ears. In fact, the majority of these exercises won’t change the things you do each day, they will simply change the way you do what you do.
Almost all of the exercises listed below are taken directly from one of my favorite books of all time, How To Train A Wild Elephant (I’ll link to any that are not). This book is basically the busy person’s guide to incorporating mindfulness into his daily life without adding extra stress to his schedule. I highly recommend adding it to your bookshelf because it is loaded with easy to grasp info about meditation, stress reduction, and gratitude.
1. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand. Notice how this simple switch forces you to slow you down. Your movements will become much more deliberate and intentional. Also, become aware of your reaction to slowing down your morning or nighttime routine.
2. Take one bite at a time. Eat a meal in silence with no external distractions (TV, music, conversation etc.)
3. Take three deep breaths before answering the phone. Inserting some space into your typically packed day might not seem like a big step to becoming more mindful. However, this baby step will pay off in the long-run if practiced consistently.
4. Try a three-minute breathing space. At your desk or a quiet space, maybe an abandoned conference room, take three minutes to inhale and exhale deeply. There is evidence to support the idea that taking regular breaks during the workday can boost productivity and creativity.
5. Notice the bottoms of your feet. Go for a walk and pay attention to your walking by slowing your pace and feeling the ground against your feet.
6. When you’re talking to someone, be present. How many of us have spent time with someone but have been thinking about what we need to do in the future? Or thinking about what we want to say next, instead of really listening to that person? Instead, focus on being present, on really listening, on really enjoying your time with that person. Several times a day, when someone is talking to you, in person or on the telephone, remind yourself, “This person could die tonight. This may be the last time I will be with them.” Notice any changes in how you listen, speak or interact with them.
7. Transform mundane activities into a form of meditation. Cooking and cleaning are often seen as drudgery, but actually they are both great ways to practice mindfulness, and can be great rituals performed each day. If cooking and cleaning seem like boring chores to you, try doing them as a form of meditation. Put your entire mind into those tasks, concentrate, and do them slowly and completely. It could change your entire day (as well as leave you with a cleaner house).
8. Express gratitude. At the end of the day, write a list of at least five things that happened during the day that you are grateful for.
9. Perform a secret act of virtue. Each day of the week, engage in a secret act of virtue or kindness. Do something nice or needed for others, but do it anonymously. These acts can be very simple, like washing someone else’s dishes that were left in the sink, picking up trash on a sidewalk, or leaving a chocolate on a coworker’s desk.
10. Wait. Any time you find yourself waiting- when you’re in line at a store, waiting for someone who’s late, or waiting for the little spinning “please wait” icon on your computer screen to go away- take this opportunity to practice mindfulness, meditation, or prayer.
11. Offer true compliments. Once a day, think of someone close to you- a family member, a friend, or a coworker- and give him or her a genuine compliment (the more specific the compliment, the better). Become aware also of any compliments other people give you. Investigate the purpose of those compliments and your own response to being complimented.
In conclusion, start slow and start simple. Practice one exercise each day and pick your favorite. Practice your favorite exercise for a week and then, add another to your daily regimen. Make these mindfulness exercises a habit. If practiced consistently, you'll find yourself a lot more grounded, focused, and thoughtful.