Written by Kristin Ridder, Ph.D.
How many times have you gone through your day on automatic pilot - and then wondered where the day went? This happens to everyone in many ways. Maybe you had a conversation with a friend and realized you didn't even know what they had just said to you because your mind was somewhere else. You might have been driving and suddenly noticed that you missed your exit because you had been so caught up in your thoughts.
Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of these patterns and to bring ourselves back into contact with the present moment instead of worrying about what could go wrong in the future or reliving pain from our past. It teaches us to be be psychologically present and aware, noticing what is happening in the here and now while paying attention to both the inner world and outer world.
Contact with the present moment is important for self-awareness about our thoughts and feelings, which lets us chose our behavior and make intentional choices. Over time, cultivating mindfulness helps us to observe our thinking patterns, notice when we get caught by certain unhelpful thoughts, and allow these thoughts or emotions to be without getting caught up in them. It sounds so simple, but it can be a tricky skill in real life. Being present lies at the heart of mindfulness.
I like these simple ways to get mindful because anyone can do them, nearly anywhere. Nobody can be mindful or present-minded every moment of every day! Your mind will probably pull you back to your thoughts again and again. That’s normal - our mind is effective at training us to believe that our thoughts are very important and that we should always pay attention to them! These exercises, from the book “ACT Made Simple” are an easy way to bring yourself back to noticing the present moment and practice shifting away from those unhelpful thinking patterns.
Take Ten Breaths
This is a simple exercise to center yourself and connect with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
Take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty—and then allow them to refill by themselves.
Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying. Notice them refilling. Notice your rib cage rising and falling. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your shoulders.
See if you can let your thoughts come and go as if they’re just passing cars, driving past outside your house.
Expand your awareness: simultaneously notice your breathing and your body. Then look around the room and notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel.
This is another simple exercise to center yourself and connect with the world around you. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
Plant your feet into the floor.
Push them down—notice the floor beneath you, supporting you.
Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.
Notice your entire body—and the feeling of gravity flowing down through your head,
spine, and legs into your feet.
Now look around and notice what you can see and hear around you. Notice where you
are and what you’re doing.
Notice Five Things
This is yet another simple exercise to center yourself and engage with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
1. Pause for a moment
2. Look around and notice five things that you can see.
3. Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear.
4. Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your watch against your wrist, your trousers against your legs, the air on your face, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair).
5. Finally, do all of the above simultaneously.
Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.