How do you typically start your morning?
For many of us, starting off on "the right side of the bed" involves almost immediately checking a smartphone or email, and then diving headfirst into a day of hyper-connectedness and deadlines.
The reason we find ourselves needing a bit of peace in the day isn't too hard to understand. The ever-connected world we live in today is taking up too much mind-space and grinding us down.
The very things that are supposed to make us more productive, like constant emails and projects, have the exact opposite effect when we become too worn down and distracted.
However, there is a solution:
It's no wonder the popularity of the practice of mindfulness meditation has skyrocketed over the past few years. Stripped down to its roots, what mindfulness aims to achieve is to have one draw their attention to the present moment and nothing else. It's the practice of disconnecting and bringing ourselves to a calm and undistracted state.
Now, you've probably heard of mindfulness, at least in passing, and wondered if it actually works, or even thought it was hokey or too new-agey.
Well, don't take my word on its effects: Harvard research has found that it can literally reshape your brain in a positive manner.
I could write a whole article on its purported benefits, but I'll stick to a quick synopsis. Mindfulness meditation has been touted as the cure for almost every ailment out there. Experts say it can help lower stress levels, increase focus, protect against depression, improve leadership, and help you stay in shape. It's even been offered as a means to manage your inbox and increase your profits (that one got my attention).
If you find yourself saying, "I don't have the time to practice mindfulness", I'm here to tell you that you almost certainly do.
As Shawn Anchor put it,
"The most forward-looking companies are willing to take risks to achieve greatness...but their leaders would still be terrified to ask their employees to stop working for two minutes a day to watch their breath go in and out."
Mindfulness doesn't have to be an activity reserved for those who have the luxury of working a 40-hour work week (I wish!) or for those who can afford top-dollar yoga classes.
The whole point really is to simply put away outside worries and be present for a few moments.
So, how can you start the practice of mindfulness?
The great thing is that you don't have to meditate for long periods of time to reap the benefits. In fact, I'm suggesting starting with a few short 5-minute mindfulness sessions every morning and then gradually working your way up.
Here are a few different ways that you can practice:
Practice mindful breathing
Inhale and exhale. This should be done as soon as you wake up, but the act of mindful breathing can be practiced at any time and anywhere. According to Harvard Business Review, it's a way to "learn to stay present, participate in regulating our own nervous system, and eventually, develop new, more free and helpful ways of interacting."
Simply stop what you're doing, and take a few deep breaths. Pay close attention to your breathing and avoid thinking about anything else. It may help to count your breaths, as this will help to retain your focus. This will interrupt the acceleration of your mind and also help you slip into a more peaceful state.
Meditation is the primary tool for achieving a state of mindfulness. In the AM, try to find a quiet place where you can sit for a few moments without being disturbed. This could be somewhere at home in the morning, or possibly even while you're on the go (maybe on the subway or in the car).
Close your eyes and try to focus on nothing but the present. After a few minutes, your mind should begin to slow down. It sounds simple, which it is, but this small act can truly have amazing effects on the brain.
Practice mindful walking
You probably already do quite a bit of walking throughout your day. If you're like me, you walk to work.
Each time you do is an excellent opportunity to meditate. Put you phone on airplane mode, and similar to mindful breathing, take each step with deep awareness. Try to slow down and not be in any sort of rush. By slowing down your body, you will gradually force your mind to follow.
Practice mindful listening and speaking
Most of us are guilty of not fully listening when engaged in conversation. Practice deep listening by looking into the person talking's eyes and paying close attention to the words they're saying. Resist the temptation to let your mind wander off.
The University of Missouri suggests that, "When your mind wanders away from what is being said, immediately and without judgment bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking. Repeat those instructions as many times as necessary. You will eventually strengthen your mental musculature to stay more focused and aware."
Similar to mindful listening, take a deep breath before speaking and really pay close attention to the words you're preparing to say. Both of these acts can help to dramatically improve your communication skills and relationships with others.
Mindfulness is really all about being conscious of what you're feeling and overall more intentional about your behaviors. The act of being mindful will be different for everyone, so experiment and find out which method works best for you.
Being aware and calm in the present is the key to a successful life, and it all starts with a few minutes every morning.
A version of this post originally was posted on my Medium profile.