We could all stand to be more mindful. Focusing on self-enrichment and living in the present can make you healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But when it comes down to actually, well, being more mindful, there’s one steadfast impediment: You.
Throughout the day, countless rote, subconscious actions pop as minute roadblocks. Maybe it’s the place you eat lunch, or the music you listen to in the shower, or even the shower altogether. Each of these actions—and more, all of which we’ve gathered here—can take you out of the moment and thrust you into wound-up, stressed-out, anxiety-ridden thinking. So read on, and learn how to be in the moment. And to learn more ways you’re shooting yourself in the knee, brush up on the 20 Mistakes That Are Only Compounding Your Stress.
You’re meditating too much.
Yes, really—taking the first step on the path to mindfulness can actually set you on the wrong direction. According to a study in PLoS One, folks who meditate for hours at a time end up with poisonously obsessive thoughts. Your best bet is to start small with a few minutes a day and build up your tolerance as you go. And if you want to make the most of that time, bone up on the 10 Ways to Focus Better During Meditation.
You’re objectifying your thoughts.
According to research out of the Association for Psychological Science, western cultures, in particular, tend to treat thoughts and feelings as if they’re physical objects. (They’re not.) By viewing a negative thought as a physical object, for example, the idea is that you can blunt-force it into becoming a positive thought. (You can’t.) Instead, the best solution is to think about your thoughts holistically. Over time, you’ll methodically become a more mindful, positive thinker in all ways.
You’re walking in the wrong place. (Head to the woods.)
Everyone’s well aware by now the myriad benefits of walking; a couple thousand steps a day can do everything from boost your energy to help you live entire years longer. But, according to research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, you’ll only reap better mindfulness benefits by walking through a green, tree-laden space. Sorry, city dwellers. And if you’re looking for a great pair of shoes to stroll in, well, we’ve got the perfect pair for you.
As Sharon Salzberg, the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, writes in Real Happiness At Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace, the multitasking individual can never truly achieve transcendency—in the multitasking moment, at least. By tackling multiple things at once, Salzberg explains, it’s impossible to live fully in the moment. (You’re also at risk of making up to 50 percent more errors than you would were you focusing on a single task.) So knock your to-do list out one item at a time. And if you feel like your output dwindles due to this so-called “unitasking,” you needn’t worry: just download one of The Best Desktop Backgrounds For Maximizing Your Productivity.
You’re checking your phone too often.
You check your phone a whopping 80 times per day, according to research from tech firm Asurion. Couple that with the well-documented effects smartphone addiction has on your health—from sleep deprivation due to increased blue light to bolstered stress levels from living in a permanent at-work mode—and you have a surefire recipe for diminished mindfulness. For tricks on unplugging, master the 11 Easy Ways to Conquer Your Smartphone Addiction.
You’re not utilizing your biggest resource.
Though your phone may be a serious roadblock on the path to mindfulness, it can also be an excellent asset. There’s veritable armada of mindfulness apps on Google Play and iTunes, and, while many can be bunk, a few are quite effective. According to research out of Wesleyan University, certain brain-focusing apps, like Brain.FM, can reduce the “spectra of neuronal oscillations … in the alpha band.” Or, to put it in plain English: it’ll prevent your thoughts from aimlessly wandering—especially when you’re trying to focus.
You’re not eating mindfully.
True mindfulness can be linked to every part of your life, including—and especially, if you take it from the folks at The Center for Mindful Eating—your diet. By developing a keen awareness of when you’re hungry and when you’re full (a key mindful eating practice), for example, and only eating based on those feelings, you can, per TCME, eradicate the habit of emotional eating altogether.
You’re not embracing your feelings.
If you’re sad, don’t try to fix it. Just put on some Bon Iver and dive headlong into your emotions. That—as opposed to doing anything in your power to be happy, a common belief—is the M.O. behind mindfulness. According to research out of the University of Utah, folks who practice this method display more stable emotional tendencies than those who don’t.
You’re tuning everything out.
As anyone with a rough commute or mundane job can attest, it’s natural to slip into autopilot. But, according to Jeff Brantley, MD, the author of Calming Your Angry Mind, this can happen to anyone, at any time—no matter how hectic and “different,” on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis, your life is. Be wary of it, and take in the sights and sounds of everything around you, everywhere you go.
You’re not listening to the right music.
Music can work wonders for you. Just by listening to tunes set to 145 beats-per-minute, for example, you instantly override your brain’s signals for fatigue and stay energized for longer. But, if you want to listen to music for mindfulness, classical is the way to go. Researchers at Ruhr University Bochum found that classical music lowered the heart rate of and calmed participants more than silence alone did. (For what it’s worth, listening to ABBA had a negligible effect—meaning you’re not having the time of your life, after all.)
You’re lunching at your desk.
Stopping work every so often—like with, say, the Pomodoro Method, where you work hard for 25 minutes, then break for 5 or 10, and repeat throughout the day—helps your productivity and focus levels skyrocket. By taking lunch at your desk, you’re missing out a freebie midday mind recharge.
You’re not sleeping enough.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you don’t get the recommended amount of shuteye each night, you’ll have trouble focusing and keeping your mind on-track the following day. Doctors of all disciplines suggest you get at least 7 hours of quality, non-disruptive nightly. If you need help hitting that benchmark, check out the 10 Genius Tricks for Falling Back Asleep In the Middle of the Night.
You’re slipping into the past.
If you’re thinking about stuff that’s already happened—a bad breakup, a lost job opportunity—then you’re not being mindful. Whenever you catch yourself doing this, make a conscious effort to stop.
Or you’re focusing on the future.
Similarly, if you’re thinking about stuff that might happen—a date that might get cancelled, or an interview you could bomb—you’re also not being mindful. Again: mindfulness is about being in the present.
You’re not stretching.
Stretching can improve blood flow and keep your muscles limber, to be sure, but it’s also mandatory practice on the road to mindfulness: it can improve “postural awareness” and calm your breathing—and your mind. In fact, it’s so effective the that health services office at the University of California, Berkeley, issues a mindful stretching guide to faculty.
You’re showering too much.
To be entirely clear, we’re not recommending you don’t shower. We’re recommending that, every so often—maybe once every week or two—you take a bath instead of a shower. The warm water and longer soak will help soothe you head to toe, inside and out.
You’re going straight to bed.
Bedtime is an opportunity to reflect on your day—what went right, what went wrong, what you’re going to change about tomorrow. By nodding off immediately, you’re missing a key opportunity for some quality mindful thought.
You’re only dreaming at night.
For anyone with residual fears of mentally clocking out through lectures, daydreaming is bad. But, though it is, by definition, the wandering of the mind—generally something mindfulness experts urge you avoid—a study in Neuropsychologia suggests that daydreaming is the sign of an intellectually and emotionally “efficient” brain. If you’re able to tune in and out on a dime, that is.
You’re not practicing.
Now, you don’t need to devote 10,000 hours, but mindfulness is a skill, which means, like any other skill, it requires time and effort. So don’t forget to practice. And if you need help implementing, bone up on the 40 Easy Ways to Develop Habits After 40.
You’re spending too much time online.
Close out of this article and get living, already!
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