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Finding Mindfulness in Surprising Places. It’s not just about meditation.

Focus on the Everyday

From the CONCERN: EAP Resilience Library

How often do we think we’re in control of our attention when it’s the other way around? We want to focus during a meeting, but our attention wants to think about lunch. We want to listen intently to what our significant other is saying, but our attention wants to drag up an unrelated emotional hurt from a years-old conversation.

A little mind-wandering is natural, but when it gets in the way of everyday functioning it can distract us and even drive down happiness levels. The practice of mindfulness can be an effective tool for helping us to focus our wandering minds.

Mindfulness can be defined as observing a given moment without judgment or reaction. You might think of it as choosing to pay attention. Really paying attention, that is.

With practice, it becomes easier to recognize when our mind starts to wander and gently guide it back to the moment at hand. The most common tool used to build this skill is a mindfulness meditation. Most of the time when we hear the word meditation, we think of the formal practice. Sitting quietly, breathing deeply and focusing inward. This method is powerful, but it’s not always practical. That’s when it’s helpful to find mindfulness opportunities in everyday activities.

Focus on the Everyday

Think about how often we do things in distraction. Have you ever finished a cup of coffee but don’t remember drinking it? Do you ever find yourself parked in your driveway at home, or in the lot at work but don’t recall the commute?

By choosing to pay closer attention to these activities, we have an opportunity to practice mindfulness. And, since we’re focusing on stuff we’re already doing, we don’t have to find extra time to practice! Here are some examples you can try for bringing a mindful focus to daily activities.

Make a cup of tea – This common ritual provides an accessible way to learn to direct focus on the present moment. Try following these steps, and guiding your attention gently back to the task any time it wanders.

  1. Listen and watch as the water boils, observe the bubbles and steam.
  2. Listen to the sound of the water as you pour it into the cup.
  3. Feel the warmth of the cup.
  4. Watch the water change color as it infuses with tea.
  5. Savor and observe the taste of the tea as you drink it vs. absentmindedly swallowing while doing other things.

Mindful Listening – Sound is almost always around us, so it can be a reliable cue to anchor ourselves in the here and now. It also helps us to shift focus from our internal dialogue to what’s going on outside our heads.

  1. Listen to Others  Give the gift of attention to someone important in your life. Put down devices or turn away from screens, breathe naturally and simply listen without trying to formulate responses or judgments about what your conversation partner says. Listen for meaning, not just words.
  2. Listen to Music Mindfully – as you listen, notice not just the sound but the vibration of the music and practice moving your focus between the sound, the physical sensation of the vibration, and how the music makes you feel.
  3. Wake up Listening  instead of hopping into your day and turning on electronics, be still and listen and mindfully identify all you hear, trying to keep your focus on that sound until it naturally fades away.

Mindful Emails – Email is another thing that’s often done quickly and sometimes without our full attention. Try this with 5 to 10 emails each week:

  1. Change if needed.
  2. Read the email again.
  3. Think of the person you’re sending the email to and consider how they’ll interpret your words.
  4. Stop and take a deep breath.
  5. Compose the email.

Making a mindful opportunity out of everyday tasks should get easier the more you practice, and can help you build focus and resilience. What other daily tasks can you think of to convert to a tiny mindful habit?

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