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The Mindful Day

Finding greater calm, focus, and joy doesn’t mean you have to add “one more thing” to your already busy schedule

In a recent interview for Business Insider’s podcast “Success! How I Did It,” bestselling author Tim Ferriss said that nearly all of the 140 successful people he included in his latest book, “Tribe of Mentors,” had some sort of mindfulness or meditation habit. So what exactly is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a superpower that allows you to deliberately direct your attention where you want it to go, instead of having it tossed about by racing thoughts and turbulent emotions.

Mindfulness empowers you to approach your circumstances, relationships, and life with calm, compassion, and equanimity.

Mindfulness allows you choose your mindset and shift how you relate to your experience so that you have less stress and more joy. And the scientific evidence keeps growing on its benefits, from reducing anxiety and emotional reactivity to boosting focus, memory, and mental resilience.

With all this going for it, why don’t more people give it a try? It’s usually because they are reluctant to add “one more thing” to their already busy lives. They tell me, “I’d like to practice mindfulness but I’m so busy I can’t find the time.” Or, “I tried meditating a few times but my mind would not stop racing.”

In fact, you don’t have to be completely still and clear all thoughts from your mind to practice mindfulness. And being more mindful doesn’t mean you have to add anything to your to-do list.

All you really have to do is commit to looking at what you are doing, thinking, and experiencing a little differently ­– with more curiosity and without judgment.  The payoff: you reduce your stress and amplify your joy, calm, peace, and focus – all while improving your relationship with yourself and those around you.

That’s why I wrote “The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy From Morning to Evening,” which officially published March 27 (Yay!) It’s to show people how they can be more mindful while doing the things they are already doing each day. Here are a few examples:

Wake up to Joy

Do you ever wake up dreading the day and ruminating on deadlines, looming to-do lists, and relationship concerns?  Practicing mindfulness can help you shift your approach to each new day. Start by programing your alarm clock with music or sounds you enjoy, and give yourself some extra time by setting your clock 10 minutes early. Take three breaths, sensing the rise and fall of your chest. Bring a gentle, kind attention to your body starting with your feet and checking check in with each part until you reach the top of your head. Smile, and be aware of how that makes you feel. Observe your thoughts. If worries arise, gently let them go. Finally, before you get out of bed, direct your thoughts to what you appreciate in your life, such as your home life, family, friends, work, and health. Each day, be grateful for the simple fact that you are alive, and you have another 24 hours to enjoy.

Shower With Awareness

Instead of letting your mind race through what’s next as you hurry to scrub yourself, focus on the present moment from the time you turn on the faucet. Pay attention with all five senses. Stock your shower with fragrances that soothe or energize you. Notice the sights, sounds, and feelings of the hot water and as you scrub your body and hair. Savor every moment. As you step out of the shower, let this be like a mental reset for the rest of your morning and day.

Listen Mindfully

We have become so distracted that we often “half listen” to others, while the other part of our mind is thinking about the next task at hand, or far away on other thoughts. Try this instead: When you’re in conversation, set your mind to being present, receptive, and ready to listen with compassion. Turn away from your devices and make eye contact. Bring yourself into the moment with a few deep breaths and ask yourself: What is this person communicating beyond the words they use? Listen quietly but alert to what the other person is saying. When you find your mind drifting, let go of the thoughts and return your attention to what the person is saying. Listening mindfully is not easy with all the things vying for our attention, but it is a gift for both you and the person speaking.

Face Difficult Emotions

One of the most useful aspects of mindfulness is how it allows us to shift how we understand and relate to our emotions. Intense feelings like frustration, anger, and fear can undermine performance, block creativity, and harm professional relationships – especially when you aren’t aware of them. Suppressed emotions can affect your health, your relationships, and your results. To cope with difficult emotions, I recommend the helpful acronym (RAIN) that I learned from Tara Brach, founder of the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, D.C., and one of my main teachers. It stands for: Recognize how you feel, taking a few easy breaths. As the emotion arises, notice how it feels in your body. Try to name the emotion with loving awareness: Oh, okay, anxious. Allow. Don’t run from the emotion, suppress it, or turn to distraction or a habitual, comforting refuge like food, alcohol, or the Internet. Don’t judge or blame yourself or others. Investigate with kindness. Ask yourself: What am I feeling right now? Where is this most noticeable in my body? What needs my attention? Describe and name what is there. For instance, you might feel our throat clenched if you feel under attack, or your face flushing if you feel embarrassed. Nurture. Attend and befriend your feelings. You can use a physical gesture such as placing your hand on your heart, or you can simply pause and breathe for a moment of recognition, acceptance, and self-compassion. Self-compassion is soothing, so send an inward message of kindness, such as I know this a hard moment. Many people experience this at work. May I be at ease. May I be peaceful.

Transition peacefully from day to evening

One of the biggest challenges in our daily lives is to shift from busyness and stress to calm, clarity, and tranquility. Consider your most recent return home: Did you walk through the door with your mind still replaying a scene from the day? Maybe you tend to repress the hard stuff during the day, and then let it out in a burst when you get home. Bringing mindful awareness to your own patterns is the first step in freeing yourself from them. As you approach your front door, reflect on your mood with gentle awareness, observing your thoughts and emotions. Name how you feel ­– tired, frustrated, excited, hopeful, overwhelmed. Pause to read your own state, and to sense the emotional mood of others around you. This transition will set the tone for the quality of your evening. And whether you spend your free time luxuriating in the peace and quiet of home, rejoicing in the madness that is life with kids, or savoring the company of a loved one, it beats losing your night to thoughts of the day that just passed or the one to come.

Think of these mini-meditations as going to a mental gym, and your mindfulness practice as a series of mini-mental workouts throughout the day. As you practice experiencing micro-moments of connection, you’ll find greater calm in the midst of everything you do.

Remember, you don’t have to add one more thing to your day. You just need to look at your life a little differently.