Do you ever find yourself on autopilot, not stopping to think what you’re doing or why you’re doing it? Ever forget why you walked into a room or why you agreed to a meeting? Or sat down to eat and next thing you know the food was gone? Or drove to work and completely forgot the ride there?
While these may seem like minuscule occurrences, compounded over time, our brain starts to feed off this state of operating. And why wouldn’t it want to? On average, we make about 35,000 decisions a day, from deciding what to wear to figuring out the next project for work, to the next vacation and everything in between. It’s a necessity to utilize this part of our brain to free up space for what’s most important. Autopilot lets the mind mentally check out without using the conscious part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, when needed the most.
How do we make sure we aren’t unconsciously making decisions for what matters most? When, on average, 30% of our waking hours are spent with a wandering mind – mentally checked out from the present moment – what can we do to make sure we’re not letting autopilot dictate our decisions?
The beauty is we already have the tools within us, we don’t need to go on a retreat or read a book, although they are extremely valuable resources. We simply need to train our brains, much like we do with our muscles. That’s where the power of mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness, in its simplest terms, is being in the here and now without judgment.
It allows us to train our minds to come back to the present moment. The practice of mindfulness is being consciously aware of when your mind wanders and bringing it back to the present. Practiced long enough, the habit becomes established, allowing your brain to recognize it quickly so as to not fall back to the autopilot life.
So how to live mindfully?
You can practice it at any time, any day. If you want to make this a habit, think about who you want to become with living more mindfully. Once you ground yourself in that foundation, it’s a matter of letting your brain become more familiar with what it feels like to come back to the present moment and sustain that focus.
Here are some ways to live mindfully in your daily life with activities you either already do or can easily start implementing today:
- Morning/Evening Routine: When you wake up or head to sleep, get in touch with your senses. Noticed how your sheets feel, the smell of a new day, and notice how your body feels. This simple act of recognizing what’s happening in the present moment is a trigger for your brain.
- In Motion: Any time you transition from sitting to standing or heading into a meeting, notice how your body feels in those moments of change. When you are walking, practice taking a conscious breath, and bring your attention to your feet and legs as they make contact with the ground.
- Screen Time: Have you ever clicked on a new page in your browser and while you waited for it to load you went on to respond to an email and then forgot what you needed to do on that site? (Been there.) Use that loading time to pause and get in touch with your breath instead of filling that space with something else.
- Changing Environments: When you are walking from your car to a building, or from your desk to the breakroom – Notice the environment you’re in. Feel your feet on the ground. Check-in with your mind, where is it?
- Conversations: Listening is a perfect time to practice mindfulness. Simply place all of your attention on what the speaker is saying.
- Eating: Food gives us a great opportunity to bring our attention to the present. When you’re eating, notice the colors of the food, smell the seasons, consciously chew and feel the different textures.
- Reminders: Create a reminder on your desk – use those good old fashioned stickie notes or set a reminder on your phone – or better yet if you have the apple watch, set a reminder to breathe.
It’s important to note that it’s not what you’re doing when it you are practicing to live mindfully, but getting your mind to be fully there. The more often you train your brain to stay in the present moment, the more likely it will get there when it wants to slip into autopilot.
Give yourself and others the gift of being present, It’s the greatest gift of all.