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One Very Easy Way to Practice Mindfulness

Dawn L Baker MD, MS asks, "What if being mindful and meditating could be as easy and approachable?"

Do you want to feel calmer, more emotionally even… more balanced? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want this. Meditation is often touted as the key to pausing in the space between the stimulus and response, the equanimity that we crave.
You’ll hear many powerful people and thought leaders list meditation as a pivotal step in their morning routines. But the traditional picture of meditation – sitting for minutes to hours on a cushion in silence, for example – has always seemed intimidating and unattainable to me.

My typical go-to, approachable methods to practice mindfulness include breathing exercises, silent walks, and guided meditations online. But what if there were an even easier way? One that involves an extremely simple process that you can do anywhere, at any time?

 

Mental Fitness

Being mindful is something we can cultivate. Likewise, there’s no endpoint to the practice of mindfulness; you’re never done, and you’ll never be perfect at it. We’ll always be chasing an asymptote, kind of like lifting weights or being good at yoga… like the practice of medicine, really.

Think of your brain like a group of “muscles” to exercise. I learned this analogy through by completing a coach training program in the Positive Intelligence framework, which divides mental fitness into three separate paths:
• Strengthening the logical, empathic and creative “muscles” of your brain (your Sage)
• Weakening the primitive, survival muscles of your brain (your Saboteurs)
• Strengthening your self-command muscles through frequent mindfulness exercises (“PQ reps”)

I’ve personally tried many different techniques to gain mindfulness over the years, I can honestly say that using this framework regularly has completely changed my brain. While I love the self-knowledge aspect of the Sage and Saboteurs, the game-changing part about it is the self-command part.

 

Being mindful is something we can cultivate. Likewise, there’s no endpoint to the practice of mindfulness; you’re never done, and you’ll never be perfect at it. Click To Tweet

 

The Exercises

So what do mental fitness reps, or PQ reps, look like? It sounds super simple, and it is. You apply a laser-like focus on one of your senses for as little as 1-2 minutes. For example, you could actively pay attention to one of the following:

• the weight of your feet on the ground
• the feeling of the soles of your feet as you stand, or your legs/butt as you sit in a chair
• the temperature of your morning coffee as you sip
• the colors, shapes, and textures of an object or viewpoint in front of you
• the farthest away sound you can currently hear
• the warmth of water as you wash your hands
• the feeling of rubbing two fingers together
• the temperature of your breath as it enters and exits your nostrils
• the feeling of your chest rising and falling as you breathe

After you pay attention to one of these things for 1-2 minutes, you can shift to another and build up your time. Or you can just stop there for the time being. Thoughts will inevitably come into your head as you do this, but you just notice them and go back to focusing on the sensation.

 

So what do mental fitness reps, or PQ reps, look like? It sounds super simple, and it is. You apply a laser-like focus on one of your senses for as little as 1-2 minutes. Click To Tweet

 

These exercises can be done with your eyes open or closed, anywhere, anytime. The beauty is that people around you will likely not even notice you doing them! You could do them while driving or even while working in the hospital, which makes them really appealing for those moments when you just need a little mini-break.

If you exercise your self-command muscle on a daily basis, your ability to apply it when really needed (like when you’re feeling triggered or emotionally hijacked) will increase. With practice, your brain will rewire new connections and paths. This greatly appeals to me as someone who’s always looking for practical, real-life tools.

 

Let Go of Perfection

Mental fitness doesn’t look like the idealized impression of a quiet room, embroidered cushion, and completely empty brain. In fact, the goal is not to completely rid our brain of all thoughts; it’s actually to recognize and let go of thoughts as they occur. If you actually notice when you’re interrupted by thought, you’re actually succeeding! I often do 5 minute sessions a couple times a day, and during a typical 5 minute session, my mind will wander to a thought about 5 times.

“As soon as you start to see the chaos of your own mind, that’s the first step to not being owned by it.” – Dan Harris, mindfulness/meditation expert.

Embrace the messiness of life while you’re trying this; it doesn’t have to be perfect.

One day, I played a guided mental fitness recording in the car with my 5 year old daughter. The voice came over the speaker: “Close your eyes.” I could have aborted it and gone back to radio commercials or Top 40… but instead I kept it on and made sure to tell my daughter that I wasn’t going to close my eyes while driving! When we settled in to noticing our breath, I glanced in the rearview mirror. She had her eyes closed, but she would squint one open every so often and look around in an “Are we done yet?” sort of way. Yet when the recording was actually over, I asked her how she felt.

“Good,” she said. “Relaxed.”

Me too, even while driving in traffic.

WINNING.

Could you see paying exquisite attention to one of your senses as a mindfulness exercise? Try it using one of my examples, and let me know what you think!

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