“Mindfulness isn’t difficult; we just need to remember to do it.”-Sharon Salzberg
Being present is sold as the golden ticket to finding happiness. All the self-help literature points us in that direction. But in reality how many of us can say we are 100% present 100% of the time?
It can be an impossible task on so many levels.
Typically, we might drop into present moment awareness for brief glimpses of time before we find ourselves lost in mental thinking about the future or the past.
So knowing this how can we go about making being mindfully more present a habit we can access more frequently with ease throughout the day?
The Problem of Making Mindfulness into a Habit
For something to become a habit it’s all about repetition and reinforcement. So whatever you do consistently over time will become a habitual behaviour.
A good example of this in recent times has been the mandatory wearing of face masks during the Covid pandemic.
In the beginning, many would have struggled remembering to always carry a mask. However, after an extended period of time, and a lot of trial and error, we soon found ways to adapt. We developed a new habit to remind us to reach for the mask before leaving home.
Similarly, the problem we face when it comes to making mindfulness the new habit is overcoming a lifetime of being ruled by our mind and its random thoughts.
We’ve become accustomed the majority of the time to living in our heads. We are constantly replaying the past or fantasying about the future. This habitual way of behaving controls our attention. It’s our automatic default mode.
Hence, overcoming this lifetime habit and establishing mindfulness as its replacement becomes a very tall order. It requires a considerate amount of time and commitment to begin to notice the content of our wandering minds.
Unless we pledge to better understand our mind through working with daily meditation or indulging in a monastic type lifestyle making mindfulness stick 24/7 will become a challenge.
Just like how we learnt to adapt by reminding ourselves to always carry a mask we need to find a trigger that allows us to remember to be more mindfully present at any given moment.
Since our inattentive mind will never remind us to be mindful, we need something else to prompt us.
So what can we do to cultivate being more present on a more consistent basis?
Establishing a Reminder to be Present
The thought of being mindfully present 24/7 to find peace and happiness is a worthy cause. However, this can be seen as an over-ambitious idea if you are fairly new to the practice of mindfulness.
The quest can be comparable to someone who joins a gym to get fit after a lengthy period of being inactive. Their grand intention sees them deciding to go to the gym seven days per week.
Typically for most this type of big commitment is unstainable long term. The motivation to keep going soon loses momentum.
Cultivating mindfulness is no different. Instead, what we need to do is create a foothold by nurturing small steps. An easy way to do this is by choosing select moments when we can consistently repeat a behaviour that over time becomes a habit.
These moments allow us the opportunity to get familiar with the sensations of becoming present.
So where do we start?
Instead of the tall ask of trying to be present all the time, it may be more beneficial to just commit to becoming mindful every time you transition from one space to another.
This happens numerous times throughout our day so it’s important in the beginning to limit and be selective with your choice.
A good idea is choosing those times when you move from an internal space to an external environment and vice versa. There are typically distinct changes in light, sound, and temperature that will always remind you this is your moment to be present.
At those times we can practice a simple mindfulness technique called “noting” and “labelling.” What this means at that select moment is we briefly turn the spotlight of our attention on our mind.
In this way, we break the cycle of automatic patterns of behaviour. Working with noticing and labelling is a way to begin to grow in our ability to be more mindful and present.
So the next time before you walk through a door take the opportunity to pause for a brief moment. Then take a deep breath and ask yourself these 2 key ‘noting/labelling’ questions:
- ‘What am I thinking?’
- ‘What am I feeling?’
Give your attention totally to this simple moment. It’s that easy!
The Benefits from ‘Noting’ and ‘Labelling’
Research has shown that ‘noting’ and ‘labelling’ helps calm and regulate our emotions during times of stress and emotional troubles.
The purpose of “noting” and “labelling” as a mindfulness technique is to be able to step back, and become the observer of our thinking as well as feelings and sensations.
By doing this we wake up being present to what is here in the present moment. We gain clarity to “what is” in the present moment. Each time we are noting and labelling, we break the default mode. We step out of thinking, create space between our self and our thought, and allow ourselves to become more present.
Giving yourself these mindfulness moments throughout the day goes a long way to strengthening your mindfulness muscle into a habit. It provides you with the ability to practice and appreciate what it means to be mindful at random times.
The mere feel of transitioning from one space to another will be a trigger to remind you to pay attention to what you are thinking and what you are feeling.
This small investment of time offers huge benefits long term. Five to ten seconds at a time, a handful of times a day, will firmly plant you in the realm of being mindful, present and ultimately happy.
Take Away Message
With this simple mindfulness technique, you go about establishing a durable foothold in being present as a habit.
You’ll begin to notice what it feels like to catch yourself thinking about irrelevant things. Soon you’ll be bringing yourself back to the moment more often, and not just when you encounter new space.
Exploring mindfulness has truly transformed my life and I want to help other people do the same thing. Give it a go!
If you would like to explore deeper the benefits of mindfulness or have an interest in learning meditation please drop me a line.