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Last Updated on April 25, 2018

A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners

A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Does your mind ever feel like it just won’t switch off? Thoughts are spinning around and around inside your head like a carousel out of control. And the more you try to stop them, the faster they seem to go. All you want is some peace within.

Our hearts have a tendency to lead us toward things we need. So you may have already read about mindfulness and its ability to reduce stress and create more peace. Or perhaps a friend has been singing its praises. You may even have seen a poster in the doctor’s office. It sounds like something you might want. No, it feels like something you need. But, the usual suggestion to “just sit, observing your breath for 30 minutes” is confusing at best. And so you toy with the idea for a while, not sure where to begin. Or maybe you’ve even tried it once or twice, only to give up in frustration, as your monkey mind chatters louder than ever.

If you think you aren’t the “mindfulness type,” you are giving up too soon. There is a much simpler, easier way to be mindful. And I promise you, it will work just as well.

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I know because I’ve been there.

A few years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult and sad time. I was spending a lot of time inside my own head, and even when I wanted to switch off, I couldn’t. At the end of the day, my body would be exhausted but my brain kept whirring. Sometimes I felt like I was going crazy. I was desperate to find a way, and I started reading a lot about meditation. I even took a few classes. But for some reason, I couldn’t make it work. It was too hard. It took too much time. So I gave up.

Then in 2009, I took a course called “Mindfulness: A Simpler Form of Meditation” as part of my psychiatry training, where I was introduced to a new way of living mindfully — an easier way, a way that actually worked for me. And will work for you, too. To be able to use this new method well, we need to first understand what mindfulness actually is.

So what is mindfulness?

Jon Kabt-Zinn, a world renowned expert in this subject, defines it as, “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

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I love this definition, because it helps us understand that your attention, or awareness, is the crucial ingredient in Mindfulness. It has to be intentional, meaning you don’t leave it up to chance; you consciously bring your awareness to rest on something. Whatever you choose to be aware of is okay, as long as it is happening in the present moment. When the mind wanders (as it invariably will, because that’s what minds do), you just bring it gently back to your current focus of awareness.

Jon Kabt Zinn also reminds us to be non-judgmental with our awareness, meaning there is no perfect way to do this, no “standard” to judge yourself against. So, don’t get upset or disappointed when your mind wanders. All you need to do is bring it back gently and repeatedly. In traditional mindfulness, we are taught to do all this while sitting with eyes closed, observing the breath. This is hard to do, especially as beginners, because as you sit observing your breath, the thoughts often seem to get louder. Plus, you still have to go back to real life once it’s done.

So here’s the easier, simpler way: instead of sitting quietly observing your breath with your eyes closed, simply learn how to do your daily routine activities mindfully.

Let me explain. Despite our misleading Facebook updates, most of us have normal, somewhat boring daily lives filled with mundane activities such as driving, doing the dishes, cooking a meal, or taking a shower, right? Well, how about learning to do these daily activities in a mindful way?

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Some benefits of this method:

Let’s think about why this might be better than the usual way, especially for beginners.

• Since these activities are already an essential part of your day, you don’t need to find a separate time for practicing mindfulness.
• You can start with small three- to five-minute activities, such as brushing your teeth.
• You can do this even if the environment around you is loud or busy.
• You can change your awareness for any urgent interruptions, and return to mindfulness mode easily.
• You can do this at work.
• It can be used a quick stress management strategy, because you will see your anxiety reduce almost immediately.
• And so many more.

So, how can you train your monkey mind in this new way of relating to every day tasks?

Practicing in real life:

Imagine you are washing the dishes. You might begin with trying to do it mindfully for just 5 minutes. Here’s how:

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• Start by bringing awareness to your senses: how does the soap feel against your skin, what does it smell like (rather than describe or think about it, just enjoy actually smelling it), what shape is the dish you are holding, how does the wash cloth feel as it moves over the dish, what sound is the water making in this moment, and so on.
• Notice how we use our senses to help keep us aware of this moment.
• You can also use your own body in this way: bringing your awareness to rest on the sensation of your hands moving as you wash, the feel of the floor against your feet, the sensation of your joints moving, etc.
• Whenever your mind wanders, just notice it and gently, with no judgment, bring it back to your senses.
• Do it for just a few minutes at a time but in those few minutes, try to get completely absorbed in your awareness of that moment.

Whatever the activity may be, and however “boring” it may seem, when you fill your awareness in this way, your mind will have no room for rumination. Rather, you will feel fully alive and present. I’m certainly not a yogi, but with constant practice, I have found it easier to include this kind of mindfulness in more and more daily activities.

Some other possible activities to combine this method with:

Use it to help you feel calm, even in the midst of a traffic jam. Use it at work, when you need a break or feel stressed out. Use it when you are eating, when you are showering, or to connect better with the person you are with in each moment. Your daily life is filled with possibilities.

Finding peace, joy, and connection doesn’t have to be just a lofty goal. And you don’t have to be Buddha. Just simply do whatever you are already doing in this very moment — in full awareness, mindfully.
Because, this moment IS your life.

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A Simple Guide to Mindfulness for Beginners

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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