Mindfulness is all the rage right now, and for good reason. In a life filled with chaos, building a mindfulness routine is a surefire way to consistently ground yourself, and prime your brain to think better and tackle the challenges of the day ahead.
But mindful living is not always easy. In fact, there is so much conflicting information out there, that many people don’t know how to get started. And when you don’t get started, you don’t see results. As true believers in the power of mindfulness, we’re here to show you how to build your own mindfulness routine in just 10 minutes. That’s right, 10 minutes of planning, and you’ll have a repeatable mindfulness routine that keeps you at your very best.
What is Mindfulness?
While definitions vary, at its core, mindfulness is the act of taking back control of your mind. With modern life filled with more technology and convenience than ever before, most of us spend a large chunk of our day with our brains on autopilot. Mindfulness carves out time each day to actively allow our brain time to take over in the driver’s seat. No distractions. No wandering. Just pure, focused, mindful thoughts.
With mindfulness, you’re training your mind to focus very acutely on specific (generally positive) thoughts. Over time, this will allow you to be much more engaged in your life, avoiding common traps such as thinking about that project at work while your spouse is trying to talk to you, wondering what’s for dinner when you’re on that late afternoon conference call, etc.
How to Build a Mindfulness Routine
Like anything else, a good mindfulness routine begins with proper planning. The goal is to create a sequence of mindfulness activities that you can repeat every single day. In an ironic twist, the less you have the think about mindfulness, the more mindful you’ll be.
Let’s take a look at the steps needed to map out a proper mindfulness routine:
Step 1: Pick a Time
Who’s more likely to make the gym a consistent habit: the person who goes every day at 6:30am, or the person who goes “whenever they have time”? The consistent 6:30-er, of course! You are so much more likely to make time for the things that you actively and consistently block out on your calendar.
To build a mindfulness routine that works, you need to first schedule it into your daily activities. Depending on your availability and how many practices you want to incorporate, this can be a little as 20 minutes per day. But it needs to be consistent.
Of course, everyone’s schedule is unique, and as such you should block out a time that works for you. However, if at all possible, we highly recommend that you make your mindfulness routine first thing in the morning, for three reasons. One, it allows you to begin each day “reinvigorating” your mind and priming yourself for the day ahead. Two, it allows you to complete your routine before daily distractions and obligations kick in. And three, finding time first thing in the morning can be as simple as setting your alarm 20 minutes early.
Step 2: Get Enough Quality Sleep
It goes without saying, but like everything else related to your body, mind and soul, quality sleep is a must if you want to succeed with mindfulness. The brain requires an extraordinary amount of energy to function. And when you don’t get enough quality sleep, its performance suffers. This will bleed into your mindfulness practice, as you’ll find yourself more distracted, and less able to concentrate.
In future blogs we’re going to be talking about what goes into creating a healthy sleep routine, so be sure to stay tuned!
Step 3: Create a Prompt
While we are the most complex beings on the face of the planet, humans are surprisingly animal in many of our behaviours. This is especially true for “prompts” and “triggers”. Prompts and triggers are something that, when seen, felt or heard, cause our brain to immediately expect the next step in the sequence.
Think of dogs. When a dog sees their owner grab their leash, they immediately get a huge rush of energy and go dashing for the door. Why? Because they know that the leash means a walk is near. It’s become a prompt in their brain, and as such, their behaviour is repeated every single time that see that leash.
Use prompts and triggers to your advantage to ensure you build a strong mindfulness routine. For example, maybe you pick a special tea blend you enjoy sipping every morning right before you begin your routine. After several weeks, your brain will create a subconscious link between the flavour and aroma of that tea, and the mindfulness that is about to begin. From then on, the second that tea hits your lips in the morning, your brain will come alive, ready to begin the mindfulness activities it knows it coming next.
Step 4: Pick Your Mindfulness Activities
With a time and prompt ready to go, all that’s left to do is to actually pick the ways in which you’re going to practice being mindful. This is a very personal decision based on what works for you, and we recommend that you initially experiment with many different activities until you find a blend that’s right.
Here’s a look at some of our favourite mindfulness activities:
This exercise begins with you either lying on your back or sitting in a comfortable chair. Once situated, you want to focus all your attention on your breath. Don’t change the way you are breathing, just notice your breath. Again, the goal of mindfulness is to be totally present – so don’t let your thoughts wander. Focus on the air coming in and air coming out.
After you’ve gotten into a focused rhythm on your breath, you’ll want to then begin scanning each part of your body, focusing attention specifically on that area. It doesn’t necessarily matter how it feels; it matters that you can place undivided focus on this one area.
Move through each body part until the scan is complete:
- Lower Back
- Upper Back/Shoulders
Five senses is an exercise that teaches you to engage with your environment in a mindful manner.
Sitting still in your room, you want to leverage each of your unique senses to engage the world around you. Specifically:
- Pick 5 things around you that you can see – specifically trying to notice things you might not usually notice, like a scratch on the baseboard
- Pick 4 things around you that you can feel – clothing, your chair, the breeze from the window, etc.
- Pick 3 things you can hear – really home in on sounds you might never have actively heard before, like the hum of your fridge
- Pick 2 things you can smell – can you smell the pine trees through the window? The smell of bacon from the diner next door?
- Pick 1 thing you can taste – is it the lingering flavour of your morning tea or the toothpaste you use?
Of course, meditation is at the core of many mindfulness routines. And for good reason – it really can work wonders!
There are many varieties of meditation to choose from. The best bet when getting started is to see if anyone you know has a particular style they recommend. Another great way to get started is to leverage technology. While your phone should never be an active participant in your mindfulness routine, this rule can be broken in the case of one of the many wonderful meditation apps out there. Both Calm and Headspace offer great daily guided meditations – many just 10 minutes or less – that can seriously help with your ability to focus and be mindful. Not just during the session, but throughout the rest of your day as well.
A lingering side effect of human’s many thousands of years living on the open plains is our constant need to assess threats. Years ago, our ability to quickly and accurately look for danger is what kept us alive. However today – living in a world that is safer than it’s ever been – this threat assessment leads to a constant state of negativity.
Essentially, our brains are wired to always look for what’s wrong. And over time, this can create a snowball effect of negativity in your life. Gratitude journaling is a mindful practice that can counteract this negativity by teaching you to focus specifically on things that are positive.
Find a small spiral notebook, and each day begin a new page by writing out 3 things that you are grateful for. These can be as small or large as you like. There’s nothing wrong with being grateful for the pizza you had for dinner last night, just as there’s nothing wrong with being grateful for having a family that loves you. The only point here is to focus on what you’re grateful for, and train your brain to consistently look for the good as often as it does the bad.
While this is a small sampling of some of the many mindful exercises you can incorporate into your routine, it’s clear that the consistent factor is choosing activities that force your brain to focus. Remember, being mindful is about bringing back control, and actively being able to focus on specific thoughts, feelings, and people – without the constant wave of distraction that most of us experience.
Step 5: Get Started!
With a time, a place, a trigger, and a set of activities picked out, you’re ready to begin your mindfulness routine! All that’s left to do is get a good night’s rest, and wake up ready to begin.
Remember, like any other routine, this will take time until it feels natural. Expect some resistance from your body and brain at first. This is expected. But keep coming back day after day, and soon enough you will start reaping the rewards that come from living a mindful life!