If you’re the type of person who stresses out about the inexplicably endless supply of tasks in your inbox, then this slow-down tip might be just for you. There’s nothing wrong with being a little busy, but how many times have you snapped out of your routine to realize you’ve been running nonstop from morning to night—and sometimes even into the next day?
If you want to take your next high-stress situation from a mountain hike into a walk in the park, my tip for you is to take it slow, slow, slow, at whatever pace slow might mean for you. I wouldn't ask anyone to jump into it headlong, of course. You’re sure to get results if you take five minutes, or even one minute out of your day to start. Because as it turns out, bringing yourself closer to a state of what's called "Mindfulness" is as easy as taking a quick step back and checking your impatience.
We're going to veer into some light psychological territory for this next part, but all I ask is that you walk away feeling like the argument makes sense, rather than fully internalizing the content.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the here and now and accepting yourself as you are.
Meditation is just one possible path to reaching a state of mindfulness, where the mind is focused on the now. But is meditating in some forest for hours on end, mastering your focus and emotions and controlling your reality really the only way to get there?
The Path to Mindfulness
As I said, meditation is one path to mindfulness, but that doesn't mean it holds the only key.
Step 1: First, relax and just feel.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, there's a surprisingly simple way you can come close to the mental state of mindfulness.
American lifestyle blogger Stewart Dunn proposes this method in his article, "How to Trick Yourself into Mindfulness." He says that instead of meditating, doing something over a long period of time is a good way to train yourself to be mindful.
"Do something you normally do…and do it at a snail’s pace. Slow. It. Down."
The next time you're heading into the shower, try slowing down even as you walk to the bathroom. Slowly and deliberately turn the faucet on, then take a moment to appreciate how the water temperature affects you emotionally and be aware of the sensation each water droplet leaves as it touches your skin. Perform each move slowly and consider the purpose behind each action.
This fascinating slow-motion method can be engaged for as little as 30 seconds to see results. If you find yourself irritated while being mindful in this way or if thoughts keep floating into your mind, the first thing you need to do is embrace these thoughts and feelings. Going back to the example with the shower, it probably wasn't very pleasant when you first turned that faucet and cold water sprayed out at you, was it? But the more you practice, you'll be surprised at how quickly your body comes to embrace the water in its natural shape. In fact, you may even come to enjoy it.
Step 2: Practicing in a state of anxiety.
Once you master step one, you can move on to this step. In this stage, you'll put the methods you've practiced to work—but this time, you’ll actually confront your emotions, whether you're irritated, going through mood swings, or just plain stressed out. As you practice, you'll gain the ability to control your state of being in everyday life and not only when you've geared yourself up to clear your mind and put on your “mindfulness” cap. In other words, the goal is to not respond intuitively when you're faced with a problem but to cultivate the ability to respond to any situation appropriately.
This is easier said than done, of course. Who can find time to slow down in the day-to-day grind of working life? If anything, people tend to distance themselves from the task at hand when whatever they're doing seems foolish or insignificant. But those times are when it's important to take it easy and embrace whatever thoughts and desires come naturally to you.
Step 3: Practicing in a state of concentration.
The final stage here is to understand the value of paying attention to every move you make. Once you have an idea of where each behavior process starts and how you're focusing your attention, you'll find yourself responding re-actively less than you did once before. It may not seem like it at this point, but if you practice mindfulness every day, all the ordinary things you've done by rote will suddenly become deeply meaningful.
There is a profound meaning in deliberately slowing your pace in contrast to a modern society that demands speed and efficiency. So, starting next Saturday morning, I want you to practice being mindful for a short period of time, even if it's only between when you wake up and when you eat breakfast.
If just hearing the word "meditation" is enough to give you chills, then I recommend integrating this simple practice into your everyday life. With just a little bit of practice, even the smallest things can give you unprecedented joy in life. (Huh. I wonder if I can get my client to slow down on this project for a day, too...)