Do you get annoyed by all those little things you have to do every day? Like getting up, getting dressed, brushing your teeth? I certainly do. The more my days are filled, the earlier I have to get up, the less I think about them. But being self-employed, in charge of my own schedule and working only part-time, most days leave me plenty of time to get annoyed by having „so much“ to do before I can go to bed. I know people who manage to never think about those things, they simply do them. Like cleaning the table after dinner or picking up some dirt from the floor. I admire and envy them. If you are more like me, you will catch yourself at least a dozen times a week thinking “why do I have to do this?“ or “do I really have to do this?“. Of course, that doesn’t help. It just makes you waste more time with all those little necessities. We all have to get up at some point and go to the bathroom, again.
So, what can we, or I, do about it?
We could stop ourselves from (over-)thinking and get up and simply do it. Getting up immediately at night to got the bathroom instead of trying to stay in bed and waking up many times can indeed be a life-(or better night-) changer. But to be honest, I fail miserably at this during the day. Sure, I could try harder. But that’s a bit like that whole “don’t think about the pink elephant“. Suppressing thoughts doesn’t really work that well. Neither with the big stuff nor with the small (or the pink). Yes, we could think about something else – while we brush our teeth, of course, otherwise we just thought about other hopefully more meaningful things, but still haven’t brushed our teeth… But to be honest, I have tried that and it doesn’t really help that much. I mean, yes, it does help to get stuff done and most of you reading this are probably used to doing many things at the same time (walking around while brushing your teeth, thinking about the day ahead while getting dressed). But it doesn’t change the fact that I still have to do those things. Every day.
Let’s make it something useful!
What I am suggesting is to turn all of those little daily tasks into something really useful. Beyond their immediate result, you know, getting up and looking presentable. Not by not thinking about them or by using those times to be productive in another area like when you are mentally writing an email while in the shower. What I am proposing, is actually to do the exact opposite. To slow down and pay more attention to those little, automated tasks and to turn them into an exercise of mindfulness.
Yes. Let’s assume you are like most people and you have heard about mindfulness and know that it somehow involves doing stuff, well, mindfully. You might also have heard that you should do it, that it is amazing and that it is maybe somehow connected to meditation? Hmm… yes, kind of. Mindfulness is a concept brought to the western world by Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-BasedStress Reduction (MBSR) program.The key elements of mindfulness are to pay attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgment. It is not about changing the present moment, it is not about not thinking anything and emptying your mind. It is, simply, about observing what is happening and what your mind is doing. Without judging yourself or your mind for whatever it is doing. If you ever tried, you know that this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our mind is active, all the time. And it loves to judge. Us, and everyone around us. Which is good, that is (at least partially) what we need it for. But our mind also tends to get especially attached to the negative and way less so to the positive. We end up thinking and rethinking about those things that went wrong or those we have to do again, and again.
You could (and probably should) start to practice mindfulness meditation every day. What I am suggesting right now, is that you can also turn little things of your daily life, especially those that annoy you (or provoke any other emotion or repetitive thoughts) into an exercise of mindfulness. All you need to do is being present and nonjudgmental. Sounds simple. It’s not. But luckily, there are many repetitive daily tasks we can practice on.
Focus on your senses
This is how it works: You pick a task and do it. Let’s say you are brushing your teeth. Now, you stay in the bathroom, you don’t do anything else while you are brushing your teeth. You can start by focusing on the sensations. What smell and taste have your toothpaste? How does brushing your teeth actually feel like? At some point, you will realize, that your mind wandered off, that you have been thinking about something else. Every time that happens, every time you notice it, you let go of that thought and come back to the simple task of brushing your teeth. If you never tried any meditation or mindfulness exercise, you will probably be surprised at how often your mind wanders off, at how much you are thinking. Don’t worry, this happens to all of us. In fact, as I have said before, this is what our mind is made for. The goal is not to not think. The goal is to not get too attached to your thoughts, to be less judgemental and to really be present in this exact moment. So instead of trying not to think, what you should try (and you will get better at it the more you practice), is to let those thoughts go, without judging them, as soon as you notice them. And then come back to the task at hand.
If you would like to know more:
- There are many Meditation Apps, that will help you start a regular practice. Check out the Headspace App for some great background info and guided meditations (first 10 sessions free).
- If you enjoy TedTalks, then start with these two:
Have you tried Mindfulness Meditation or even brushing your teeth mindfully? How was it?