Have you ever caught yourself doing something on autopilot while your mind wanders somewhere else?
For example, you are washing dishes, however, you’re not thinking about the dishes. Instead, your mind focuses on that one issue at work you just can’t stop thinking about. Or you are driving in your car but not thinking about shifting gears or turning the steering wheel. Instead, thinking about that one thing that your friend said to you this morning, which just doesn’t feel right.
These, and so many more situations like these, are all examples of you not being mindful. Not being in the present moment. Not fully experiencing the moment as it is happening.
What’s the Problem?
Now you might ask:
“What is the problem with thinking about things while performing menial tasks?“
“Isn’t it great time management?”
And while these questions may seem legitimate. They miss the point of mindfulness, which doesn’t have anything to do with being more productive or something in that direction.
The problem with not being mindful is that you might miss the beautiful things happening in the current moment. Or you might not hear what someone is saying because your mind is wandering. Or you might get stuck feeling bad all day going over and over a bad thought in your head.
So as you can see, there are many problems with not being mindful.
What is Mindfulness?
According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, mindfulness has two definitions:
- The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
- A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
In my opinion, these are both very similar. However, the second one is a more elaborate explanation. What it comes down to is this:
“Mindfulness is focusing on the thing you’re doing right now and nothing else. Fully experiencing the moment as it is without adding onto it or going away from it by thinking about something completely different.”
So taking the example of washing the dishes again, this could mean:
- Feeling the water on your skin
- Feeling the texture of the sponge
- Feeling the smoothness of the plate
- Smelling the dish soap’s odor
- Hearing the squeaking noises coming from the friction of the sponge and the plate
As you can see, what all these things have in common is that they are sensory experiences. You feel, smell, hear everything that is going on at that moment.
The one thing you don’t do is think about it. When we actively think about something, the mind tends to wander.
You will start by thinking:
“This soap smells so good, like lavender.”
And at the end of a strain of thought you might reach:
“My ex’s house always smelled like lavender. Man, I still miss her so much!”
By that time, you are far away from the current moment, consisting of nothing more than washing the dishes and all it’s accompanying sensory components.
How to Use Mindfulness?
One of the most useful ways to use mindfulness to your benefit is related to the above example. The only thing you do is switch it around.
Let’s say there is this one thing that’s been bothering you for a while now. It can be anything work-related, relationship-related, or just some anxiety about an upcoming event. It doesn’t matter; it will work on anything.
Instead of focusing on that, probably giving yourself more of the feeling you don’t want, just focus on the thing you’re doing.
This means engaging all your senses and noticing them. Putting your awareness-spotlight on the experience itself. The thought that might come is –
“I feel the water being warm.”
Those are the mindful thoughts. Let those thoughts come and go. When you realize your mind is wandering again (which it 100% will), allow it to wander, and then just gently guide it back to the sensory experience of that action you’re taking.
That’s all there is to it.
And yes, it’s not that easy to do. It’s a skill, and all skills require practice. However, in time you will see it getting easier and easier. Eventually, it might become an automatic process.
Mindfulness and Gratitude
While thoughts of gratitude might also be a distraction from the action being taken in the current moment, they do serve a useful purpose.
Feeling grateful for the fact that you’re doing something as simple as washing dishes. Grateful for the fact that you feel the water’s warmth or the fact that you are lucky enough to eat off of clean plates.
These thoughts will add an emotional component to the sensory experience. This doesn’t take you away from the current moment; it makes you experience it even more.
Indeed, the emotion is just another component to shine the light of awareness on.