It is pretty shocking that most of us miss about half of our lives. That’s right. If you are 42 years old, for instance, chances are you have missed about 21 years of your life already. Your body has been alive but your mind has been disconnected. Your mind has been thinking about the past (e.g., what you did wrong, what he did wrong, things you are sorry for, things you are mad about) or your mind has been thinking about the future (worrying about what might happen, planning all of the things that you may or may not do, making your grocery list). What’s more, when you aren’t living in the present you are more likely to be anxious and depressed (Killingworth & Gilbert, 2010).
If that wasn’t enough, when you aren’t engaged in the present you tend to miss a lot of things. You might not even notice what are you putting into your mouth, how full are you getting, how much money are you spending, where you are going, or what are you saying that you might have to apologize for later. One of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard was from a woman in my mindful eating class who came in during week two and said “I don’t like anything I eat, I just hadn’t noticed before.
Our ability to be fully present in this moment without judgment and with kindness and compassion is a prerequisite for behaving in ways that will bring us peace and happiness and help us change behaviors that we want to change. Mindfulness helps us understand ourselves, others, and the world around us so that we aren’t caught up in habitual, mindless behaviors.
As you practice mindfulness over time, there is an increasing sensitivity to the world around. You see your part in the whole of everyone else who is trying to be happy and content. You sense the impact you have on the world around you in more and more subtle ways. This consciousness can be a little disturbing at times because there is a weight of responsibility that can feel a little heavy. But don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you need to save the world, become overwhelmed and then do nothing.
Instead, here are some somewhat random tips for becoming a more mindful, conscious human being. This is definitely not an all-inclusive list. But, these are things I’m working on so I thought you might want to try them too. Use them for a week and see if you don’t feel a little more compassionate and connected with yourself and others.
- Spend 10-20 minutes a day meditating. There are tons of meditation apps like Insight Timer that can help you get started. This will help you be present for the rest of the day.
- Know what you’re putting into your mouth. Ask yourself the questions: What am I eating? Where did it come from? Why am I eating it? Is this food that my body wants and needs?
- Drive slower. Not only will you feel more relaxed when you drive
slower, but you will get less impatient with others. In addition, think of the gas you’ll save. Notice your surroundings and enjoy the view.
- Recycle. Bottles, cans, paper, and plastic can all be recycled and used again. But you can recycle almost anything, even your car! See this guide from the UK for more ideas.
- Listen better. How much of the time do you truly listen to another person without thinking about what you’re going to say or asking questions? Just listen until you know the other person has finished talking.
- Speak with words that are kind and true. Even in the difficult conversations, you can choose to be kind and say what is “true” from your experience without blaming and condemning another. Mindful communication is difficult. This is a good place to start.
- Watch what you’re spending. It is so easy to get caught up in the consumer culture. The next time you are ready to pull out the credit card, stop and ask yourself if this is something you really want and need. You can even wait a couple of days to see if you still want the item.
Living consciously takes constant attention and mindfulness will help you make more conscious choices. Instead of living on automatic, try paying attention with kindness and compassion to the daily choices you make in what you do, say, and hear. It’s not easy to break out of routines and habits, but it is worth the effort.