Take Mindful Awareness Breaks from Your Story
Authored by Daron Larson, mindfulness awareness coach.
People often tell me that they want to be more mindful, but they’re convinced it’s out of their reach. It’s not. You can gradually feel more aware this year by being consistently curious and sneaky.
Most people assume they don’t have time to practice mindfulness. They believe their only option is to subtract time from their overbooked schedules to sit entirely still without thinking for long periods of time.
But it’s possible to strengthen your mindful awareness muscle by paying attention differently as you go about your ordinary activities. And it doesn’t require being calm, happy, or comfortable for it to count.
The only requirement is that you try to notice what you’re doing for a few seconds at a time -several times a day- without trying to change anything about your experience.
This is more difficult than it sounds because our attention tends to be primarily occupied with our personal stories and problems.
Attentional fitness training (what I call my approach to mindfulness) involves disrupting this autopilot storytelling mode to notice more of our perceptions directly in real time.
Just as with physical exercise, it takes practice.
There is nothing wrong with living your life as the main character in a story, but there is something liberating about also feeling at home in the direct experience of living regardless of what is unresolved.
Here’s an exercise you can experiment with throughout the day to travel more freely between both worlds:
Pause to notice some aspect of your current experience.
It’s simple, but not easy. Let’s break it down.
Just take a few seconds in the middle of any activity or thought. This is the trickiest part: remembering to do it.
You could be walking or standing in line or waiting for a red light to change or sitting in a meeting. Anything you do standing, sitting, or lying down will work. Nobody needs to know. Plan on keeping it to yourself until you’ve done it a few hundred (or thousand) times.
Drop whatever story you find yourself in. Not forever. Just for the next few seconds. Even if you have a few minutes to practice, work with units of a few seconds at a time and string them together. Each brief unit of noticing constitutes one repetition.
You can stop or slow down or keep doing what you’re doing. You can even keep thinking what you’re thinking. The difference will be that you’re deciding to devote at least a few seconds to closely observing some part of it directly.
…some aspect of your current experience.
This can be any sensory experience: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling. What makes this part challenging is that we tend to skip right to the evaluation of whatever we notice: do I like it or not like it, is it beautiful or ugly, good or bad. We’re disrupting this default mode by trying to get more acquainted with the process of noticing itself.
It’s as if you were exploring these questions:
- What is it like to see?
- What is it like to hear?
- What is it like to smell?
- What is it like to taste?
- What is it like to touch or feel?
But instead of trying to answer these questions using words, try to experience the answer directly through your senses.
You’re attempting to sense the answer without any obligation to describe it. It’s fun. Kids do it all the time. Adults forget.
This exercise might seem too simple to be meaningful. We’re much more familiar with the story-problem mode of attention. See if you can develop the habit of remembering to pause to notice aspects of as many ordinary experiences as possible.
Even though each individual repetition only takes a few seconds, the impact accumulates over time to support feeling more at home in your life just as it is right now.
There is no one-fits-all solution, let’s chat about personalized guidance tailored to your lifestyle and needs. I’m available on