Have you ever had the feeling that life goes by very quickly and that you are not enjoying it to the fullest? Do you sometimes feel like you are a bystander, an observer of your own life? While engaged in an activity, are you thinking of what you should do next or about your responsibilities?
If you could relate to the illustrated scenarios, then this article is for you. We are going to teach you practical strategies you could use to be more in control of your life and to be present and conscious of every moment. Mindfulness practices have been shown to increase the quality of life in adults and adolescents, irrespective of their cultural and religious backgrounds (De Vibe et al., 2012; Lo, 2021). The following strategies are based on mindfulness practices and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy and could be integrated into your daily life and routine.
1. Basic mindfulness meditation:
Focus on your breathing, on an image, or on a mantra, and allow thoughts to come and go without judgment.
If this does not work for you because of time-management issues or the vagueness of the activity, try to integrate mindfulness into your everyday activities:
- Mindful eating: focus your attention on the food, how it touches your hand and the pressure you put on the food by holding it, how it touches your tongue and all the flavors you are tasting, how it is crushed by your teeth, and how you swallow it and the emotions the food is triggering.
The same framework can be applied to any activity you are engaging in, such as walking, showering, driving, doing chores, waiting for the elevator, or being intimate with your partner. Mindfulness does not imply that you sit on a pillow in the lotus position on the floor with your eyes closed; this is a common misconception. It is a very practical strategy that can be implemented any time you feel like you are not fully in the present and not consciously processing the task at hand. Mindfulness engages all your senses and focuses your attention on the present moment and connects you not only to your authentic self but also to your environment. It makes you appreciate all the beauty around you and within you.
2. Observe your thoughts non-judgmentally and acknowledge how they make you feel and then let them go.
- Let thoughts come and go without letting yourself be absorbed by them; accept that they are there and the emotions they bring without trying to neutralize them; validate them.
- Keep practicing until you are able to achieve this; like any other skill, it takes time to master it.
This exercise helps you accept your emotional responses and regulate your emotions by not letting your thoughts dictate your mood. This will teach you to be more in control of your own life and to understand that thoughts influence emotions and behavior and vice versa. The more you judge yourself and your experiences, the worse it will make you feel (Barcaccia et al., 2019).
3. Journaling/ quick review of your day:
- At the end of the day, after finishing your to-dos dedicate some time to review your day, the good aspects (3 or more), and the moments you managed to be mindful and when that didn’t work.
- This will indicate progress and when more practice is necessary.
This exercise is showing you that every day there are good things and bad things going on. That is part of life. Appreciate and be grateful for both of them, as they made you the person you are today (Blake, 2015).
Learning new skills might be overwhelming, that is part of the process, and it will get better with time. If you need more guidance on how to live in the present, you can read the following books that describe in more detail these processes and others that will help you reach your goal:
- Mindfulness in Eight Weeks: The revolutionary 8-week plan to clear your mind and calm your life by Michael Chaskalson.
- Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
- Wherever you go, there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh.
If this does not help you get control of your life, you could seek the help of a psychologist and together you can find a way to improve your life.
About the Author
Andreea Pana is an adult clinical psychologist in training that has an affinity for a mindfulness-based approach to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a Rogerian counseling mindset, that emphasizes empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness as pillars of a therapeutic alliance.