Mindfulness: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment,” according to the dictionary definition.
Sounds easy enough.
But give it a try, and you’ll soon discover that mindfulness is as elusive as a gnat buzzing around your head.
The second you think you’ve got it, it slips away.
Like most other worthwhile endeavors, mindfulness takes practice before it becomes habitual.
To that end, let’s look at developing sticky, mindful habits that will enhance your well-being and improve your cognitive function.
- What Are Mindful Habits?
- What Are The Benefits of Developing Mindfulness Habits
- How to Develop Mindful Habits
- 24 Mindfulness Habits You Can Practice Daily
- 1. Get Sufficient Rest
- 2. Make a Daily To-Do List
- 3. Engage in Deep Breathing
- 4. Practice Your Own Rituals
- 5. Incorporate Traditional Rituals
- 6. Do Art (Coloring Counts)
- 7. Go For a Walk
- 8. Practice Mindfulness Reading
- 9. Listen to Music / Play Music
- 10. Separate From Your Phone
- 11. Move Your Body
- 12. Do a Five-Sense Exercise
- 13. Play With Your Pet
- 14. Daily Healthy Diet
- 15. Stretch and Meditate
- 16. Keep a Daily Gratitude Practice
- 17. Release Judgment
- 18. Foster Creativity
- 19. Practice Compassion and Contribution
- 20. Cultivate Personal Space
- 21. Cultivate Healthy Relationships
- 22. Practice Smiling Often
- 23. Write in a Journal
- 24. Savor Your Meals
What Are Mindful Habits?
In today’s demanding world, getting lost in the minutia is easy.
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are overthinking a situation or critical of everything around us.
When stressed or fearful, we unknowingly cross the line between opinion and odious judgment of ourselves and others.
And once over that line, we find it almost impossible to step back.
One school of thought subdivides mindfulness into five components:
- Conscious attention
- Reduction of self-dialogue
- Failure to respond
- Philosophical, ethical values
To be mindful is to observe thoughts and emotions without judgment – allowing a person to determine the reason for a reaction.
Once we know why we say and do what we do, it is easy to develop tools to help minimize the negative and accentuate the positive in our lives.
While not easy, one achieves the state of mindfulness through mindfulness habits and rituals.
Mindfulness is a conscious state that involves awareness, impartiality, and non-judgmental reflection.
What Are The Benefits of Developing Mindfulness Habits
Mindfulness has numerous benefits, enhancing your ability to deal with everyday struggles.
In the 1970s, the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program recognized the debilitating nature of stress.
This program provides individuals with tools to cope with mental or physical illness through various instructor-led exercises.
With the MBSR program as a foundation, researchers continue to study the physiological and psychological benefits of developing mindful habits.
And mindfulness has become a popular self-help tool for personal well-being.
- Decreases stress. — Mindful meditation is considered a key element in fighting stress. It can improve sleep, energy, concentration, depression, and anxiety while lowering blood pressure.
- Improve the decision-making process. — evidence shows that mindfulness training can enhance decision-making by focusing attention. Mindfulness affects other cognitive factors in decision-making, such as compassion and cognitive control.
- Enhance romantic relationships. — Relationships are enhanced when one is conscious of a partner’s needs and fosters better listening and communication techniques. Studies have shown that mindfulness improves well-being, attention, and awareness.
- Enhances ability to deal with chronic illness. — While mindfulness will not cure a disease, it can help manage symptoms. The eCALM study found that mindfulness reduced symptoms of stress and relieved fatigue in cancer patients while improving pain management.
- Controls emotions. — Many studies show that those with mindfulness meditation experience were better able to disengage emotionally and focus on the task.
How to Develop Mindful Habits
Good habits can make a world of difference. Some folks swear a good routine is behind every success.
But here’s the rub: Forming good habits is tougher than tungsten.
Of course, like everyone, you begin your good-habit quests with the best intentions — but within three days, you’re back to old ways.
Don’t worry: This is normal. You’re far from alone. Ninety-five percent of people trying to develop good, new, mindful habits get stuck in this unproductive cycle.
So how can we clear habit-forming hurdles instead of stumbling on them? What is the best way to approach positive change and make it stick?
The first thing to understand is that mindfulness isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Everyone is different. Getting it right means trying various methods until you find tools and exercises that resonate with you.
That said, incorporating a few guardrails will boost the possibility of success.
- Only Tackle One Thing at a Time: You will inevitably fail if you try to change everything about yourself in one fell swoop. You have time. Change one thing at a time.
- Break Everything Into Steps: Make a plan and break your goal into steps.
- Reward Yourself for Milestones: Pay yourself on the back with a reward that fits your budget once you reach a milestone.
- Keep Track: Keep track of your journey. After succeeding, going back and reading about how far you’ve come is an amazing experience. It also motivates you to move on to the next goal or good habit.
How many days does it take to form a habit? It depends. Some people say 21; others insist the magic number is 66. We say split the difference and try everything for 42 days.
If it sticks, great. If it doesn’t, try to tweak the practice until it does. When it never sticks, move on and try something new.
Fortunately, with mindfulness, even a little goes a long way. No one expects you to be mindful 24/7; you shouldn’t expect that of yourself.
Try to incorporate one new mindful habit into your daily routine, and you’ll notice the benefits, including more focus, less stress, and less emotional reactivity.
24 Mindfulness Habits You Can Practice Daily
We’ve discussed how to build good habits.
Now let’s explore some mindfulness activities. Read them through, make a note of the ones that sound interesting, and then try them out.
Keep the ones you like and discard the rest.
Remember: The goal is to build a wellness routine tailored to your physical, practical, and emotional contours.
1. Get Sufficient Rest
Quality sleep is essential if you want to live a mindful life filled with good habits, though it’s impossible to say the exact number of hours you should sleep daily.
While eight hours is the standard assumption, research proves the ideal amount of sleep fluctuates between five and nine hours depending on the person and their environment.
However, make sure you get your hours wherever you fall on the scale. Sleep is regenerative and helps our bodies function at optimal levels.
When we’re well rested, we’re more observant. And when we’re more observant, we’re better at being mindful.
2. Make a Daily To-Do List
A big part of mindfulness is focus. Concentrating on a single thing for an extended period is one of the keys to living in the present.
To that end, daily to-do lists come in handy.
At the day’s start, map out what you want to accomplish over the next 12 hours. Don’t put impossible goals on the list. Be practical and logical. Then set an intention to finish them all.
If everything on your list is crossed off at the end of the day, treat yourself to a small reward.
But don’t beat yourself up if you missed one or all of them. Tomorrow is another day. Sometimes, it takes people months before they successfully finish a to-do list.
3. Engage in Deep Breathing
Breathing exercises are an excellent way to calm down, soothe your nervous system, and recenter yourself.
Fancy methods aren’t needed. When you begin to feel anxious, close your eyes, then start inhaling and exhaling slowly. Take in air for three seconds, hold for three seconds, and then release for a three-second exhale.
Doing this simple mindfulness habit can keep you from the proverbial ledge and bring you back into the moment.
4. Practice Your Own Rituals
Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to develop your own rituals. In fact, it’s fun to create your own religion or belief system.
We’re not suggesting you start a dangerous, grifting cult. But we advocate for “personal religion,” the act of creating and following a set of beliefs for yourself that doesn’t affect or hurt anybody else.
Most people who go this route don’t even bother telling others about their “faith.” It’s just for them.
Feel free to make up a liturgy, observances, and holidays. Studies prove that the power of rituals is not in the acts themselves but in your emotional connection to them.
In other words: It’s not what you do; it’s how you feel about what you’re doing.
We get it. This one may sound a bit “kooky.” But many folks are surprised at how well it works.
5. Incorporate Traditional Rituals
Are you comfortable with an established religion or belief system? If so, incorporate rituals, prayers, and meditations from that faith into your everyday life.
Or mix and match. For example, instead of praying five times a day like Muslims, meditate five times a day for five minutes.
It qualifies as a mindfulness exercise as long as it allows you to slow down for a few minutes and connect with your higher self or surroundings.
6. Do Art (Coloring Counts)
You don’t have to be the next Kahlo or O’Keeffe. Heck, you don’t even need to color within the lines. All that’s required is 15 minutes a week to unplug your analytical mind and exercise your creative one.
Mandala coloring books for adults are a popular choice. Moreover, studies prove that adult coloring is a sensational stress reliever that helps millions of people worldwide.
7. Go For a Walk
Aim to spend at least 20 minutes a day outside, weather permitting. People who do, tend to live longer and have better emotional control.
You don’t need to run a marathon daily — not even a 5K. Walking around a block or two works just fine. Just ensure you stay safe and avoid going out in the dark.
For a more advanced option, try a walking meditation habit by deliberately noticing the sounds, smells, visuals, and feelings of the environment around you.
8. Practice Mindfulness Reading
Are you the type of person who gets lost in a book? Do words carry you to the Land of Escapism, where fretting and worrying don’t exist?
If so, try to set aside at least 20 minutes daily to indulge in mindfulness reading.
You’re in control. If you enjoy reading about self-development, go that route. If romances or mysteries are more your style, have at it! Or perhaps non-fiction is your jam.
Whichever the case, enjoy! The only rule is not to pick something that will send you down an anxiety spiral. The goal is to step away from stress and into mindfulness.
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9. Listen to Music / Play Music
Singularly concentrating on a piece of music for 15 to 20 minutes is an ideal mindfulness meditation.
The goal is to follow every note, crescendo, and chord. Do your best to isolate different instruments. Think about how their parts contribute to the whole.
If you play something, pick it up. Making sound with an instrument forces you to be present.
10. Separate From Your Phone
Disconnecting from your phone, computer, and tablet for, at the very least, 30 minutes of waking time a day is wise. If you can make it two hours, even better.
Study after study concludes that excessive social media use harms mental health. It even affects our body’s hormone release schedule, increasing stress levels.
When we put down our digital appendages and pay attention to the people and world around us, we’re more present and mindful of what people say, do, and feel.
Building a stronger bond with the natural world is also better accomplished without a digital barrier getting in the way.
11. Move Your Body
Every time we get a “like” on social media, our bodies release a squirt of the feel-good chemical dopamine. It’s not the best cycle because feeling good depends on highly subjective opinions from people we don’t necessarily know or like.
A better way to get your daily dose of dopamine is exercise. If you don’t like running, cycling, swimming, playing sports, dancing, or walking, try gardening, cleaning, or painting. All that matters is that you get moving.
Exercise balances our stress hormones, which gives us better control over emotions. And when our feelings are more manageable, we’re naturally more mindful.
Another way to add mindfulness to movement is to dedicate oneself to the exercise, acknowledge the reasons for the movement, and stay present from start to finish.
12. Do a Five-Sense Exercise
Five-sense exercises are a lot like meditation and engage all five senses. They’re an excellent way to practice mindfulness, and you can try them inside or outdoors. Start with five minutes and work up to half an hour over time.
Watch this YouTube video to learn more.
13. Play With Your Pet
You love your four-paw — probably more than most people. They’re your best friend, parent, and most-trusted confidant.
Show them how much you love them by taking time to frolic with them daily. It’ll build your bond and provide the exercise they need to stay happy and healthy.
Plus, when you’re with your fur baby, life’s worries seem to float away. What’s more mindful than that!?
14. Daily Healthy Diet
It’s annoying but true: We are what we eat. People who eat a healthy, balanced diet look, feel, and think better.
If you’re unaccustomed to eating well, start slowly. Commit to eating one healthy thing a day. Once you successfully add that habit to your routine, bump it up to two things.
Keep going until small treats are a once-a-day occurrence.
15. Stretch and Meditate
Developing a meditation habit is one of the healthier habits to adopt. More than just new age claptrap, meditation has material effects on our well-being.
Not only does it decrease stress and anxiety, but it lowers blood pressure and improves cognitive function.
If you’ve tried meditation and it’s not for you, try stretching instead.
Approach it as you would meditation: get comfortable, take deep breaths to start, but instead of focusing on ideas, topics, or a single breath, stretch your limbs. Consider how good it feels and enjoy the endorphin release.
16. Keep a Daily Gratitude Practice
Gratitude feels great! People who take time to consider life’s positives tend to be calmer and enjoy more life satisfaction.
If journaling isn’t your thing, spend a couple of minutes before bed thinking about everything that went right that day. It can be as small as seeing and appreciating a beautiful bird.
17. Release Judgment
Theodore Roosevelt was the first to say that “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s gone on to be a popular self-help mantra — because it’s true!
Do you know what else is true? Judgment is the thief of mindfulness.
Yes, it’s impossible to go through life without opinions. Besides, we need to judge to form beliefs.
However, excessive judgment only erodes mental health and one’s capacity for compassion. Moreover, it keeps us in a never-ending assessment loop, wherein we judge everyone and everything to “keep up” and “fit in.”
It’s not a healthy path — and certainly not a mindful one.
So long as people aren’t hurting anyone else, live and let live. Moreover, remember that you never know what’s happening in someone’s life behind the scenes. So always air on the side of compassion.
18. Foster Creativity
Creative action is supported by mindfulness. A study from Frontiers in Cognition found meditation increases creativity by activating divergent thinking – opening the brain to new ideas. The practice of mindfulness is also known to improve focus and attention –making it easier to combine novel ideas and non-sequitur concepts.
The physical expression of creativity, such as music, writing, or the visual arts, has been shown to help decrease stress and anxiety.
19. Practice Compassion and Contribution
The state of compassion is made real through contribution. The act of giving takes many different forms – some volunteer their time while others give treasure.
Humans are born kind. Therefore, small random acts of kindness come naturally. Others, like socially approved etiquette, are taught.
And there is growing evidence that even watching or thinking about doing good provides powerful physiological and neurological benefits. Known as the “Mother Teresa Effect,” researchers found that watching a short film on Mother Teresa’s efforts in India provided a positive physiological response.
That study revealed that simply thinking about contributing to the lives of others enhances our immune system.
And whether it’s giving up your seat or picking up a dropped box, the opportunities to contribute to others’ lives are endless.
20. Cultivate Personal Space
Disorganization has a cumulative effect on our brains. The constant visual reminders of a messy office, desk, or home drain our cognitive resources, reducing our ability to focus, according to a study from Princeton University.
The visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can decrease our working memory. Those wallowing in chaos were often overwhelmed by “stuff” and more likely to procrastinate.
21. Cultivate Healthy Relationships
Psychological evidence suggests that practicing mindfulness can foster greater relationship satisfaction by increasing the ability to deal with stress and conflict. A degree of mindfulness is required to strengthen your relationships in sustainable and realistic ways.
Many of our behaviors are conditioned responses. Practicing mindfulness helps to shift unconscious behaviors that impact your relationships.
22. Practice Smiling Often
Smiling is one of the easiest and most fun ways to work 13 muscles simultaneously. Studies show that smiling releases neuropeptides that help fight stress. A smile also signals the brain to release feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
The serotonins act as antidepressants, while endorphins act as mild pain relievers.
Dopamine creates a dopaminergic response creating a natural ‘high’ similar to one that athletes experience after extensive exercise.
Showing those dimples also helps others view you as more attractive, reliable, relaxed, and sincere.
23. Write in a Journal
Journaling is a mindfulness habit with many benefits. Daily journaling helps reinforce mindfulness by providing a safe place to relive the day’s happiest achievements or most challenging moments. The process focuses on the retailing of the moment.
As part of daily journaling, record goals or a gratitude list, once written down, it is more likely to be the center of focus, consciously or subconsciously, throughout the day.
24. Savor Your Meals
Eating can be another mindful habit when practiced with deliberation—savoring each meal with all your senses.
Experience the aroma and pause between bites. Avoid distractions like eating while on the phone, walking around, or watching a movie.
Double-blind, peer-reviewed psychiatric studies definitively conclude that mindfulness is an effective tool that effectively treats a multitude of physical and emotional ailments.
So give it a try: tune in and get mindful!