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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

5 simple steps to a better day

Do you sometimes feel like your days slip by, one rolling into the next without you really living or enjoying them? I do. Sometimes it’s because I am too busy running from one thing to the next, my mind already on the following item on my to-do-list while I’m still in the middle of doing the previous one, that’s if I even get to my to-do-list in the first place. Other times it’s because I am bored, and end up searching for ways of killing time by switching off and watching TV instead of truly living in the moment. Either way, whether it’s boredom or busyness, I’m often not fully in the present, therefore not truly living my life to its full potential. I truly think that when it comes to this, I am the norm, not the exception, and that so many of us suffer from not inhabiting our lives, too preoccupied as we are with the next work project, week end plan, programme on TV, meal to cook, place to go, thing to do.. the list is endless.

Enough I say! I have decided to get back to being in the moment, and stop letting life slip away from me out of stress or boredom. Want to join me? Here are 5 very simple steps to help you on your way. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, why not give it a try!

1. Rise and Shine.. early!
We all know the saying ‘The early bird gets the worm’ well let’s imagine that the worm in this case is symbolic of you starting your day by truly focusing on yourself, rather than just rolling out the wrong side of bed, switching on that auto-pilot mode and mindlessly going through the motions of getting ready, not appreciating breakfast as you gobble it down, not noticing the sunrise on the way to work, not enjoying the music on the radio or having fun while walking the dog. So this week, try it out, set your alarm a little earlier and follow the 4 simple steps below, adding whatever else you want, this time is completely yours to fill with whatever you enjoy, whether that’s exercising, reading the newspaper, cooking or going for a walk. But remember, the rule here is that this is your time, so stay well away from your personal admin or work to-do-list and emails!

2. Set your intentions
You’re up, well done! Now start off by sitting down with pen and paper for 5 minutes, think about how you intend to live your day and write this down – this can of course include things you want to get accomplished, but it’s more than just another to-do-list, it’s about focusing on how you intend to approach your day, relate to your self, and to others. If you set your intentions you are much more likely to have the day the way you want to have. If you like you can come back to what you wrote throughout the day, checking in to make sure you are on the right track.

3. Say your thank you’s!
Take a couple of minutes to thank someone and write this down along with your intentions. Think of someone in your life, a friend, a colleague, the guy who sells you the newspaper, anyone, that you would like to thank for the most meaningful or smallest of gestures. The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware and appreciative of those around us, for who they are as well as for what they add to our lives. At first you’ll find it easier to thank the people you love or appreciate, but after a while you can try and do the same for the people you don’t get on with so well. This is when this exercise gets really powerful, because suddenly we have to make a conscious effort to see these people as individuals, to think about the difficulties they might be facing and recognise their qualities. Challenges are always the best opportunities for learning and self-growth so if nothing else, we can thank the people we find difficult for offering us such opportunities, if we were only surrounded by people we got on well with 100% of the time, we wouldn’t have the same space to grow and improve!
4. The minute meditation
I’m not suggesting you light incense, sit in lotus position for a full hour and chant buddhist hymns, unless you want to! Just spend 5-10 minutes in a peaceful and quiet corner of your house, where you will be undisturbed. Close your eyes and just focus on your breath, when your mind wanders simply observe this without judgment and bring it back to your breath, accepting that your mind will wonder, again and again, and that’s ok. This simple exercise will help clear your mind and alleviate stress, and is also a good way for you to check in with yourself and observe how you are feeling, physically and emotionally, without trying to fix or change anything, as a lesson in observation and self-acceptance. After a while, you’ll start recognising your breath as an anchor that is always within reach, so throughout the day if you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed you can simply focus on your breath for a few minutes, as a way of giving yourself a time out and space to find balance and awareness.

5. Do one thing fully
 Chose one simple thing, it can be the same thing or a different thing each day, like brushing your teeth, eating your breakfast, drinking your coffee, or walking to work, and give it your full attention. This exercise is meant to get us out of our auto-pilot mode, which stops us from truly experiencing the moment, and after all what is a life but an accumulation of moments?! So as an example, let’s say you’ve chosen to focus on drinking your coffee: sit down to drink it without doing anything else, no phones, computers, newspapers, radio, just you and your coffee. Now focus, observe your coffee – the colour and texture of it, notice how the mug feels between your hands, inhale and appreciate its aroma, then with each mouthful focus on each and every flavour and sensation. You may find this incredibly boring at first, perhaps a million other things are crowding your mind and you are thinking about what a waste of time this is, but persevere a little and the chances are you will soon appreciate this coffee a hundred times more than you usually do!  And if you find yourself surprised at how much more this technique enabled you to enjoy something as simple as a cup of coffee this morning, think about what would happen if you applied this to other things in life?

There you have it, 5 simple steps to help you be more mindful and in the moment, I find if I do these every morning very quickly I can feel their benefits throughout the whole day, I feel calmer and more grounded and I appreciate my self, others and my days much more. Try these steps out for just a few days and you will probably notice that you will start applying their principles almost unconsciously to other situations in your life, by being more mindful, more in the moment, and increasingly aware of how you am thinking, feeling and relating to others. Let me know how it goes :)

And, last but not least, remember to congratulate yourself, if you did the above steps that means you took time for yourself, to be in your present and be more mindful of your self, your surroundings, your life!

If you’re interested in reading more about mindfulness try out these two books –
‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman
‘The monk who sold his ferrari’ by Robin Sharma


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