“Nick, I’d really like to meditate more, but I just don’t have the time to sit everyday for 10 or 15 minutes. My life’s way too busy.”
I hear this one all the time from my students and I understand how difficult it can be to take time out for yourself. It can feel like you’re being selfish, like you can’t really justify it when there’s so many other things that need attending to. Jobs, kids, relationships, etc. Life can get really crazy!
Even if you’re convinced that meditation is a really good thing to do. That it can help you get some peace and calm in your hectic life, help you to relax and de-stress.
Even if you have a yearning to live more in the present moment and reconnect with your spiritual side, somehow meditation just never gets high enough on the list of priorities.
When you don’t have time for formal meditation practice
There’s an easy solution.
Don’t equate meditation with formal sitting practice.
Instead, practice mindfulness using the familiar, repetitive events that occur during your day. Use these moments to develop your skill in alert, receptive, non-reactive observation.
The idea is to use common, everyday activities, especially those that you do multiple times a day, as triggers to remind yourself to be in the present moment and engage mindfully with whatever you’re experiencing in that moment.
Here are some examples:
A laundry list of daily mindfulness triggers
You can be mindful while …
- standing in line
- at a stop light while driving
- taking out the garbage
- walking the dog
- mowing the lawn or tending the garden
- doing yoga
- running or doing any other exercise
- falling asleep
- waking up
- making your morning coffee
- texting on your phone
- typing up an email
- scrolling through your newsfeed on Facebook
- doing your hair
- having a shower
- getting changed
- waiting anywhere for anything
- reading a novel
- watching a movie or TV
- brushing your teeth
- in the elevator
- listening to the radio
- surfing the web
- snuggling your kids to bed
- riding the bus or subway
- on a plane (business trips have been some of my best meditation times)
You can try to remember to be mindful whenever …
- you have a drink of water
- you need to walk somewhere
- you pull out your phone
- one of your kids whines or complains about something
- you think to yourself, “I should meditate today but I don’t have time”
- you catch yourself feeling self-conscious
- you open a door or walk through a doorway
- you kiss or hug your children
- you catch yourself worrying about something
- you pay for something
- someone says thank-you to you
- someone says sorry to you
- you look at your watch or check the time on your phone
- you turn on a light switch
I think you get the point =-)
There are so many opportunities to practice mindfulness throughout the day!
How to use the daily mindfulness triggers
I’ve given you a bunch of ideas here and I’m sure you can come up with a lot more on your own. These are everyday events that you can use as triggers to be more mindful.
What should you actually do during these moments to develop mindfulness? How do you practice with stuff like this?
Well, start by picking one or two things from the list above, or from your own list, and every day for the next week, try to bring mindful awareness to that event as often as you can remember.
And what should you pay attention to? What should you bring mindful awareness to?
Whatever is easy for you to notice.
You can pay attention to the physical sensations that are present in the body in that moment. Or the thoughts and mental states that are present in the mind. Or both.
What you pay attention to isn’t as important as how you pay attention to it.
What is Mindful Awareness?
Mindfulness is an alert, receptive, equanimous observation. So, whatever you’re observing, try to be as clearly aware of it as possible, accepting whatever it is that you notice, even if you don’t particularly like it.
And don’t react. Simply observe with curiosity and interest and do nothing to push the experience away or make it last longer.
You can learn more about what mindfulness is and how to develop it on the Resource Page for Beginners
Make it even simpler
If choosing from this list seems too forced or contrived for you, you can make it even simpler.
For example, you can focus only on the physical sensations associated with touch.
Every time you touch something, and you remember, try to be mindful of the sensations that are present in your fingers and hands.
We all touch things every day, throughout the day, so this is a really good one to try.
You can also do things like, every time you smile, bring mindful awareness to the physical sensations associated with that smile.
A progression to follow
Once you get good at being mindful of physical sensations in this way, see if you can expand your awareness to include your current overall mood or mental state.
Once you can do that easily, expand further to include awareness of the presence of any thoughts in that moment.
By doing this, even if it’s only for a few seconds here and there, you’re training yourself to be mindful, again and again, throughout the day.
But, is this “real” mindfulness practice?
Now, you may feel that this isn’t “real” mindfulness practice. That this kind of practice is second-rate to formal sitting practice.
I understand. I felt this way for many years, until I noticed something interesting.
I meditated, formally, a lot more than my wife, Andrea. Probably about 1-2 hours a day more than she did. And yet, she was more patient with the kids, more compassionate and just seemed to be able to regulate her emotions much better than I was.
What was going on?
After some delicate questioning on my part =-), it turned out that she was doing pretty much full time mindfulness practice throughout the day of the type I’m describing here.
Then the lightbulb went on and I started taking this kind of practice seriously.
It’s made an enormous difference in my daily life.
It’s also given my formal practice a big boost.
Because I was practicing being mindful in little bits here and there throughout the day, it took me less time to “get into it” when I sat down to meditate.
The daily life mindfulness practice made my formal sitting practice more efficient.
Doing this kind of informal practice is an excellent way to help you get the most out of whatever limited formal meditation time you have.
How deep can you go?
If you’re still skeptical of the value of informal practice, here’s a stream-of-consciousness, real-time example of where you can go with this stuff.
I’m also aware of a voice in my head that reads each word that I type, and I notice that there is a mental image of my face that appears each time the voice in my head says a word.
I’m aware that, whenever that mental image appears, it results in a kinaesthetic feeling in my body that implies that it’s “me” who is doing the thinking. At the same time, I’m also aware of the impermanence of that sense of “me”, how it rapidly disappears and is recreated numerous times while I type.
I also notice that this sense of self is absent much of the time, and how, when it’s absent, there’s no sense of agency, no sense of a “doer”. And yet, my fingers still type and thoughts still arise and pass away, all on their own.
I’m aware of how that observation of impermanence has a little thrill to it, because it shows me that, even though the sense of “me” is incredibly familiar, it lacks real substance and isn’t actually me.
I’m also aware of how my attention darts to and fro, constantly moving between all these different sensations, thoughts, mental images, etc.
And I notice that whatever my attention is momentarily focused on is sharp and clear and has lots of detail, while the other things that I’m still aware of kind of fade into the background during that moment and are less distinct.
The more mindful awareness I bring to the act of typing, the more I discover.
I hope that the example above shows you just how powerful this kind of informal practice can be, and that it’s definitely not a poor cousin to sitting on the cushion being mindful of the breath.
So, no excuses anymore =-). You don’t need more time.
You just need to bring mindfulness to whatever you’re doing right now.
Now, don’t just say to yourself, “That seems pretty useful, I should bookmark this page and come back to it sometime and do this.”
It’s time to take action!
Before you leave this web page and go on to the next thing in your life, I’d like you to take a few seconds and choose one or two daily events that will serve as your mindfulness trigger.
For the next week, bring as much mindful awareness as you can to whatever’s easy for you to notice, whenever your daily trigger occurs.
Go ahead and pick your trigger now, and then post a comment below telling us what it is. This will help you to commit to this practice and inspire others to do the same!
Coaching students in this kind of informal practice is a big part of what I do in the 30 Days of Mindfulness program. It helps them bridge the gap between their formal sitting practice and their daily life, and shows them how to apply mindfulness to all kinds of situations. If this sounds interesting, you can find out more about the 30 Days of Mindfulness program here.