Gretchen Rubin, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Better Than Before,” often refers to the strategy of the clean slate. On her blog, she writes, “the fresh start, the do-over, or the new year is a crucial time because it offers tremendous opportunity for forming new habits.”
With a fresh year ahead of us, it’s the perfect time to start a new habit of practicing mindfulness every day. And who better to get tips from than the experts?
I asked 13 experts, from psychologists to mental health experts to wellness coaches, for their tips on actionable, tactical examples of how to add mindfulness to your daily life. Try them out and tweet me which ones worked for you: @austin_langlois.
Kelley Kitley, a mental health expert, recommends using your daily commute as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
“When you’re walking from the train to the office, just walk,” said Kitley. “Put the phone away and take the ear buds out. Awaken your senses. Smell the air, feel the cold on your face, feel the ground under you, listen to the sounds of the city. Mindfulness is being present in the moment.”
Erin Swinson, a mental health therapist, offers up the STOP acronym every time you encounter a stop sign or red light.
“Use the STOP acronym to redirect,” Swinson said. “S =Stop. T=Take several deep breaths. O=Observe what’s going on around you, within you. P = Proceed to present moment.”
Stress happens to us all, but psychologist Crystal Lee has a tip to calm the minds and recenter the body to help combat stress.
“If you are feeling stressed during a busy and chaotic day, try using your
five senses for a quick mindful break,” said Lee. “Name five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste.”
Ping, ping, ping. With the automated notifications on your mobile phone, it’s continuously interrupting your thought process and ability to focus.
User experience researcher Sheana Ahlqvist advises we turn off non-people notifications in the new year, like YouTube, travel apps, shopping apps.
There’s interesting research behind the power of rituals, and as a frequent traveler, Robin Cangie uses a ritual to stay calm, mindful and present during tiring and stressful business trips. For example, she eats breakfast in the same restaurant in her home airport. She earmarks one evening for herself to be quiet and alone. And, rather than buying the plane Wi-Fi, she uses the time in the air to disconnect.
Instead of relying on your phone’s jarring alarm clock, try the Yoga Wake Up app. It’s audio-only, helping you resist grabbing your phone right after you wake up. It starts with 30 seconds of soft music, and then a certified yogi leads you through breathing and stretching in bed.
Diane Sherry Case, the author of “Write For Recovery,” has developed simple exercises for people to increase mindfulness through daily journaling. One that she recommends is writing about the atmosphere that you live in. For example, describe your home and bedroom. What’s the color? Does your space make you happy to be home? What are things you could do to make it more peaceful and inspiring (like changing the lighting or adding a nice scent)?
Travis Baird, a mindfulness and performance coach, offered a tip for adding moments of mindfulness at work.
“When checking your email, pause after reading each email to observe the physical sensations in your body,” Baird said. “How did the content of the email make you feel? Do you feel tension in your shoulders, jaw, or stomach? Feelings of relaxation or relief? Observe whatever physical sensations arise, then choose the next action to take, whether that’s deleting the email or responding skillfully.”
Pastor and children’s author Charles Long adds mindfulness as a calendar appointment every day. He notes that “repetition is the path to mindfulness.” For Long, he finds mornings and evenings the best time to practice meditation.
Danielle Diamond, wellness expert and founder of Xen Strength Yoga, shared a mantra she uses during her morning meditation: “Think before you speak, and breathe before you act.”
“It’s taught me to mind the gap between action and reaction so I can wisely choose how I want to respond in any certain situation, so I’m not sorry for my behavior 10 minutes later,” said Diamond.
Jeffrey Siegel, the founder of JES wellness, uses flying as an opportunity to center himself and practice mindfulness.
“I often close my eyes and sense into my body when flying — especially during take off,” said Siegel. “It can be fun to open the level feature on my phone, place it on my armrest, and watch the reading change as the plane banks and turns. Focusing on the miracle of flight and the new types of movement one experiences while flying (opposed to being on the ground) makes for a much richer and more pleasant travel experience.”
Listening to music can also be a great time to bring yourself to the present moment. Julianne Schroeder, an adolescent and adult therapist, suggests tuning into music as a simple and way to infuse mindfulness into daily life.
“Take 3 minutes to focus on enjoying your newest favorite song as you get ready for the day or in the car,” said Schroeder. “Focus on the lyrics, hone into the rhythm and listen intently to the dominant instrument in the song.
Clinical psychologist and Harvard Medical School faculty member Inna Khazan advises taking a few moments at the end of the day to write down 3 things that you’re thankful for: something about yourself, other people and the world around you.
“Knowing that you have to write down at least 3 things at the end of the day will help you expand your awareness and take in things that would have gone unnoticed,” said Khazan. “For example, [take note of] someone holding the door open for you when your hands are full, or a barista at the coffee shop being extra attentive, or the feeling of the sun on your face.