developing "un-habits"

So you are at least a little bit interested in this mindfulness stuff, but can't see yourself regularly folding your legs, closing your eyes, and holding still on a cushion for thirty minutes or however long it takes.  Is there another way for someone to begin to develop concentration, clarity, and being more OK with whatever life throws at you?  It turns out there is.  Although most of us begin mindfulness practice through formal sitting meditation, the real game is bringing the practice into daily life -- and it's totally OK to start right there.

To do this, we apply the same basic skills we'd otherwise bring to the cushion to our common daily experiences instead.  We can develop these skills through these four steps:

  • Recognize where your attention is
  • Redirect the attention, if necessary, to what you're actually doing now (including noticing body sensations)
  • To the best of your ability, bring a matter of fact, impartial, kind attitude to doing these steps
  • Repeat

By the way, in case you're thinking the third skill is just a "nice to have" -- cultivating this impartial attitude (traditionally called equanimity) is a crucial part of the practice. 

So when can you apply these steps?  Literally, any time at all is an opportunity, but it's often helpful to begin with some routine activities that we usually perform without much awareness that we're doing them.  So bringing the practice to these activities can turn them into what we'll call "Un-Habits".  

Some suggestions for Un-Habit opportunities:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Waiting in line
  • Running on a treadmill or lifting weights at the gym
  • Driving
  • Eating a meal

You may typically perform activities such as running on a treadmill or commuting with music playing or some other way of entertaining yourself.  The suggestion for this training is to just do the activity, at least for part of the time (say, initially 5 or 10 minutes) without the soundtrack.  This will allow you to more clearly notice whatever is actually taking place in your experience and to follow the four steps.

Over time, you just add more Un-Habits to your day.  As you do, you'll become more and more familiar with how it feels to bring mindfulness into your daily life.  And you didn't add even one extra minute of "work" to your day!