Mindfulness for the Real World

I am a big fan of doing something formal to get your mind and body on the same page—like, say, taking a yoga class or sitting and meditating. These ‘official’ practices are great ways to reduce your stress, quiet your mind, and hear what’s really true for you.

But they aren’t the only game in town.

It is completely possible to use anything that you have to do on a daily basis—cleaning the kitchen, getting your kids ready to bed, going for a walk, getting to work—as a chance to get right in your mind, body and spirit.

How you do it

Whatever it is you need to do, before you start, set an intention to simply pay attention to the experience. That’s all mindfulness is – paying attention.

So, say you’re doing the dishes. You want to pay attention to the way the water feels on your hands, the sounds of the dishes clinking in the sink, the sight of the bubbles popping. Resist the urge to rush. Just take it one dish at a time. And whenever you find yourself thinking about what you’re going to do next (or anything other than washing the dishes), bring your attention back to what’s happening right there in the sink.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who wrote The Miracle of Mindfulness, calls it “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” Not washing the dishes so you can go watch The Voice, or read a magazine, or what have you. Just doing them because they need doing.

Same for putting your kids to bed—your goal is to simply be there with them, placing your attention on your interactions and not thinking “How much longer until I can go downstairs and veg out with a glass of wine?”

What you get

When you allow yourself to become totally absorbed by what you’re doing, you slow the pace of your thoughts—and stress primarily originates in that endless chatter the mind can pump out. So you also reduce your stress. And when that chatter quiets down a bit, you can hear the inner wisdom that’s always with you but it typically drowned out by the louder worries and plans that are floating around inside your mind.

Those insights help you know what’s important, so you can do those important things when you’re done, which also helps you feel more accomplished and productive.

You also get time for yourself without having to add anything to your to-do list or finding more hours in the day. And while you may be able to avoid meditating or yoga class for days or even weeks, you can’t go long without having to do the dishes or commute to work—meaning your consistency will get better and so will your results.

For me, the most important benefit of approaching my daily chores with mindfulness is that I stopped dreading them – or worse, being mad at someone else that I had to do them (I’m talking about my husband, who was a sporadic dish-doer in the early years of our marriage.). Once I got over that resistance to spending my time on household tasks, I related better to the people I lived with and they stopped resisting too. Now that’s multi-tasking at its best.