Mindfulness Exercises: How to Be Present in the Moment
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After spending the last year researching and writing my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, I've learned that our attention is increasingly being eaten up by technology. We barely notice that our time is being consumed not only by reading and writing texts and emails, but also perusing social media, reading the news, and watching videos in many, if not most, of our spare moments.
So how do we switch our attention away from technology and instead be more mindful? One way is to make mindfulness exercises a part of your routine.
Why We Need Mindfulness Exercises in the Technology Age
Even though we may not realize it, using our attention on our technologies takes energy, and we can end up getting attention fatigue without really understanding why. A sort of chronic lethargy can emerge. We might not feel bad, exactly, but we sure don’t feel good. We need to take mindful breaks—which help us pay attention to the present moment—to overcome this attention fatigue.
If you're not sure how mindful you are to begin with, you might want to take this short well-being quiz, which tells you your scores for mindfulness and other aspects of well-being.
Now what do you do? Try these four steps to make mindfulness exercises a part of your routine:
1. Take Breaks from Technology and Media
To be more mindful and overcome attention fatigue, we first need to take breaks from media and technology, to give our attention a break. But of course, most of us cannot avoid technology indefinitely. We still have to live our lives.
So, to maintain our happiness, we need to regularly engage in restorative experiences or go to restorative environments (which is in itself a mindfulness exercise) to develop our mindfulness skills.
2. Have Restorative Experiences
Restorative experiences are those that have three components: They are different from our normal routine, they are fascinating to some extent, and they fit your needs and interests. Although many experiences could be restorative, it turns out that getting out in nature tends to be one of the best ones because it so easily satisfies these three requirements.
For example, to get to nature, most of us have to step out of our regular lives and do something a bit different. In nature, there are endless things to evoke fascination—trees, plants, animals, and other sights we are not used to seeing. Taking a walk in a nearby park or spending an afternoon in a botanical or community garden seems to be enough to satisfy our need to “get away” and “experience fascination”. This type of mindfulness exercise helps us overcome our attention fatigue so that we can be more present.
3. Plan Your Get-Aways
It might seem hard at first to find these experiences--who has the time, energy, or money to truly get away? We might have to go to a local park (instead of our dream beach vacation) to reboot our mindful self.
So take a moment now to think about what kinds of restorative experiences would work for you. Be sure to think of several experiences you could have in nature, but feel free to include other locations too. For example, you might try going to an art gallery, a car show, a pet shop, a local farm, a musical event, or any number of other events that are different, fascinating, and interesting to you.
4. Stick to Your Mindfulness Exercises
Schedule a time to try a couple of these experiences. Spend at least 10-15 minutes in the restorative environment (but the longer the better) and when you’re done, reflect on how it made you feel. Ideally, try a few different experiences to see which ones work best for you. But keep in mind that if you continue going to the same place, the benefits are likely to decline, so make sure you have several restorative environments to choose from. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to be feel more mindful, even if only for a few minutes per day.
Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive medicine reports, 5, 92-99.
Kaplan, Stephen. 1995. "The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework." Journal of environmental psychology 15 (3):169-182.