Every time I talk about mindfulness, I hear: “My brain is way too busy to be mindful.” “My ADD is so bad; I just can’t focus.” “The last thing I need is another item on my to-do list.” I understand. I really do. I get to the end of a shower with wet hair but I’ve been so preoccupied that I have no idea if I’ve washed it or not. I spill blueberries all over the kitchen floor and lose my keys and pinch my little girl’s chin into the buckle of her car seat because I’m just not paying attention. And yet I maintain that I practice mindfulness on a daily basis. How? Because I’ve learned not to define mindfulness too narrowly.
Here’s why you might be having a hard time getting started:
1. You don’t understand what it is.
Mindfulness isn’t about being perfectly present and focused at all times. It’s not about moving through life in a happy haze. Mindfulness is about choosing to pay attention to the moment with kindness and curiosity. It’s about noticing when your mind has wandered and bringing it back to what’s right in front of you.
2. You’re forgetting to be curious.
Sometimes the details of daily life aren’t all that enjoyable. Traffic is boring, your colleague at work is annoying, and the dishes have yet to wash themselves. But what if we stop wishing reality was different and got curious about it? We might not miss our freeway exit. We’d learn that our coworker is going through a messy divorce. We’d remember that we were up all night with a fussy kid and give ourselves a break. Life would feel a little bit easier.
3. You’re making it bigger than it needs to be.
You can notice a wandering mind in the shower or while you’re drinking your coffee. You can take a deep breath before you hit send or snap at your spouse. You can notice your breathing in line at the grocery store. And you can remember that no matter how spacey, forgetful, impulsive, or reactive you’ve been, you can always begin again.
4. You’re only practicing when you’re upset.
While mindfulness can certainly be helpful in difficult moments, our brains have a hard time learning or doing something new when they’re under stress. The more you practice paying attention to the present moment when you’re calm and happy, the easier and more effective it’ll be when you’re freaking out.
5. You’re trying to do it alone.
Our brains are wired to think, worry, remember, predict, plan, and regret. Mindfulness asks us to swim against the tide of these mental habits. We need support in this practice, with books, lectures, classes, and conversations with like-minded friends.
A longer version of this piece was originally published on Cognoscenti, WBUR.org’s ideas and opinion page. Reprinted with permission.