Photo courtesy of Bing Ramos
On the journey toward living with mindfulness and balance, it’s important not to slip into auto-pilot too often. Much like arriving at a familiar destination in your car and having no idea how you got there, living life on auto-pilot steals moments right out from under you. It’s so easy to zone out, and it’s ok to let it happen once in awhile, but for the most part, living mindfully means paying attention to every moment we are lucky enough to experience.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time creating effectual habits in order to become more productive, and that type of automated thinking, in the appropriate settings, is actually good for my brain and allows me to function better professionally. Habitual thinking occurs when the brain becomes so accustomed to certain tasks that performing them becomes automatic, leaving us able to concentrate on more important things. Examples of beneficial habits include exercising, flossing your teeth, and taking your vitamins every day.
A problem arisis when the brain slips into automatic mode too often, leading to lost life experiences. In order to use your inner capacities for awareness and insight, it’s important to focus on “being” rather than “doing.” Living mindfully means letting your mind rest in each moment as it comes, watching your thoughts and reactions to all that life has to offer.
If you’re finding it difficult to shut off auto-pilot and be more present in your life, here are ten simple things you can do to get started:
1. Appreciate the things others do for you. Start taking notice of the small favors people do for you. By telling my husband how much I appreciate what he does, I’m more in tune with how happy he makes me feel.
2. Start listening. Admit it: when your kids (or sometimes your friends) launch into a long story, it’s easy to stop paying attention. Instead of formulating your response, sit back, watch the person’s body language, and listen.
3. Sit with your body; quiet your mind. You can do this at any point during the day. Take a break from what you’re doing, feel the space your body is taking up, and think only of your breathing.
4. Be more aware of your posture. Becoming more attuned to where your body is in space can turn a slouch into a ramrod straight spine. I have personally grown a full inch since posture became a priority.
5. Think of those who are less fortunate. When you’re facing a hurdle, take a moment to imagine how it would feel to be homeless or seriously disabled. Then turn your focus back to your life, and grasp the full greatness of what you do have.
6. Practice progressive relaxation. You can combine this with #3 when you have time. Lie down in a comfortable position. Tighten and then systematically relax each muscle group.
7. Eat slowly. Allow your food to sit on your tongue longer; put your fork down in between bites. Enjoy the way your food tastes, feels, and smells.
8. Drive under the speed limit. By making a concious effort to move more slowly, you’ll realize that life doesn’t have to be so fast paced, leaving you more capable of enjoying the scenery.
9. Recognize that answering your cell phone is a choice. So many people answer calls, text, or read facebook updates while engaging in face-to-face interactions with other people! Put your phone down, turn it off, and focus on the real people around you.
10. Do things that make you feel good. You have the power to say yes and no. Utilize that power according to your happiness requirements. Simply: participate in activities that you enjoy, and avoid situations and people that cause your happiness level to suffer.
Simply because Ford predicts that cars will soon be equipped with nearly complete auto-pilot capabilities doesn’t mean that humans should follow their lead. On the road of life, you’re the one navigating. Choose your destination, feel the wind in your hair, and stop often along the way.