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There are so many important things in life, and so many everyday details. After all, if you don’t take care of the little things, who else will?
What if there was a way to prioritize things you value, while not letting the little things control you? What if you could get off the hamster wheel, while still being the best possible partner, parent, boss or employee? And what if you could consistently show up for yourself–not just everyone else?
It all comes down to mindfulness.
If that brings up visions of sitting cross legged and fighting with your wandering mind, don’t worry. It’s not really about pushing thoughts away, and you can sit however you like (or not at all).
Mindfulness isn’t just about meditating. In fact, it’s actually the opposite of emptying your mind. It’s about tuning in. This is the best way to bring your awareness to yourself and what you really want.
Mindfulness itself is shown to help with everything from stress to anxiety to physical illness. It’s the practice of truly experiencing a moment, rather than just getting through it and on to the next thing.
Intentional writing is one great way to reinforce mindful living. Positive journaling in particular is connected to better emotional health, and has even alleviated symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other illnesses.
The following techniques will offer you a tangible way to leverage both mindfulness and journaling, which go hand in hand. These practices will help you learn to live your life intentionally, rather than just watching it go by.
“When you acknowledge and are grateful for whatever you have, it allows more to be drawn to you and changes the way you experience life.” – Oprah
Gratitude is the cornerstone of a field called positive psychology. It’s a recognition of the things you care about, and a thankfulness and appreciation in or about life. Multiple studies have shown that the practice of gratitude reduces anxiety, improves outlook, provides a feeling of connectedness while increasing overall wellbeing1,2
One way to practice gratitude is through journaling. Many people journal about things they’re thankful for, or positive things that have happened during their day.
In fact, just the act of “reliving” a positive moment actually enhances its effect in your life. Continued over time, it may even improve emotional and physical health3 With this in mind, here are several activities you can try to take advantage of your own positive experiences.
- Each day for a week, spend 10 minutes writing about things you’re grateful for. Write about something different every day, and try to be specific. For example, rather than “I’m grateful for my family,” you may start with, “I’m grateful my partner cooked dinner for us tonight.”
- Make a list of all of the things you like about your life. Continue adding to the list over several days. Can you list 20 or more things? Or can you top 100?
- Write a letter to yourself, thanking your past self for all of the positive things she’s done for you over the years. Wait a few days, and then read it to yourself as the recipient.
- Think of an intensely positive time in your life such as your wedding day or achieving an important goal you’d been working towards. Write about it as if you’re reliving it and get into the memory as much as possible. Stay with the feeling as long as you can.
- Write a letter to someone who has made a difference in your life. Explain how they’ve helped you or what they’ve meant to you. If appropriate, read them the letter or deliver it in person. Repeat this two more times with new people in coming weeks4 You’ll make their day, and they’ll feel grateful too! Grace is contagious.
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brene Brown
Affirmations recognize the things that are truly important to you, especially during times of stress. For example, if you value perseverance, you can remind yourself of this the next time you get discouraged about a goal that’s important to you.
Studies have shown that college students who took the time to remember their values and abilities were better able to deal with stress and problems in the moment5 Affirmations help you remember who you are and what’s important. Try these exercises:
- Review a list of values that relate to your career and work. Identify your top few and write about them. Why do you think they’re important to you? How is this already reflected in your life?
- Make a collection of inspirational quotes. Spread them around you so you have reminders throughout the day – in the mirror, on the dashboard of your car, or on your phone, for example.
- Think of a difficult decision you’ve made recently, or one you’re still considering. Which of your values relate to this choice? Does considering your values help guide you?
- Create several original quotes that you believe to be true about yourself. Pick one and practice saying it to yourself when you begin to feel discouraged.
- If you struggle to think of good things about yourself, try imagining that you’re someone else trying to encourage a friend (who’s actually you). What would you say to them? Could you accept that now as yourself?
“Every journey begins with the first step of articulating the intention, and then becoming the intention.” — Bryant McGill
Intentions are a helpful tool in mindfulness. They remind us to be present in the moment, and think about what’s actually important to us, rather than what we imagine should be.
For example, you may have the goal to be hired in a new job you believe will make you happier. This could be because it offers more money, or a more flexible schedule. By taking a step back and identifying your underlying intention, you can get a better idea of what you actually want. Perhaps you really want a career that seems more meaningful to you, or to work with people who value supporting one another?
Taking this a step further, you could create an intention for your job interview. Focus on your values, rather than just your goals, so you can make decisions that are best for you.
Here are some activities to help you get the hang of intentions.
- Set an intention for your day. Perhaps you want to be mindful throughout the day, or to have more patience with people, or to follow through with your self care strategies whether it’s exercise, getting more sleep or eating more vegetables. Keep this intention in mind as much as you can. Thought becomes action.
- Create a list of what things are important to you. Examples might include connection with your children, your goal to finish school, or your spiritual beliefs. Now, make a list of things you spend your time doing. If the two lists don’t line up, brainstorm how you might change this.
- The next time you participate in an activity, such as lunch with a friend or an outing with your family, set an intention to stay present in the moment. Try to focus as much as you can on this experience, rather than thinking about other goals or responsibilities.
- Journal one to two pages about your intentions for the next year. What would you like to feel at the end of the year? What would you like to look back on and remember?
- Encourage your employees, clients, or co-workers to set an intention during your next meeting, event, or training. What do they want to feel or get out of this experience? Do the same for yourself.
As you can see, mindfulness isn’t just about sitting in full lotus. It’s about being in the moment as much as possible, knowing what you really want, and creating a life that’s consistent with your values. Pick just a few of these practices to get started, and notice the changes that take place.
1.Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation. Psychiatry (Edgmont Pa:Township), 7(11), 18–22.
2.Kerr, S. L., O’Donovan, A., & Pepping, C. A. (2015). Can gratitude and kindness interventions enhance well-being in a clinical sample? Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being, 16(1), 17–36. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9492-1
3.Burton, C. M., & King, L. A. (2009). The health benefits of writing about positive experiences: the role of broadened cognition. Psychology & health, 24(8), 867–879. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870440801989946
4. Toepfer, S., & Walker, K. (2009) Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing. Journal of Writing Research, 1(3), 181-198. DOI: 10.17239/jowr-2009.01.03.1
5. Creswell, J. D., Dutcher, J. M., Klein, W. M., Harris, P. R., & Levine, J. M. (2013). Self-affirmation improves problem-solving under stress. PloS one, 8(5), e62593. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0062593