How To Practice Mindfulness: 10 Practical Steps and Tips

how to practice mindfulnessDeveloping a mindfulness practice has been proven to offer a myriad of positive benefits for the body, mind, and soul. (Davis & Hayes, 2011).

But sometimes, it’s easier said than done. 

Have you ever wanted to bring more mindfulness into your life, but struggle to make time in between your chaotic schedule? Or set the intention to go about your day more mindfully, only to fall into the trap of snacking unconsciously or responding to emails on autopilot?

It’s not easy in the beginning and there will always be some bumps on your path toward a committed mindfulness practice. 

This article will guide you through the various ways and resources to help introduce mindfulness in your life so that you are well prepared to start your journey.

 

How To Begin Practicing Mindfulness

If you are a complete beginner to mindfulness, I’d recommend you read our article What is Mindfulness first, which includes a full definition and lists significant benefits of mindfulness.

At its core, mindfulness is an activity that needs to be practiced, exercised, and adopted. With these cornerstones in mind – practice, exercise, adopt – let’s consider a few ways to introduce mindfulness into our daily lives.

 

Start with a daily routine

The first step is to introduce a daily routine. Like any exercise, mindfulness benefits from regular practice. In research where mindfulness is used as an intervention, researchers often use an intervention plan that takes place across many weeks (e.g., four weeks in Mackensie, Poulin, Seidman-Carlson, 2006: for a review see Hofmann, Sawyer, Witt & Oh, 2010).

Decide on an uninterrupted time of day that you can set aside to practice mindfulness, and keep that time in your schedule.

 

Mindfulness is a way of perceiving, thinking, and behaving

You would be forgiven for thinking that mindfulness is just an activity; in fact, mindfulness is a way of perceiving and observing, and it can be developed using various tools. Some of these tools include meditation, exercises, and breathing.

 

Commit, commit, commit

The most important step before embarking on this journey is to commit to it. Some meta-analyses have highlighted that some studies found varying effects for mindfulness interventions, and the authors posit that this might be because the participants are not engaging in their mindfulness homework or exercises, or do these exercises for too short a period to see results (Khoury et al., 2013).

Therefore, knowing this, before you begin, you have to commit. Now, if you’re ready, I’m going to convince you why you should start a mindfulness routine, and I’ll explain how to live a mindful life daily.

 

5 Reasons to Start Practicing Mindfulness Today

reasons to start practicing mindfulnessAt this point, you might think that mindfulness sounds like it requires a lot of effort.

Beginning a mindfulness habit is work, and it will be difficult in the beginning, but this habit will become easier over time and with more practice.

Additionally, mindfulness has numerous positive benefits, which is supported by research (for a review, see Davis & Hayes, 2011). Some of the benefits of mindfulness include emotional benefits, cognitive benefits, interpersonal benefits, professional benefits, and practical benefits.

 

Emotional benefits

Regular mindfulness meditation results in reduced depressive symptoms, negative affect, and rumination (Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2008; Hofmann et al., 2010; Khoury et al., 2013). Rumination is the persistent over-worry of

  • past events,
  • negative emotions, and
  • both the cause and consequences of these emotions (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000).

Rumination is often linked to increased depression and anxiety (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2000). Read our related article on Mindful Thinking, where we discuss four ways to stop ruminating.

The positive effects of mindfulness at reducing negative affect and other negative psychological syndromes, like depression and anxiety, are not limited to only one study. Instead, these findings are supported in a meta-analysis by Hoffman et al. (2010).

In that meta-analysis, which contained 39 studies, the effect sizes for the differences in the psychological state before and after the mindful therapy was large for clinical participants and moderate for nonclinical participants.

These results suggest that therapeutic interventions based on mindfulness are not only successful for clinical populations, but the benefits extend to nonclinical populations.

 

Cognitive benefits

Practitioners of mindfulness have better working memory than nonpractitioners (Chamber et al., 2008; Corcoran, Farb, Anderson, & Segal, 2010), which allows for better emotional regulation.

Participants also report that their attention improves significantly after regular mindful meditation compared to before they began mindful meditation (Chamber et al., 2008).

There is also some laboratory evidence that suggests that people who have developed a habit of practicing mindfulness for longer are better at ignoring emotional distractions than people whose mindfulness habit is shorter or who do not practice mindfulness (Pavlov et al., 2015).

These results suggest that the benefits of mindfulness are cumulative and will continue to improve over time.

 

Interpersonal benefits

The benefits of mindfulness flow to other spheres of life, including relationships.

There is some evidence that regular mindfulness practice can improve relationship satisfaction and communication through a variety of paths (Barnes et al., 2007), specifically:

  • Responding to relationship stress in a positive way
  • Better identification of one’s own emotions
  • Better communication of one’s own emotions
  • Better conflict resolution
  • Improved empathy

 

Professional benefits

It should come as no surprise that the benefits of mindfulness are not limited to interpersonal relationships only – for example, the ability to communicate clearly and to respond more effectively to stressful situations should translate from personal to professional contexts (Dekeyser et al., 2008).

Empirical evidence also exists that shows that employees who practice regularly mindful activities experienced higher job satisfaction and lower job stress than a control group who did not participate (Hülsheger, Albert, Feinholdt, & Lang, 2012).

 

Practical reasons for practicing mindfulness

The final reason to practice mindfulness is a practical one: Methods to improve mindfulness is often easy and inexpensive to implement. The only ‘cost’ is that of time and effort because you would need to find the time for regular mindfulness practice.

 

Steps for a Mindful Daily Life

Although mindfulness is fostered through regular practice, such as putting aside a set time to meditate or engage in some other type of activity, what is extremely important is to try to incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of your life.

We know that this is difficult, but to help you, we’ve made a list of steps that you can follow:

 

Make the time

Set aside time each day that you can formally practice mindfulness. Ideally, this daily slot should occur at the same time each day and for the same duration so that it becomes a habit (Khoury et al., 2013).

Studies that have used a mindfulness intervention have done so over several weeks, with one or two sessions each day. Sometimes interventions are only five days a week (MacKenzie et al., 2006), sometimes they are six days a week (Parsons et al., 2017). The length of each exercise session varies between 10 minutes (MacKenzie et al., 2006) and 45 minutes (Kabat-Zinn,1990).

 

Perform an exercise

During the time that you have set aside, perform one of the following exercises (Davis & Hayes, 2011): a body scan, deep breathing, or mindful meditation.

  • Bodyscan: During the body scan exercise, try to focus inward on your body and the way that it feels. Your task is to develop an awareness of sensations in your body. Breathe in deeply, and remain aware of your bodily sensations without trying to change them.

  • Three-minute breathing: During this exercise, the participant is guided through three points where they become aware, focus their attention on their breathing, and extend their attention. Focusing on one’s breath is meant to act as an anchor.

  • Mindful stretching: For this exercise, start by following one of the mindful stretching videos listed below. While in the stretch, focus on your breathing, and think about how your body feels. Try to focus only on the activity of stretching and avoid other distracting thoughts.

  • Mindful breathing while focusing on your breath and your thoughts: Sit somewhere quiet in a seated position. While seated, focus on your breathing/thoughts. Inhale deeply for three seconds and slowly exhale for three seconds. Use your breathing as your anchor; when you find your thoughts wandering, come back to your breathing and inhale deeply for three seconds, followed by a deep exhalation for three seconds. In many exercises, the time limit for this exercise is three minutes.

  • Mindful meditation: This is a particular type of meditation where you learn how to practice mindfulness. During this type of meditation, you will be seated for a period (ranging between 10 and 30 minutes) and will practice focusing on only your breathing. This is very similar to the previous two exercises, except that your body is not moving, and the time is longer.

 

Act mindfully

Choose one activity during the day that you will perform in a mindful way, that is, with complete awareness. The best type of activity is one that you could choose is one that would usually be done automatically, for example, driving, showering, cooking, eating, exercising, or walking. Here I’ve given you an example of how to act mindfully while eating.

Mindful eating: When you take your lunch break, practice mindful eating. Do not rush through your lunch so that you can get to your desk – instead, take the time to enjoy your lunch. Focus on the texture of your meal, the effort that went into making it, and the flavors of the food in your mouth.

Actively reflect on how eating your lunch makes you feel. Are there any ingredients in your meal that you especially enjoy?

 

6 Useful PDFs for Beginners and Practitioners

To help you adopt mindfulness practices in your everyday life or your clinical practice, we’ve put together a list of useful pdfs.

 

For yourself

The Mind for Better Mental Health organization assists people who suffer from mental health difficulties. They have put together a handy beginner’s pdf to mindfulness. This document is useful for anyone interested in mindfulness and not limited to individuals diagnosed with psychological difficulties.

However, we have an excellent set of three mindfulness exercises compiled by our very own Dr. Hugo, that you may download by accessing this link: 3 Mindfulness Exercises Pack. The pack includes an introductory note, very detailed exercises, and three guided meditation mp3’s.

 

For the classroom

If you are interested in introducing mindfulness into the classroom but don’t know where to begin, then read the Teaching Kids to Thrive PDF after finishing this post. It will provide you with more information that is classroom specific.

Also, the Mindful Classrooms PDF is an excellent, detailed guide for introducing mindfulness exercises into the classroom. It belongs in every teacher’s top drawer.

 

6 Tips for Being Mindful at the Workplace

The workplace presents unique challenges that are very different from the problems in our personal lives.

  • In our workplace, we often have to deal with strangers. Because we do not know them, we might misinterpret what they say. Furthermore, there is an unspoken rule of conduct about how we should behave with certain people in our workplace.

  • A workplace hierarchy exists with a structured set of rules and codes that influences our behavior.

  • Some of the emotions we deal with may be deemed inappropriate for the workplace.

  • We may work in a high-stress environment where we have to make decisions with severe consequences.

For example, certain types of behaviors and emotional responses towards a client are inappropriate and can cause employees emotional distress. We may have to sit stoically through an uncomfortable/unfair reprimand or restrain our disapproval of company decisions.

Many examples exist where we have to ‘keep our calm.’ Being able to implement mindfulness at the workplace can be the solution when facing these challenges.

Below we have provided a summary of tips and interventions for mindfulness at work:

 

Tip One: Use a metacognitive strategy

In situations that would typically provoke you, do the following three steps.

  1. ‘Step away’ mentally from the situation.
  2. Experience the situation.
  3. Do not evaluate the situation.

Specifically, try to ‘look in’ on your thoughts and feelings without reworking the narrative of the situation (e.g., “But he placed the wrong order” or “I’m trying my best without the support”). By adopting a meta-stance (Hülsheger et al., 2012), you can observe the situation without reacting to it.

 

Tip Two: Acknowledge your feelings

The above technique is also useful during periods of stress or panic, especially when a deadline is looming. Try to step away from yourself mentally and observe your feelings and thoughts.

The intention is to not react to the anxiety but to recognize it, acknowledge it, and to disengage from it. Try to avoid forming a cognitive narrative where you judge your feelings and behavior.

 

Tip Three: Mindful listening

Up to this point, both tips have been focused inwards by examining your thoughts and feelings. However, these techniques can also be focused outwards.

For example, when talking to a client or a colleague, try to listen to what they are saying in its entirety before beginning to formulate a response. Try to adopt the same meta-stance that you would have taken towards yourself and adjust it towards them. This might help you to respond to their messages in a non-reactive manner.

 

Tip Four: Mindfulness exercises

Continue to practice mindfulness exercises at your desk at various points during the day.

  1. Before beginning your workday, perform a one-minute mindfulness task at your desk. Set your cellphone timer to 1 minute, and spend that minute with your eyes closed, practicing a few mindfulness techniques, like breathing mindfully or reflecting on your thoughts.

  2. At various points during the day, you can implement a three-minute breathing exercise. Again, at your desk, set your cellphone timer to three minutes and practice deep exhalation and inhalation exercises.

  3. Other useful exercises include mindful walking, mindful eating, and a body scan (all of these exercises were described previously).

 

Tip Five: Avoid judgment

Ultimately, both tips 1 and 2 relate to awareness of your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Awareness is not the same as stoicism – the intention is not to repress your feelings. You will experience feelings – in fact, you are human, and you must feel – but try to avoid the feedback loop that normally further encourages negative thinking.

 

Tip Six: Introduce a breathing exercise before a meeting

Up to this point, most of the tips have focussed on the role and experiences of the employee; however, there is no reason why everyone in a team should not practice a mindfulness exercise.

Compared to a control group and place group, there is some preliminary evidence that introducing a three-minute breathing exercise before a stand-up meeting (which is a typical daily meeting at the beginning of the day for most technology companies) results in better decision-making, more productive meetings, better listening, good interactions, and more appropriate emotional responses (den Heijer, Koole, & Stettina, 2017).

This exercise could be completed as a group or individually before the meeting.

 

How To Use Mindfulness for Stress and Anxiety

Earlier in this post, we touched on the relationship between anxiety, depression, and rumination.

Mindfulness is a very useful tool for combatting anxiety and stress, which in turn can reduce symptoms of depression (depression and anxiety are often comorbid; Brady & Kendall, 1992). The positive effect of mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention for anxiety and depression has been confirmed through a meta-analysis (Khoury et al., 2013).

 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) Program

There are numerous ways that mindfulness can be used to target anxiety. One such way is the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, which was first created by Kabat-Zinn (1990).

This program is a collection of exercises and tools that can be applied in everyday life. Some of these exercises and tools include:

  • Breath-focused attention
  • Bodyscan
  • Isolating and paying attention to each sense
  • Walking meditation
  • Eating meditation

These exercises and tools are a very important contribution to therapeutic interventions in psychology. Since Kabat-Zinn (1990) first developed the program, some of the tools and exercises that comprise the program are also suggested as stand-alone exercises that can be performed at any time of the day and in any context.

For example, if you are feeling very anxious or stressed, then try implementing any of these short exercises at that moment:

  • Take a short break to practice a three-minute breathing exercise where you use your breath as your anchor. Make sure to take deep inhalations for three seconds, followed by deep exhalation for three seconds.

  • Put aside a minute and practice mindful thinking. Sit in a quiet place, and try to ‘step away’ from your feelings and observe your thoughts and behaviors. Do not judge your behavior; your intention is only to observe it.

These two techniques can help you during periods of acute stress, but a more powerful device would be to foster a mindfulness habit now (when you are not stressed) so that you are less vulnerable in the future.

 

Top Strategies for a Mindful Classroom

strategies for a mindful classroomMindfulness can be a useful technique for children and is easily integrated into the classroom.

To help you, we have summarised various methods that you can use as inspiration for introducing mindfulness in the classroom.

 

A Quiet Place

This exercise is more appropriate for younger children (i.e., younger than 10). In the classroom, introduce the concept of A Quiet Place. A Quiet Place is a place that children can access with their eyes open or closed, and in any environment.

This exercise is meant to help children find a place of solitude where they can collect their thoughts also practice deep breathing. I’ve adapted the instructions from Saltzman (n.d.):

Today we are going to learn about A Quiet Place. This place is inside you, and you can go there just by breathing. To start, take some long, slow breaths. This place is a good place to go to if you are feeling angry or sad, and it is a good place to talk about your feelings. When you go to your Quiet Place inside of you, you will find that your feelings are not very big. You can go there whenever you want and stay for however long you want.

 

Mindfulness Through Breathing Exercises

Mindfulness is often taught with breathing techniques where your breath acts as the anchor.

Asking children to ‘ground’ themselves with breathing might be too abstract a concept; instead, you could guide them through a calm, relaxed breathing exercise where they inhale for three seconds, and then slowly exhale for three seconds.

Using imagery might help children to understand better that the breath is a deep belly breath; to help illustrate, you could use a balloon as an example. Once the children know how to perform these deep breathing exercises, then introduce this technique before typically stressful events (like a test or an exam), or if two children fight.

 

PEACE

This exercise might be a bit difficult for very young children and would work better for slightly older children (i.e., aged ten years or older). Again, I have adapted the concept from Saltzman (n.d.).

The idea is that children are introduced to the PEACE concept. Each letter in the acronym represents a different action. Children are taught that when they want to respond to a particular situation, then they must perform each action that corresponds to each letter.

Actions Descriptions
P: pause Before responding, children must pause.
E: exhale Children must exhale mindfully, and then inhale. They must practice exhaling and inhaling before moving to the next step.
A: acknowledge/accept/allow They must learn to acknowledge the situation. Acknowledgment mustn’t be confused with ‘be happy’ or ‘hide emotions.’ Children must be made aware that they will still feel their emotions, and they must accept their emotions. After accepting their emotions, children are encouraged to visit the Quiet Place and allow the experience of their emotions.
C: choose After spending some time feeling their emotions, children must choose how to respond to the situation.
E: engage After deciding how to respond, children are only now ready to engage with the people in the situation and enact their selected responses.

 

Yoga in the Class Room

Introducing a yoga session in the classroom could be a very useful way to introduce mindfulness. By linking yoga poses with animal names, children might find it easier to play along.

Many of the yoga poses already correspond with animals (e.g., cat pose, cow pose, downward-facing dog), and with some creative thinking, other poses could be renamed as animals (e.g., balasana, or child’s pose, could be a turtle).

Consider putting aside ten minutes before recess, or before the end of the school day to do ten minutes of yoga with the children. During this period, also encourage children to breathe deeply or go to their Quiet Place during the pose.

 

2 Ways To Combine Mindfulness and Gratitude

Mindfulness and gratitude are two tools that work well together: Mindfulness encourages us to focus on the present in a nonjudgemental way, and gratitude encourages us to appreciate and express gratitude for things that bring us joy. To foster a habit of experiencing gratitude, we first need to perceive what we are grateful for – and to do this, we need to make the time.

One way to combine mindfulness and gratitude is through gratitude journaling. Every day, spend a short period writing down a list of items for which you are grateful. This list can include material things, people, thoughts, experiences, or anything else that you can think of.

When writing down the list, spend extra time explaining why you are grateful for that experience and how it made you feel. Do not go overboard, a short sentence will do here, but the aim is to deepen your experience of how you perceived this event.

A second way to combine mindfulness is to incorporate ‘active gratitude’ into your mindfulness exercises. For example, mindfulness can help us to perceive negative experiences in a nonjudgmental way.

We can take this experience one step further by incorporating a gratitude element – in a way, we are finding a silver lining in that experience. The intention is not to downplay your feelings of a negative experience, but where possible, to find opportunities for gratitude.

Negative Experience Active Gratitude
I am terrified about the job interview. I am so nervous. I am grateful to present my skills to people who I admire.
I am worried that I might not finish my work by the deadline. I am grateful to show what I can produce when I work hard.
I am afraid that my partner will think that my feelings are unimportant. I am grateful that I have a partner with whom I can share my innermost feelings.
I am sad about my father passing away. I am grateful for all the memories that I have of him.

 

 

Our Favorite Mindfulness Videos

To help you start your mindfulness journey, we have put together a list of videos. The videos are divided into different categories and should help you with various areas of your life. Some of these videos can also be used in the classroom.

 

Mindfulness meditation:

Daily Calm | 10 Minute Mindfulness Meditation | Be Present:

Mindfulness Meditation – Guided 10 Minutes

 

If you enjoy these videos, then subscribe to the Calm channel on youtube.

 

Mindful Yoga

Mindful yoga (15 minutes):

Mindful yoga (40 minutes):

 

Mindful Stretching

Mindful Movement 10 Minute Seated Yoga Stretch:

Mindful Stretch | 30 Minute Mindful Stretching for Pain, Anxiety, & Stress:

 

Body Scan

Body Scan Meditation (Tame Anxiety)

 

 

 

Three-minute breathing exercise

The Three Minute Breathing Space:

 

Videos for children

Mindfulness Meditation for Kids | Breathing Exercise | Guided Meditation for Children:

😊 🌺 Breath Meditation for Kids 😊 ❤️‍ Mindfulness for Kids:

Be the Pond | Cosmic Kids Zen Den – Mindfulness for kids:

 

Further Interest

All it takes is ten mindful minutes | Andy Puddicombe:

David Gelles: “Mindful Work” | Talks at Google:

 

How Can Mindfulness-X Help You?

At PositivePsychology.com, we have several resources that help you start your mindfulness habit.

Our most valuable resource, however, is the Mindfulness-X course, which will help you further develop your mindfulness skills.

The course is a mixture of theory and practice: You’ll learn a lot more about mindfulness and the scientific evidence that supports the positive effect of mindfulness, but you’ll also learn about different ways to use mindfulness as a tool in your own life and the lives of your clients.

The entire course is online, so you can easily complete it from your home or your office, regardless of where you are based around the world. In total, there are eight lessons, all of which are grounded on scientific research. If you want more information, then read this article about Dr. Alberts and Mindfulness-X.

 

A Take-Home Message

Well done – you’ve taken the first step towards adopting mindfulness by reading this post.

You should be convinced of the numerous benefits of practicing mindfulness, and have a few ideas on how to implement mindfulness in your everyday life.

The most important message that you need to take home from this post is that mindfulness is a way of thinking that you are capable of practicing throughout your day – it is not limited to only one exercise, it is not limited to only three minutes, and it is not a switch that you can turn on and off.

With time and regular practice, you will start to practice mindfulness more easily in all activities, and you will see the benefits. Mindfulness is also appropriate for people of all ages and multiple contexts.

For further reading, I recommend the following posts:

History of Mindfulness: From East to West and Religion to Science
Top 50 Best Mindfulness Books (Reviews + PDF’s)
76 Most Powerful Mindfulness Quotes: Your Daily Dose of Inspiration

  • Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33, 482–500.
  • Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 303–322.
  • Corcoran, K. M., Farb, N., Anderson, A., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: Outcomes and possible mediating mechanisms. In A. M. Kring & D. M. Sloan (Eds.), Emotion regulation, and psychopathology: A transdiagnostic approach to etiology and treatment (pp. 339 –355). New York: Guilford Press.
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  • Den Heijer, P., Koole, W., & Stettina, C. J. (2017, May). Don’t forget to breathe: a controlled trial of mindfulness practices in agile project teams. In International Conference on Agile Software Development (pp. 103-118). Springer, Cham.
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  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta.
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  • Mackenzie, C. S., Poulin, P. A., & Seidman-Carlson, R. (2006). A brief mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention for nurses and nurse aides. Applied nursing research, 19(2), 105-109.
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  • Pavlov, S. V., Korenyok, V. V., Reva, N. V., Tumyalis, A. V., Loktev, K. V., & Aftanas, L. I. (2015). Effects of long-term meditation practice on attentional biases towards emotional faces: An eye-tracking study. Cognition and Emotion, 29(5), 807-815.
  • Parsons, C. E., Crane, C., Parsons, L. J., Fjorback, L. O., & Kuyken, W. (2017). Home practice in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: A systematic review and meta-analysis of participants’ mindfulness practice and its association with outcomes. Behaviour research and therapy, 95 (2), 29-41.
  • Saltzman, A. (n.d.) Mindfulness: A Guide for Teachers. Retrieved 3 June, 2020 from http://karlheardmeditation.co.uk/documents/Mindfulness-A_Teachers_Guide.pdf

About the Author

Alicia Nortje, Ph.D. is a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, where she is involved in multiple projects investigating eyewitness memory and face recognition. She’s highly skilled in research design, data analysis, and critical thinking. When she’s not working, she indulges in running on the road or the trails, and enjoys cooking.

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