Mindful Living: Ideas on enjoying every moment

In this time and age, it is ever more important to be wary of stressors and learn the ‘art’ of enjoying life to the fullest. Yes, you read that right. Staying happy and enjoying each moment is an art which requires practice. 

More often than not, we are so consumed by the circumstances of our past or the worries of our future that we forget that today is what we really have.

This idea of conscious living, or mindfulness, may seem contradictory to those who are habitual of going after their goals by sacrificing living right now. But cultivating mindfulness will not only help you achieve your goals faster but also allow you to enjoy life as you go for what you love.

There is new research on happiness – that suggests that happy people tend to be more productive, confident and successful. By being mindful, you will notice that you enjoy your meals more, you enjoy time with family and friends more, enjoy your work more.

You will be astonished to notice how a small change like this could bring lasting positive changes to your daily life. A study conducted at the University of Utah confirms that people with mindful traits have more emotional stability. They are also found to sleep better at night.

This attitude of mindfulness will not come naturally, because we are living in a culture where we are continuously bombarded with information, deadlines, work, stressors, and expectations to act, socialize, feel, and be a certain way.

Cultivating a sense of mindfulness will require some patience and practice, but the results will be worth it all.

You are more than your thoughts

Life is unfolding in the present moment. But most of the time, we let the present moments slip away. We are in a constant state of flux, always busy doing something and thus we forget what it feels like to be still and calm.

“We’re living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, decoherence,” says Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace. The following will sound familiar to most of you; when we are working, we think about when we would take a vacation. When we are vacationing, we worry about the work piling up.

Intrusive memories of the past or apprehension about the future – things that may never even happen – keep us from focusing on what really matters right now.

Something that Mark Twain wrote always brings a smile to my face, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

We don’t enjoy living in the present because our minds are hard-wired to hop from thought to thought and create imaginary fears to paralyze us from functioning to the best of our abilities.

Most of the times, ordinary thoughts that cruise through our minds, control us. We become victims to our own negativity and can’t find a way to let go of unwanted feelings, even when we want to.

Living in the moment means being in a state of active, open, and intentional attention to the present. Instead of becoming immersed in your thoughts, you become an observer of your thoughts – rejecting what you don’t like, or what doesn’t benefit you.

Mindfulness has many other benefits – it reduces stress (obviously!), boosts your immune system, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure and even helps people cope with diseases like cancer! It also reduces the risk of heart disease.

Naturally, people who are mindful are happier, more confident, more secure, exuberant and emphatic.

Mindfulness has a powerful impact on interpersonal life

Whitney Heppner and Michael Kernis of the University of Georgia say that mindfulness actually inoculates people from aggressive impulses. “Mindfulness decreases ego involvement, so people are less likely to link their self-esteem to events and more likely to take things at face value,” says Kernis.

In general, being mindful will help you connect with other people better – you will become more emphatic, more ‘one with the universe.’ Mindfulness will increase your awareness about how you interpret and react to the thoughts in your mind. In fact, it increases the gap between impulse and reaction.

Unlike most people, you will get a chance to ask yourself, ‘This is what I’m feeling. How should I react to it?’

Next time, if you find yourself in a heated argument with your significant other, just take a step back and focus on your breathing. There’s no better way to calm down and bring all your senses to the present moment than breathing deeply.

A study was conducted to test the impact mindfulness has on people. Each subject was told that the other subjects were forming a group and taking a vote on whether he could join. After 5 minutes, the experimenter announced the results. Either a subject was accepted or rejected.

Before the start of this experiment and as a mindfulness exercise, half the subjects were given a raisin each and told to savor its taste and feel all the sensations that came with it.

Later on, in what they thought was a separate experiment, the subjects were asked to deliver a blast of painful noise to other people. Those who were rejected by the group and hadn’t gone through the mindfulness exercise let their frustration out on other people.

On the other hand, those who did go through the mindfulness exercise but were rejected by the group refused to inflict pain on others.

So do yourself a favor and let your mind rest for a bit, every day. A few months down the line, you will find that you’re a different person altogether and will thank me for this advice.

Change small habits today to achieve big tomorrow

“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” – Confucius

Bringing a lasting change seems like too much work. The word ‘change’ itself brings overwhelming emotions like depleted willpower, lack of motivation, or even feelings of guilt for failing to stick to your ‘change’ goals.

What if I told you that bringing lasting change wasn’t all that difficult – but just a bunch of mini decisions that you took every day? Take these mini decisions each day for long enough, and what do you get? Habits.

According to a study by Duke University, habits make 45% of your total behavior. The great thing about habits is that you don’t have to think about them. They become part of who you are. And soon enough, change becomes ‘normal’.

Most of the times, people get so stuck in worrying about not achieving their ‘change’ goals that they end up doing just that. For example, I want to grow my expertise in my chosen field and I know that I haven’t been reading enough. Now reading 8 books a month means I have to take out lots of time to read – this is the psychological impact of setting big goals.

The easy thing to do here is to break this goal down into small mini habits – like reading 5 pages a day. When I reach the 5th page, you think I’ll stop? No. I’ll continue on to maybe 10, 20 or more pages, especially if I’m enjoying the read. Done over a period of time and bam! It’s a habit. I don’t have to think or worry about it anymore. It just comes to me naturally. It becomes part of my routine.

This is true for everything we do in life. Whatever lasting change you want to achieve in life – whether it’s getting in shape, teaching yourself new skills, increasing your knowledge in your area of expertise or learning to make more money – break each goal down into a subset of behaviors. Do them frequently enough and no matter what your goal – you’ll see results.

Here’s how you can develop a habit that sticks

  • Set a goal for 30 days and focus on developing one or at the most 2
  • Make sure to write your goal down on paper and look at it every day
  • Fully commit to your goal. If you think you’re one of those people who find it hard to stick to their goals – publicly commit to it. Find someone who helps you measure your progress each day and encourages you to keep going.
  • Log your progress regularly.
  • Remain publicly accountable – report on your progress each day.
  • Reward your little successes.
  • If you fail, that’s okay. Find out what went wrong and start again.

What is more important than your habits?

Literally, nothing. Habits are the foundation of the quality of your life. And if the foundations are weak, you will not be happy with the way you live. One major reason why people fail to create lasting change in their lives is that they try to do too much at once.

In other words, if your new habit requires more willpower than you can muster, you will fail. If your new habit requires less willpower than you can muster, you will succeed. This is why it is so important to start small, and increase gradually.

The achievable habits

Achievable habits are habits that are easy to follow through. If you think reading 10 pages each day is too much to do, keep a target for 5, or even 2. I can assure you that once you start, you won’t keep the book down after reading only two pages. Keep a target for 5 pushups each day, and I guarantee that your workout won’t stop at those 5. You will end up doing many more variations.

All great things start small

It is true for almost every wonderful thing around us. All great things start small. Richard Branson started Virgin with a student magazine. Some of my most favorite projects started out small – but turned into some of the best opportunities over a period of time.

I was fascinated by Dale Carnegie’s world famous book, ‘How to win friends and influence people.’ The opening gave me some food for thought. He says that the book took 15 years to complete – because it started as a lecture, turned into a leaflet, then into a series of booklets each expanding in size and scope, and then came the book. The entire process took 15 years to complete.

Do you see what I mean?

The challenge of ‘big’

The problem is that we interact with big ideas, big things, big companies, so frequently in our lives that we tend to forget how these big things started out. Whatever it is that you want to achieve in life; I suggest you take some time to sit down and break them down into small, achievable targets for each day/ week. No matter how scary the goal seems, broken down into small bits, it will be so much easier than you imagine.

Here’s how you can make your new habits stick;

First things first, the only way you will ever change something in your routine and habits is by recognizing the larger goal for which those habits are being developed. Otherwise, it will take a lot of willpower and effort to remain true to what you’ve decided for yourself.

Big names like Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and many others rely on daily habits to achieve their biggest goals. These people understand the importance of good habits – and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do the same.

Were there any challenges that you faced when trying to bring a change you badly wanted? We would love to hear your stories.