All too often we put pressure on ourselves to achieve the perfect success or happiness. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, and feeling as if we need to be doing more, getting more, accomplishing more. Ultimately, we are only doing one thing – causing ourselves more unnecessary stress. Constant comparison is a toxic behavior that causes anxiety, depression, and feelings of worthlessness. And at the end of the day, we are not likely to be motivated by this practice either. More often, we are deflated by it and distracted from focusing on the things that can actually help us. So, what should you do instead? Be where your feet are!
What does that mean? Being where your feet are is the practice of being present, in the moment, without judgment and focusing on the task at hand. It means that you are not ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. You are living in the moment and paying attention to whatever needs to be done at that time – whether you are driving, washing dishes, typing an email, or going for a walk. It’s a very simple concept that when practiced regularly, can train the brain to operate out of the more logical and mindful part of the brain – our prefrontal cortex. When activated, this part of the brain helps us to make better decisions, be less impulsive and react less emotionally.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t reflect on the past. Nor does it mean that you can’t think about the future. Being where your feet are while you are thinking about the past or future means you are looking back in an observer way in order to learn from it, and make changes that will improve your life; or reflecting for a moment to realize the gratitude you have for things in your life that are important to you. It means that you are thinking about the future to plan what actions you need to take, or to visualize what you want to create in your future that helps inform your present moment steps and actions. What we want to avoid is getting lost in fantasy, rumination, regret, or fear about the past and future. That is when we get caught up in negativity and lose touch with reality because when in those states of mind, we tend to story tell and develop a narrative that is not based in truth, but more based in emotional reactions to things we are upset about.
Here are 5 simple exercises to help you begin to be more mindful and create a calmer, more peaceful life.
1.Breathing Exercises – Focused breathing helps to connect your mind and body and calms you down. There are many kinds of focused breathing, but one that I like to use is called box breathing. You choose a count for your inhale and exhale (same count for both) and a count for holding your breath at the top of your breath and at the bottom of the breath (same count for both). Here is a sample:
Breath in for a count of five: One…Two…Three…Four…Five
Hold that breath at the top for a count of four: One…Two…Three…Four
Exhale out for a count of five: One…Two…Three…Four…Five
And hold that breath at the end for a count of four: One…Two…Three…Four
Repeat 10 times.
You can explore changing the holds and the breath counts and find a rhythm that works for you. Just make sure that your holds are the same number and your breaths are the same number. For example, you can breathe in and exhale for a count of 10, and your holds can be for a count of 5. See how you feel after finding the combination that works best for you!
2.Monotasking – We email and eat our lunch, drive and talk on the phone, half watch a movie while surfing the net, or go on social media while getting ready for work. We think we are multitasking and being more productive. But research actually shows that we are only rapidly switching our attention from one task to another and instead greatly reducing our focus and productivity. This increases distress and reduces our ability to get things done. So instead, try to pay attention to what you are doing and do nothing else. When you are on the phone, really focus on the conversation and give the person you are talking to your undivided attention. When emailing, focus on the message and what you want to say. Get off your phone and watch the movie with full intent. You will be surprised at what you will pick up or notice when you do that. Your brain also quiets down and feels more at ease when you are monotasking, so you will likely notice your stress level reducing as well. Give it a try!
3.Watch What You Consume! – And I am not talking about food! I am talking about paying attention to how much, and what kind of stimuli you are taking in daily. Research shows that we check our phones over 300 times per day! We are constantly inundated with news, social media, work, advertisements, music, emails, and texts. First, pay attention to how much time you spend on your phone, or watching the news. If you are spending hours and hours a day distracted by those things, you are likely missing out on so much more meaningful events, people and activities that are healthier for you. Take a break from your phone and start living life!
Similarly, pay attention to the quality of what you take in. How much is focused on the negativity of politics or mean-spirited humor? What type of music do you listen to? Are the words uplifting? Or, do they leave you feeling sad, melancholy or even agitated? Are you constantly looking at social media and comparing yourself to others, feeling not good enough or deflated because other people’s lives look so much better than yours? All of this makes a difference in your brain and contributes to your overall mood! So, limit the news, the phone, the negative messaging and elevate your intake to a more positive focus. Go outside, take a walk, enjoy nature, read a good book, journal, call and thank a friend for support, etc. and see the difference in how you feel!
4.Practice Yoga, Tai Chi, or Pilates – These activities are based in mindfulness, and focusing on the present moment. The practice of these on a regular basis not only contributes to your overall physical health and wellbeing, but helps to reduce mental tension, increases focus, and helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Try one or try them all and see how you feel afterward!
5.Meditate For 10 Minutes a Day – Find a quiet space and sit comfortably. Wear comfy clothes and make sure you won’t be interrupted for the next 10 minutes. Put on some calming instrumental music if you like, and sit upright with legs crossed, or if in a chair, with both feet planted on the ground. Rest your hands comfortably in your lap and close your eyes. Sit up straight and notice your breath, the rise and fall of your chest with each inhale and exhale. Notice your body, and gravity gently pulling you into the surface you are on. Then just be. Don’t try to quiet your mind – simply notice when you get distracted, and without judgment, pull yourself back to your breath and the moment. You will get distracted. That’s ok. The important thing is to not get upset or judge the distraction. Keep returning to the breath. The act of noticing the distraction, instead of being the distraction helps to activate a part of the brain that is responsible for calming us down. (E.g. When in meditation and you get distracted you often think to yourself, “This is so frustrating, I just can’t focus at all in meditation!” Instead, try to think this way, “I am noticing that my mind keeps wandering to making lists about all the tasks I need to do, let me come back to my breath and keep refocusing.”) Meditating for just 10-20 minutes a day can have a great impact on our lives. Research has shown that it reduces stress, increases happiness and productivity when practiced daily. Give it a try and see how you feel!
Learning to be where your feet are can be a life changing practice that not only benefits you, but helps you to show up to life – work, family and friendships – with more ease, and less reactivity. Even just a few small changes will make a difference over time. Give yourself the gift of being where your feet are and see what positive changes come into your life!