Have you ever gotten in your car and arrived at a destination with little recollection of actually driving there? Offered your child only partial attention, thereby absorbing very little of what was actually said? If so, you are not alone. These are common examples of your mind operating on autopilot — distracted, only partially aware, and with a chronic sense of missing the moment.
Mindfulness, essentially the opposite of autopilot, means deliberately bringing our attention to the present moment with kindness. It is a way of being in, and perceiving, the world. Rather than ruminating about the past (either recent or long ago) or imagining the future (worrying or what-iffing), mindfulness encourages us to be present for our lives, better able to cope with the difficulties while more readily savoring the good.
The beauty of mindfulness is that we can take what I call aMindful Break anytime, anywhere. By recognizing that we are not completely present for this moment, we can gently pull ourselves out of autopilot. Like any practice, the more we remember to bring our attention to the moment, the easier it becomes.
Mindful Breaks are strategies acting as life lines for when the moments feel tough and life enhancers for the ordinary, beautiful moments we often miss when we are operating on autopilot. Used to infuse your life with more calm and energy, they offer a multitude of ways to step off the treadmill of busyness while remaining efficient and productive.
Be on the lookout for opportunities to take a Mindful Break throughout your day.
The following are two examples to get you started:
WAKING WITH GRATITUDE:
For years after becoming a mom, waking up in the morning, for me, would typically go something like this: Thought #1: What is that hideous noise? Thought #2:Damn. Alarm. Already? #3: I am so tired. I hate being tired. Never enough sleep… #4: Imagine how terrible it was going to feel slogging through my day in a sleepy haze.
These days, depending upon the circumstances, thoughts #1-3 may still arise. After all, as moms we certainly don’t always have control of our sleep. We also don’t have control over which thoughts show up, only what we choose to do with those thoughts. With mindfulness practice, I have now learned to notice those thoughts then choose, instead, to shift my focus and wake with gratitude, appreciating the positive tone it sets for the day.
The Mindful Break:
As soon as you are conscious enough to realize you are awake(ish), pause and take a deep breath. (At first, this may not be until you have stumbled out of bed to attend to a child or poured your first cup of coffee. That’s fine, pause wherever you are. After practicing for a bit, you will catch yourself sooner, before you make your way out of bed.) Bring to mind those things for which you are grateful. Perhaps it is your health, your children, your partner, friends, coffee, birds singing, sun shining, or rain falling. Keep it simple and keep it positive.
THE 3-BREATH HUG:
I learned this practice when my daughter was a preschooler and taught it to her with the intention of using it as a sweet way to calm her emotional outbursts. As is often the case with parenting, I mistakenly thought I was the wise one offering something for her benefit until she astutely reversed the plan, reminding me just how much I learn from her.
One particularly stressful evening I had retreated to the bathroom for a much-needed mommy time-out, closing my eyes and taking a number of deep breaths. Hearing a scuffling sound outside the door, I opened my eyes to see a folded piece of paper slid under the door. Unfolding it, my heart warmed with love as I read the message written in that adorable five-year-old scrawl: meet me in my room for a 3-breath hug.
The Mindful Break:
Hugging your child, take three deliberate, synchronized, deep breaths together. Drop your shoulders, relaxing any muscles that feel tight. Let go and feel the tension melt away. Teach the hug to your kids and your partner. Little ones love it and teenagers secretly do, too. Use it as you say goodbye in the morning, when you recognize someone could use a calming hug, or just for the love of it. You never know when they will surprise you and offer a much-needed 3-Breath Hug to dear old Mom.