According to research from Harvard, we spend nearly half our time thinking of something other than what we are doing in the moment. While daydreaming might not seem like a bad thing, the researchers concluded that “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind” and that we would be better off if we were more present in the moment.
But, you don’t need to worry, it’s not an unfixable problem. You can train yourself out of distraction and learn to pay more attention to the world around you. You can use mindfulness practices to pay attention to what is happening “without a story about it or reacting to it,” said Amishi Jha, professor of psychology at the Univ. of Miami.
Mindfulness isn’t about trying to control yourself or a situation but seeing it more clearly. Studies have shown that this lowers stress, improves health and increases performance. But, overall, the point is to just be more aware. We’ve spoken about mindfulness a lot over the years, about paying attention to food, to your own body. It doesn’t need to be meditation. It doesn’t need to be a serious chore.
You can even practice mindfulness while washing the dishes! “Feel the sensations of your hands on the water, noticing the rubbing motion. This is all bringing mindfulness into your day,” said Diana Winston of UCLA.
Even the smallest moments can incorporate retraining your mind to be more aware of where you are and what you’re doing. “You could be sitting on the subway. You could be at a stop sign,” said Prof. Jha. “At an elevator waiting. You stop, take a breath, observe and proceed.”
While we already knew that mindfulness could improve our health and well being, the fact that we’re absent from ourselves almost 50 percent of the day is startling. As mindfulness eases stress and boosts health so much, taking these small steps to reclaim your hours can improve your quality of life. You don’t have to make sweeping overhauls to your life. It’s just that the old idiom is true: you should stop and smell the roses.
“It changes at different times and ages and different phases of our own life,” said Mallika Chopra, an author of books about awareness. “People tend to think these exercises are very serious and stoic, and the goal is to make it fun.”
So, take a break, maybe try out some free mindfulness apps on your phone, and find ways to be more present in your day. Your health and mood will thank you!