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A Surefire Way to Improve Your Life: 7 Reasons and 5 Ways to Be Mindful

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I remember it clearly, the day it all began to click. People talk about epiphanies that changed their lives in an instant, and mine was no different. Problem was, this change turned into a ten-year journey of slow and sometimes painful self-discovery.

I was standing outside with my wife and a friend. I don’t recall what we were talking about, but I do recall listening to my friend before he blurted, “I hate when you do that, Josh!”

I was confused, so I asked, “Do what?”

He replied, “You stopped listening and now you’re thinking about the next thing you’re going to say.”

My confusion turned to embarrassment. “No!  I don’t do that—do I?” I looked at my wife—she nodded in agreement.

That moment changed my life. It was like hearing a starting pistol go off on a project that would eventually take me down a rocky path of self-reflection over the next decade, but it was a feeling I never wanted to experience again.

I’m not referring to the feeling of shame and embarrassment or being “caught,” but the feeling of knowing that my lack of awareness was the cause of others’ suffering.

I desired to be a better husband, father, and friend, so I began studying mindfulness, which led me to conduct doctoral research on how mindful presence affects our everyday interactions.

What I discovered was a set of seven principles we can all expect from becoming fully immersed in the present moment:

1. Mindful presence creates a heightened awareness of what we do in the moment…

…including thoughts as they arise, our actions taken as a result of those thoughts, and the impact of those thoughts and actions on others.

2. Mindful presence is the catalyst for self-reflection.

Simply put, the more present we are, the more we compare that moment to previous interactions, facilitating greater change for the better.

3. Mindful presence nurtures unconditional acceptance, particularly in our close relationships.

As things happen and we maintain presence, we are more likely to accept them without judgment.

4. Mindful presence evokes interaction.

As we immerse ourselves into the moment, others notice. As they notice our presence, it creates gravity, drawing us closer together. As we become present, we see others inviting us into interaction, because people want to be around others who are willing to invest time.

5. The more aware we are of the greatness of others, the more likely we will feel pride for those we care about.

As we feel that pride, we outwardly express it and others notice.  This encourages others to strive further through the very initiative we nurtured through our presence.

6. In moments of mindful presence, we are more likely to experience savoring the moment as we marvel in wonder at the simplest beauty.

Heightened appreciation adds color, depth, and richness to everyday experiences.

7. The self-reflection referred to in #2 above results in a greater capacity for gratitude.

As we reflect, we savor, and as we savor, we become thankful.

Wonderful, right?  If I was reading this list, I know I would feel drawn toward acting more mindfully, but the next question is, how do we get there?

Here are five ways mindfulness can be practiced and refined. I encourage you to try them all on a regular, rotating basis:

1. One of the simplest methods is to walk with no destination in mind.

This could be done at a trip to the store, around your neighborhood, or even at your local mall. Let go of all thought of a schedule or an agenda, and simply allow yourself to go wherever your mood takes you. Surrender yourself to the flow.

Interestingly enough, driving reduces the angle of your field of vision by up to 75 percent, depending on speed. Walking allows you to see more of your surroundings, so take it in, but remind yourself as you walk: there is nowhere more important for you to be than right here, right now.

2. Eat your food and consume your drink as if they were your last. 

Sure, dinner might have been a cheap frozen dinner, but how would you eat that same meal if you knew it might be your last? Would you slow yourself down and savor it more? What would this do for your appreciation of what you consume.

Another way of eating involves not taking a single bite or drink until you have silently thanked each and every individual responsible, from the farmer who cultivated the tealeaf, to the trucker who shipped it, to the grocer who placed it on the shelf.

Once you ponder all the hands that work to provide you that opportunity, you begin to develop more appreciation for even the simplest of things.

3. Next time you’re stopped at a red light, take the time to breathe deeply, filling your lungs and emptying them completely.

Count how many of these you can do during a stoplight. As you breathe, look around and notice what is around you. What are others doing? What are their stories?

You’ll be surprised at how much easier it becomes to accept a green light that just turned red.  No longer will you feel rage at being hindered, but you may even begin to anticipate your next opportunity to stop and reflect.

4. Next time your phone rings, resist the urge to answer.

Let it ring a couple of times as you collect your thoughts and prepare to answer. Think about the person calling. What do they look like? What frame of mind are they in? Even if this is an employee in Sri Lanka calling to collect a debt, what is life like for that person? How many irate Americans have they talked to before you? 

5. Finally, before bed, take fifteen minutes to sit in silent darkness.

Take note of everything you experience, from the sound of a fan to the sensation of your backside against whatever you are sitting on. Breathe slowly and deeply, allowing yourself to let go and simply be. You’ll be amazed at how well you sleep after this!

Each of these trainings is designed to cultivate the act of being intentionally focused on the events of the moment as they unfold and to accept them without judgment.

Becoming mindfully present is a miracle, but an attainable one, and one we can all experience, each and every day, surrounded by the ones we love.

Photo by suicine

Profile photo of Josh Misner

About Josh Misner

Dr. Josh Misner is a communication professor and mindfulness researcher working on ways to help reconnect fathers with their children through the cultivation of mindful presence.  He maintains a blog on mindful parenting at Mindful Dad and is also on Facebook.

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  • Tim

    Thank you, Mark. This post was awesome. Following the suggestions in your post alone could change my whole life, I imagine. Now all I have to do is actually be present and mindful in my crazy life. Thanks for the advice. 🙂

  • Tiela Garnett

    Thank you for sharing this, Josh – an excellent article!

  • Dr. Josh Misner

    Thank you for reading it! I’m always happy to pass along anything that I’ve learned, in the hopes that it will help others as well.

  • Dr. Josh Misner

    These tips certainly changed my life. Being present all starts with a choice and the right intentions. Start small and work your way up from there. You will be amazed with the richness it provides your life!

  • Christopher Carney

    These are really good thoughts and ideas to dedicate life to. I appreciate the time and effort you put into this process, the time to collect your thoughts and share them with us. Thank you. I now have a new path to follow.

  • Dr. Josh Misner

    The one thing to remember as you start this path is that it isn’t always pleasant. When we start practicing mindfulness, it opens our eyes to everything, both good & bad, going on around us. I know that, for me, what I discovered about myself aroused a sense of guilt and shame for the way I had been acting. Be prepared for this possibility as you embark on the journey so that the shock of experiencing it doesn’t detract you from the ultimate goal.

  • Guest

    Dear Josh,

    Your post caught my eye and is quite true and mindful in itself. I spend a lot of my time focusing my attention on the bliss of the here and now, and posted an article on Tiny Buddha myself in this regard.

    Do you think we could perhaps email at some point?
    I myself and going to be finishing my Research Master’s degree in the next year and want to do my Master’s thesis similar to the topic which your post is about. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of researchers whom I know to research/focus on mindfulness in a non-clinical setting. I believe that if more attention could be brought to the power of such a topic, we would all be a lot more peaceful with a lot clearer perspective.

    Namaste,
    Gaia Mori

  • Dr. Josh Misner

    Absolutely! Can you send me your email address in a Facebook message to my page at http://www.facebook.com/drjmindfuldad? I look forward to our discussion!

  • Alexey Sunly

    Excellent piece, Josh! I wouldn’t have been able to put it better together myself, and I’ll share it with others 🙂

  • Alexey Sunly

    Who is Mark? Someone is not being very mindful… 😉

  • debbie

    I like this Josh. I to have the habit of thinking about what I am going to next when in conversation. Thanks for the weak up call.
    Also I like this one..2. Eat your food and consume your drink as if they were your last.

    never thought of eating this way. Bet my dinner is going to taste better tonight. You made my day with your weak-up call. maybe it was meant for me!! It is like a miracle!
    Debbie

  • lv2terp

    This is a fantastic post! Your insight is awesome, then your tips for application to learn this crucial skill are brilliant and yet so easy! LOVE this! Thank you for sharing your wisdom! I have to say also that I have always struggled with how to put into words my deep desire to grow/improve myself, but you said it so perfectly “the feeling of knowing that my lack of awareness was the cause of others’ suffering.” Thank you!!! 🙂

  • Thank you for this. It synched perfectly today with my reading of Paulo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage.”

    The exercise (The Speed Exercise) required him to walk for twenty minutes at half the speed to which he was accustomed. And to do this for seven days, preferably after lunch. In it his guide explained that “Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside of you. But when all is said and done, you’re the one who must decide how you handle it.”

    ~ Mark

  • Enjoyed these tips, particularly the walking with no destination in mind! Never tried that. A fun practise for this weekend. Thanks! Bernadette 🙂

  • Thank you!

  • Every moment is a miracle. We just have to be aware enough to recognize it. Thanks for the response, Debbie!

  • Thank you for your response! The methods of practicing mindfulness are amazingly simple. I contend that it is in the simplicity that it becomes more complex for us as adults, but kids are the experts at doing it. If you watch children at play, you will see many of these activities in action. We could learn a lot from watching kids…

  • There’s a great word for this: perturb. Sometimes, we need something to knock us off of our routine trajectories, and many of these activities are just what we need to get us there. Thanks!

  • I had a student try that particular exercise once, and he came back to me with his mind blown. He said that he went for a walk in the neighborhood where he had lived for the last 13 years, but was amazed to learn that a house only 3 doors down was pink. In all the years prior, he had driven by, which did not allow for such observation. It’s amazing what we notice when we slow down and pay attention on purpose!

  • Totally awesome. It’s like breaking the routine auto-pilot mode of the brain and all our senses, suddenly the same world looks like a new place. Love it. 🙂

  • cmcoto

    Hi Josh, great post!

    Mindfulness starts with taking a Determination to be present in the Here and Now…Loved your last one… Sit silent in Darkness… I call it The sound of silence… Thanks for Sharing!

    Carlos.

  • Alexey Sunly

    And thank you as well 🙂

  • Haven’t heard that word since my Mom used to say that’s what I did to her. Thanks for the new context.

    I realize that I often awaken in mindless mid-journey getting jarred by a pothole in the road. That’s a quick call-to-action, or perturbment. Mindfulness will curb that perturbment and make the journey all the more pleasant and fulfilling.

    Thanks again.

    ~ Mark

  • I love the sound of silence, especially when it’s outside, in nature. As you continue to practice mindful behaviors, you can eventually become good enough at it to the point where you no longer need silence, but can also accept the chaos as well. That’s a tough one for me though, as I have four children, but I am trying more and more each day.

  • Guest

    Hey Josh, this is a wonderful article and I could so much relate to almost everything you mentioned here. I have recently learned and have been practising the Vipassana meditation and I have for the first time on my life realized what true happiness means, what it does it means to live every moment, what is the meaning of bliss and compassion. I was totally opposite before doing this 10 day course, I used to be upset about a lot of things in my life earlier but meditation has changed my perspective. I might have liked your article but now I can totally relate to it and understand and feel every word of it. I wish more and more people are able to attain this level awareness as it certainly changes your life. May everyone be happy.

  • rach2013

    Hey Josh, this is a wonderful article and I could so much relate to almost everything you mentioned here. I have recently learned and have been practising the Vipassana meditation and I have for the first time in my life realized what true happiness means, what does it mean to live every moment and be aware of it, what is the meaning of bliss and compassion. I was totally opposite before doing this 10 day course, I used to be upset about a lot of things in my life earlier but meditation has changed my perspective. My old self could have just liked this article and would have assumed it I can do this but now I can totally relate to it understand and feel every word of it. I wish more and more people are able to attain this level awareness as it certainly changes your life. May everyone be happy.

  • Thank you for your response! In addition to the story mentioned above, my journey also started with a book, “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Reading it filled me with a sense of peace and allowed me to let go of my old ways so that I might move forward with something new. Then, in 2009, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet with Thich Nhat Hanh, and my path was cemented in stone. I highly recommend this book (and any of his others as well)!

  • My first job was at McDonald’s as a teenager, and my paycheck said “Jason Misner” for the first three months. 😉

    I’m not too worried when someone calls me the wrong name, since it doesn’t change who I am. One of my favorite names to be called is “Hey, you!”

  • Alexey Sunly

    I am pretty sure your experience is very much the right of passage in a capitalist society. It tells you exactly how much your employers really care about you 😉

    As for people calling you the wrong name, it may not affect who you are, but it does affect how others perceive you, especially if they learn later on that they were calling you the wrong name for a while and you let them carry on like that. It can be especially detrimental to your relationship with people stuck in the lower levels of egocentric stages of development, because they might feel that you’ve contributed to their embarrassment in front of others 🙂 I find it’s much better for everyone to correct mistakes right away, instead of leaving that to a chance or for later time! Sometimes, taking control of the situation can actually serve to benefit everyone involved, instead of inhibiting their growth as we might feel.

  • rach2013

    Thanks for introducing me to Thich Nhat Hanh, I would definitely like to read his books. I believe he is a Vipassana teacher too and I got my share of experienced wisdom tat you wrote above by practising Vipassana technique from S. N. Goenka. Its great to know how once you connect to the real spiritual world the entire universe helps you in discovering priceless fruits that you had not even known before. It feels wonderful.

  • Thank you Josh for your tips on being mindful, they are very
    helpful. I have been using one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness techniques,
    wash the dishes when you wash the dishes. I find myself saying it to myself
    when I realize I am not in the moment.

  • lv2terp

    That is SO TRUE!!! It is a shame what we lose sight of when we get older. Their mindfulness and living in the moment fully is truly inspiring!!! 🙂 Thanks again!

  • This is a great activity, Shelly! Washing the dishes and folding the laundry are wonderful ways of letting go of the thoughts that plague our waking minds, providing valuable release.

  • ensywensy

    Think about the good sides when they are noisy. They are happy, playful and alive!

  • Freeworkout Playlistsdotcom

    I’ve just been for a walk and am now completely lost, can someone help me please?