For cultivating mindfulness, it’s essential to meditate daily. Informal mindfulness practice (that is, mindfulness practice that’s mixed with other activities of daily life) is generally not enough on its own to overcome the momentum of distraction. However, once you have a formal meditation routine as a foundation, it can be very helpful to integrate informal mindfulness practice into your daily life.
Without informal mindfulness practice, I find that I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy engaged in involuntary, unproductive thinking. Informal practice helps me “get out of my head” and experience life on a much deeper level. I find that informal practice has a positive impact on both my vitality and my productivity.
Introspection and Noting
One easy way to integrate mindfulness practice into your daily life is by periodically doing some introspection and noting as you carry out the activities of daily life—investigating what your attention and intellect are up to, clarifying what you actually want to be attending to, and noting distraction and dullness. To make this a habit, try setting a timer to periodically remind yourself to do this.
For many daily activities (like brushing your teeth or doing the dishes), little or no thinking is required—and if you’re like me, you may find that the thinking you do end up doing during these activities isn’t very helpful. Doing these activities can be a great time for informal mindfulness practice.
One way I help increase my level of mindfulness during these activities is through mindfulness chaining: I’ll ask myself what I need to do next, I’ll choose a small task that will take a minute or less to complete, and I’ll set an intention to stay mindful (that is, to maintain a stable, clear, expansive awareness of a wide range of my current experiences) as I do that task. As soon as that task is complete, I immediately repeat this process, asking myself what I need to do next and setting an intention to stay mindful as I do it. (This is analogous to counting breaths during formal meditation practice.) A side benefit of this practice is that I find that I do my tasks much more energetically and efficiently, since my energy isn’t being drained by involuntary thinking.
Expanding Attention Beyond Your Thoughts
You can also practice cultivating mindfulness at times when your intellect is engaged—during activities like reading, writing, talking with others, and making decisions; however, this can be a lot more challenging. Often, when we think, our attention collapses onto the things we’re thinking about. To help maintain the expansiveness of your attention, you can practice thinking while simultaneously using introspection to notice (and maintain some awareness of) your current subjective experience of thinking.
It can also help to expand your field of view to include other sensations. You can even try taking your entire field of subjective experience as an object of attention as you do activities that require intellectual engagement.