How to be Mindful 100%, Not 53.1%, of the Time
A new study entitled “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” and published in the journal Science found that we run on autopilot 46.9% of the time. During these times, we're mentally checked out and not fully present or grounded in what we're doing or what's around us.
“And here's the kicker: people report being unhappy during mind wandering,” reports psychologist David Rock in a column for Psychology Today magazine. (1)
“Something that we do nearly half the time makes us unhappy! Whether people are mind wandering turns out to be a better predictor of happiness than the actual activities people are engaged in. Think about just one implications of this finding: it explains why one person's hell on earth (say, filling in forms) can be another person's heaven, if they find themselves focused on the task.”
Mindfulness and staying present is the exact opposite of living on autopilot and letting your mind wander aimlessly. By slowing down and bringing our full attention, presence and being to the present moment, we fully engage in our activities (thus manifesting more success) and unlock the sense of presence that researchers say helps to spark our happiness and joy.
But it’s hard to shift out of autopilot and mind wandering if we’ve been engaging in it our whole lives. It’s hard to change a habit that researchers say we do 46.9% of the time.
To start rewiring your mind and getting out of absent minded autopilot, start by doing one or two small habits a day. By slowly making a conscious effort to be present, you activate and strengthen the parts of your brain related to conscious living, slower and more grounded action, and sense of presence. And as these habits take root, you start to reduce more and more the percentage of your day that’s spent in absent-minded autopilot.
Ways to Begin to Slow Down and Rewire Your Brain to Mindfulness
1. Create fresh, new triggers
One common piece of advice you’ll see in a lot of self-help forums or books is to post reminders and notes in common areas to keep you inspired and focused on your goals. Notes like, “Be more mindful” or “Slow down” or “Check in with how you’re feeling.”
This is fine, and will work - but only for a short period of time. That’s because after a while, your brain will become used to these messages, and your old habits and old ways of automated thinking and unconscious living will try to reassert itself.
Instead, refresh your triggers constantly. Maybe change the wording in the notes you leave around your home. Or change the location of these notes. Or make these notes in a new medium, such as an email that you schedule to send to yourself in a week, or a reminder on your smartphone’s home screen background.
2. Do trigger-based new habits
“Triggers are a little-known key to forming a new habit (or breaking an old one),” says Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. “A trigger is an event that will kick off that automatic urge to do a habit. For example, smokers have a number of triggers — when they drink alcohol or coffee, many smokers will want to smoke. But this works for positive habits as well. Waking up can trigger habits such as drinking coffee, brushing your teeth, going running, or anything you want. Habits become automatic after we’ve created a bond between the trigger and the habit — the stronger the bond, the more ingrained the habit.”
Use the psychological power of triggers to create new mindfulness patterns in your life. For example, you might say: “When the phone rings, I”ll take a deep breath for three seconds before answering.” Or you might say, “When I pull into the driveway after a long day at work, I’ll sit in silence for 5 minutes and do some gratitude meditation.”
Each intentional action, sparked into action by your chosen triggers, helps you shift out of automated actions and mindless thinking and keeps you focused on mindfulness. Over time this will become a true habit!
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