Where can you carve-out five minutes? How about before you get out of bed after your alarm goes off? Or maybe you can claim five minutes after your morning coffee, at work while sitting at your desk, or in the car before you drive to the grocery store. Really, you can do this practice almost anywhere.
In fact, you’re already doing one part of this practice all day long – breathing. The only added step is to pay close attention. Breathing usually happens outside of conscious awareness, but focusing on your breath is one of the most powerful strategies for managing stress and increasing self-control. It can even help with treating anxiety and depression.
Notice your breathing now and focus on extending your exhalation. Use the muscles between your ribs and lungs to squeeze the air out, and then inhalation will occur effortlessly. Find a rhythm that feels right for you and breathe slowly. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the body’s safety signal, and leave you feeling calmer.
Keeping your attention focused on something as mundane as breathing can be difficult to do for one minute, let alone five. People often get frustrated when they attempt to meditate like this, because they think their mind is supposed to become quiet. Instead, expect your mind to wander. Just notice without judgment when you’ve gotten sidetracked by mental chatter, your body’s sensations, or the noises around you.
This practice is a three-step mental assignment: (1) pay attention to your breathing, (2) notice when your mind’s gone off task, and (3) bring your attention back to the breath – repeat. You’re gently herding the mind, and yes, it’s a lot like herding cats. Your thoughts will scramble in all different directions. No problem, even if you go chasing after one for a while. As soon as you realize that you’re off-task, re-orient to your breathing. For help remembering to come back, you might try a guided meditation app, such as Headspace.
The distractible mind is what makes mindfulness meditation so effective for increasing self-control. By setting aside five minutes per day to bring the attention of your wandering mind back to your breath, you will improve your capacity for self-control and be able to pause and reorient yourself during the rest of your day. You will catch yourself sooner when you slip into the Facebook rabbit hole during your workday. You will be more likely to redirect your attention to your health goals when the urge for a pint of ice cream tries to tempt you.
A daily 5-minute mindfulness mediation practice will make you stronger and calmer for the entirety of your day.