We’re probably all familiar with this scenario – we tell ourselves ‘from now on, I will be more mindful’/’eat more mindfully’/’do the dishes with mindfulness’/’take time to smell the roses’. And then, before we know it, we’re caught up in the flow of a busy day, forgetting all about our intention to be mindful! In the Buddhist tradition, the word for mindfulness is ‘sati’, the root of which is ‘to remember’. So even 2500 years ago, people were struggling with a tendency to forget to be present, to live absentmindedly.
One of the problems with a generalised intention such as ‘I will eat with mindfulness’ is that it is quite vague – the intention is there, but we have nothing which will assist us to remember when the moment comes to sit down to a meal. From research in the behavioural sciences, it seems we do much better when we link new behaviours to very specific anchor points during the day. Examples might be:
Before I the first bite, I will breathe in and out once and notice the breath in my body
When I get to a red light, I will relax back in my car seat and notice the contact of my back muscles against the seat
When I brush my teeth, I will notice the taste of toothpaste
When I have parked the car outside the childcare centre, I will take a breath and smile
When I walk to the letterbox, I will notice the contact between the soles of the feet and the ground
When I wash my hands, I will notice the temperature of the water against my skin.
It can be helpful to just start with one of these anchor points, until it becomes a habit, and then gradually add new ones in. To make it even more effective, we can give ourselves some positive reinforcement whenever we do remember. This could be smiling to ourselves, or saying a quiet (or silent) ‘yeah’, or a ‘well done, me’. It may feel a little strange to do this, but we all find it easier to remember next time if our anchor point is paired with some kind of positive feeling.
Mindfulness can be esoteric, scientific, deeply spiritual, one of the ‘tools’ in our toolbox. It can be all these, and it can also be small behavioural changes over time. Creating anchor points in our day for ‘remembering’ mindfulness doesn’t take away from its deeper meanings – it’s just working more effectively with our normal human tendency to remain stuck in familiar patterns, to forget to be present, to be easily distracted from fully experiencing the present moment.
Choose one anchor point for mindfulness in your day, making it very specific, and then construct a sentence like ‘when …., I will ….’, taking the above examples as guidelines but making it your own unique practice. It can be helpful to write this sentence down initially and put it somewhere prominent as a reminder.