Mindfulness is a contemplative pursuit, you’re not seeing a mindful racecar driver or fireman, at least not while they’re on the clock. The truth of this is that mindfulness might not work in too fast-paced an activity, though once you’re done… No, mindfulness really shines when you can slow down enough to reflect. Mindfulness is a practice, the more you do it the faster you get, the more automatic it is, but more often than not it’s just a pause button that lets you consider your situation more fully.
If you’re finding it hard to be mindful in the middle of a conversation, while writing things down, while driving or working outside then try slowing down from the start. Enter your task with a slower mindset from the beginning; if it’s a conversation then talk slower or make your focus to listen to the other versus trying to come up with your response. If you’re writing, take a breath after a sentence or a paragraph or try doing the writing by hand instead of typed. If you’re driving, just stay in the right lane and observe the posted speed limit. Keep returning to these points as you proceed and try to stay on the slow path, try remembering or being aware of your breath as you go about your task.
I know it can be hard to be deliberately slow, it often takes some planning. If you’re in a hurried conversation then it might be because you’re trying to make a point, if you’re typing really fast then you might have more you need to type so you want it to be as fast as possible and if you’re speeding to work then you might be excited to get to work or maybe you’re just running late. Being slow and deliberate is a planned act, so you might enter a conversation to hear someone else and just connect, if you’re typing or writing then you might be slower while journaling and if you’re driving, just leave a little early. In any of these cases, you have to be prepared for the slowness. The more often you practice, the more instinctive it’ll become.
Slowness as a mindful habit is definitely easier said than done, remembering that you want to be slower goes against much of the automatic life that most of us live. To get started, rather than try to take a thing you already do and make it slower, you can instead create blocks of time where you’re going to work on it. Do something that isn’t automatic for you normally so that you’re being forced to be double mindful and concentrate on the task. Go for a walk, with the restriction that you’ll count your breath, or do a soft-focused gaze as you walk, this will force you to be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Do it for 1 minute, 5 minutes or as long as you’re comfortable. Make a point of noticing your surroundings, be where you’re walking rather than focused on the horizon, or your pace, or the meeting you need to get back to. As weather warms up and it’s nice outside, there are plenty of natural things you can do slowly.
Ideally, by starting with deliberate acts and then normal “mindless” tasks, you’ll reach a point where your first instinct is to slow your mind and body. I said at the beginning that a racecar driver or fireman can’t be mindful at work, but with a constant practice, that driver will be noticing all of the cars around them, that fireman will be aware of their dangers in their rooms. I may have even been wrong to suggest they were NOT mindful, as their tasks require a very deliberate presence of mind that seems like instinct at first. Feel free to explore tasks that might NOT be mindful, then challenge yourself to look at them from an “always present” mindset and consider that maybe the more intense the task, the more likely you’re forced to combine automatic behavior with spacial or personal awareness. Maybe mindfulness is possible in everything we do.