If you are like me, you might picture an individual in a very Zen posture in deep meditation any time someone mentioned mindfulness. Also, if you are like me, your reaction might be “who’s got time for THAT?” I’ve told myself that even if I had time, I’d be terrible at it. My mind would stray or I’d fall asleep or I’d feel silly. What I have discovered, however, is that by brief moments of mindfulness–sometimes just seconds long–can be enough to redirect thinking and interrupt negative behavioral responses. Here are three “Not Really Meditation” Mindfulness exercises.
Hand on Heart Exercise (Time: 20 seconds – 1 minute)
Place your hand on your heart for up to one minute. Ideally, this is done while you take a few deep breaths or close your eyes. Even if you are in the middle of a meeting or a crowded room, placing your hand on your heart is something you can do without drawing any attention. As your hand is light on your heart, feel its rhythm and pay attention to your breath. Breathing too quickly or shallowly? Be intentional about slowing and deepening your breath for the next three breaths.
Why? Paying attention to your heart and focusing, even for a brief second, on your breathing calms the neurons that light up when we are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious.
Hug it Out Exercise (Time: 5-20 seconds)
Taking a few seconds to get a hug from a friend or loved one is a quick and easy way feel more calm and grounded. In fact, just about any positive touch can do the trick: holding hands or patting a back help too. No one around? Or at the office where hugging Steve from accounting is frowned upon? No worries…you can hug yourself or massage the base of your skull. Both are found to release oxytocin.
Why? Human touch signals our bodies to release oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the “love chemical” or the “tend and befriend” chemical. It is present when we fall in love, take care of our children and connect with our social supports. The release of oxytocin works to reduce cortisol, more commonly known as the “stress hormones.”
Disrupt Negative Thoughts (Time: less than a minute)
We have all heard that voice. In fact it is OUR voice. At our most fragile moments we tend to say the harshest things to ourselves:
“I can’t believe I didn’t get that interview. I am such a failure.”
“Did I really need that extra piece of pizza. I’m disgusting.”
“That goal is completely unrealistic. Just stop while you are ahead.”
When thoughts like that enter your head, don’t waste time trying to debate yourself. A negative brain loves to derail you into a drawn out debate on your self-worth. Don’t feed what you don’t want to grow. Simply stop, name it for what it is and dismiss it:
“That is my negative self-talk sneaking in again. Thank you for sharing, now I’ve got other things to pay attention to.”
You can also pair that with a physical disruption. Take a walk around your house or office or get a glass of water. Your negative brain is also very much like a toddler. Distract it from its tantrum.
Why? Negative thoughts snowball. They can start out as a single event internal shaming, but then grow into a full scale crisis of confidence. Disrupting negative thoughts keep them from becoming cancerous.
These are only three small exercises to tuck in your back pocket. What they have in common is a practice of being intentional and stopping what you are doing to redirect your body, heart and mind.