Think back and remember a moment when you knew you were “in the zone” or “feeling the flow” – you could’ve been doing anything… exercising, talking with a friend, sharing a carefree laugh in a social situation, just sitting doing nothing… no matter what you were doing, chances are you felt pretty good. You were totally connected to, and fully experiencing, the present moment.
But how did you “get there?” Can you experience it more often, on purpose, and what the heck was it, really?
It goes by many names and methods, and here’s one way you can develop the ability to get there: Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention to the present moment with curiosity and interest, without judgement. It’s being aware – truly aware – and noticing the thoughts, sensations, sounds, sights that are happening right now.
As simple as it sounds, research from Harvard has shown that nearly half of our waking moments are spent thinking about the past, future or something other than what we’re actually doing in the moment. We’re mentally frazzled.
The good news is that your powers of mindfulness work like a muscle… they get stronger each time you practice. The better news is practicing mindfulness doesn’t require hiking up a mountain and spending a month in a cave donned in robes eating rice kernels – there are practical steps you can take in your daily life – at work, at home, while having lunch, anywhere! – that will help you get in the flow state.
To help you get started, here are five steps to help you feel the flow:
Step 1: Awareness is key to getting in the mindfulness zone! Be aware of everything! What’s happening outside, what’s happening in your head, the sights and smells around you. Just notice things… pay attention to them. Increased awareness can help you recognize what serves you and what doesn’t, and then manage those things accordingly.
Step 2: Tuning into your body is one of the best ways to help on your mindfulness journey. Many questions can be answered if we just listen to what our body has to say. Do you want that last bite or are you satisfied? If you’re satisfied but you want it anyway, that’s ok, but notice why. Does your body want you to take a deep breath right now? Would it feel good to stand up and stretch? Listening to your body can help you determine if you are in the zone, or what’s needed to get you there.
Step 3: The foundation of a good mindfulness practice is your breath – it’s always there as a constant anchor to the present moment. Breathing happens naturally without force or thinking about it. Focusing on your breath can help you shake free from ruminating on stressful thoughts, anxious deadlines and To Do lists, or other frazzling distractions. Try it now, wherever you are… just take a few deep breaths, focusing only on the sensations of taking air in and releasing the breath out. Do you focus on the nose where cool air comes in and warms air leaves, or do you focus on the rise and fall of the chest… either is effective. You can always come back to the present moment and center yourself with this constant anchor of the breath.
Step 4: Patience is a virtue! Remaining patient is especially important on your path to mindfulness – our mind constantly wanders, and that’s completely normal! It’s difficult to focus your attention on the breath for long periods of time – whenever your mind wanders, just notice it wandered and refocus back on your breath. Patience is key because you’ll be doing this focus dance a lot. Totally normal! And again, it gets easier the more you practice and you’ll start to notice you can hold your attention on your breath for longer times.
Step 5: Keep practicing. As simple as it sounds to just “focus on the breath,” it’s tough! A wandering mind can be frustrating. But… let it get frustrating for a moment, notice that you felt frustration – you can even say, “Oh, that’s what frustration feels like” – and then refocus your attention back on the breath. That process gets easier… stay patient, keep practicing and you’ll soon find that living mindfully, or living in the zone, the flow state, la vida loca, whatever you want to call it, can actually increase your happiness, improve your relationships, help you be more productive and deliver a greater sense of well-being in your life.
Remember these five steps to get in the flow of mindfulness and enjoy a focused mind, full of purpose!
Also published on Medium.