"Take a quick break! Take a breath!" I tell myself. It feels like it's already been a long day that will never end. I feel totally drained. "I'll just check Facebook really fast," I think. All of a sudden, thirty minutes is gone. Guess what? I don't feel any better and I'm not rested. I'm still just as drained as I was thirty minutes before! Oh, and by the way, I'm still scrolling through Facebook!
The biggest time wasters--Facebook, Netflix or whatever it may be--drain my motivation to do almost anything. I don't feel better having scrolled through page after page of, well, nothing. Yet, somehow, I go back to it all the time. Like so many others around me, I'm staring at a hand-held technology trap, moving my thumbs at blinding speed across a digital screen. Why?
This last week, I decided to change this pattern. Instead of turning to Facebook for my breaks, I turned to my practice of mindfulness. Granted, I did not totally cut out Facebook, but instead of instantly turning there, I paused, caught myself, and practiced mindfulness. Facebook will always be there.
Buzzfeed created this really cool blog post with all these visual animations designed to help practice focusing on your breath! It can be challenging to just breath and count. At first, I found it difficult to hone in on an abstract thing, like breath, and not let my mind wander! These animations make it easier. It is fun to watch the ball wander up as I inhale and down as I exhale. Eventually, I could just imagine the ball as I practice. Then, it became even easier to focus without the animations! Before I knew it, I could practice mindful breath no matter where I was. It's as if I'd turned the table on digital brain traps!
I love keeping this blog post somewhere always accessible (like on my phone), which also really helps with mindfulness. I recommend giving it a try for a few minutes a day. And see if you can try practicing mindful breath for 30 seconds to a minute every day for 30 days! Let me know how it goes!
After getting married, I had a ton of thank you cards to send out! It really made me think about what "thank you" and "gratitude" mean to me. Sitting there writing "Thank you" notes, thinking of all the times I heard from my parents "Make sure you say 'thank you' or 'Did you write a thank you note yet?'" It's become part of my own process of gaining a new understanding of gratitude. What does it really mean to give thanks to someone else? When do I make time to thank myself for what I do? When do I feel appreciation for my life?
According to positive psychology research, engaging with gratitude will promote a healthier and happier life. Who knew those “thank you's" were more than just social niceties! Here are some activities to try out to increase the influence of gratitude in your life:
1. Gratitude Journal - Make it a part of your morning ritual. I know every morning is a rush to get out of the house. Take time for yourself! For one minute every morning for 30 days, write down 3-5 things you are grateful for that day. If your list makes it longer than 3-5 things, awesome! Take notes of how you feel at the end of the 30 days.
2. Gratitude Letter - Is there someone in your life who deserves thanks and appreciation, maybe even someone from your past? Write them a letter thanking them for their support, influence or whatever it may be. Make it heart-felt, genuine and honest. Here’s the hard part: set up a time to meet with this person - maybe over coffee - and read it out loud to them. Notice what it is like for you after you finish reading the letter to them.
3. Gratitude Walk - Take a walk. Notice what is around you. Use your five senses. What does it smell like? What does the air feel like? What does the ground feel like beneath your feet? Any time a thought comes to your mind, acknowledge that it is a thought and return to noticing what is around you. As an art therapist, one thing I’ve done is to take one picture of something that symbolizes that walk. At the end of the month, I collect all these pictures together and create a gratitude collage of what I've especially appreciated from my walks. "Picturing gratitude" really helps me recall what happened during that last month and helps me strengthen my appreciation.
The post-wedding time really left space for me to remind myself to build this as a habit. It may take time to build gratitude as a habit. Leave a note at your door or set an alarm on your phone that reminds you it is a gratitude moment time.
Thank you…and have some good walks!
Sara Hulan, MA, Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Associate IMF #97806,