The sole purpose of this guide is in helping you develop the foundation of how to be mindful – the ability to be entirely one and with the present – what you choose to do with this new found ability is entirely up to you, there is no judgement.
Mindfulness can help improve your life in so many ways:
- Stop the flow of thoughts worries about the future. Get better sleep.
- Stop the thoughts distracting you – allow you to refocus on a task that needs to be done.
- Let go of those hurtful/critical comments someone said to you earlier in the day.
- Calm your mind and focus in on what is making you unhappy, anxious or depressed.
- Enjoying the present. Watching the sunset, enjoying time with your friends, bring your mind back to here and now, because that’s all that we have.
These are just a few of the benefits that being mindful can help you with. At the heart of solving all of the above – is to firstly notice you are having these thoughts – and this requires mindfulness.
Warning! I won’t lie and guarantee you will develop mindfulness. There are no guarantees and I am not an expert nor am I a professional (the content provided within this guide is not intended to be used, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychiatric, mental health, legal, or other advice in any shape or form.) . I can however give you each step in my guide and how I personally developed mindfulness.
This is quite long so use it as reference material. So bookmark it now for and jump around to the points most relevant to you!
A serial killer can be mindful when murdering an innocent, a sniper can be mindful before he pulls the trigger. You can use mindfulness in whatever field you desire to excel at, sports, learning an instrument, a new language – all of these require focus an mindful practice to excel at. While I don’t know Usain Bolt personally, I’d be willing to bet good money he isn’t thinking about the chicken nuggets he ate earlier half way through the 100M final. Mindfulness can also be used for good deeds – you can use it to develop altruistic tendencies, the cultivation of happiness and well being- it is my personal hope that it is used for the latter, however firstly mindfulness must be cultivated.
Comparative to time we spend on our physical health and body, it is firstly important to acknowledge how little time we spend taking care of our minds- even though it is the single most important thing in the world- it controls all our actions, our reactions and therefore is the one thing that determines our happiness or not.
We can spend hours at the weekend baking delicious goodies or meals for the week ahead. Multiple gym sessions a week, running, sports, we carefully plan what we are going to eat, if we are feeling tired we ensure our bodies get enough rest- cut down the daily McDonalds and I’m sure you’ll see the physical benefits in a short period of time. However what about our mind?
Each day we allow it to constantly consume endless forms of media, most of it whilst entertaining is rubbish, we react to people talking or not acting in a way that we expect – someone of relative insignificance throwing an insult can mentally affect us for a long period of time. At the same time our mind can produce 100 different reasons to watch Netflix (my mind certainly does…!) instead of taking out the trash, procrastinate, doubt ourselves, get angry over the smallest of things – images of an old married couple bickering over the smallest of things spring to mind. It stresses, contemplates the future which may not come, thinks about the past which has gone, however we only have the present – these stresses more often or not can lead to anxiety or depression.
There have been countless times I’ve been unable to sleep, countless thoughts filling my mind. Maybe its about something that happened in the past, or maybe an important job interview the next day, or I just have a number of worries about something which may happen that’s preventing me from sleeping.
How great would it be to be able to switch off these negative thoughts? At the heart of solving any of these negative thoughts – which eventually lead to negative or detrimental actions – is mindfulness.
We firstly need to be aware that we are having these thoughts and be able to focus in on what we are thinking.
Without this first step, we won’t be able to concentrate on whatever we seek to achieve and the way to achieve this is through meditation.
If we are able to focus in on the present situation – we can then choose to do what we like with our thoughts. If your mind is preoccupied with what a friend said about you earlier, you’ll be able to drop this thought and get on with real life.
Desiring for a situation to be different? Anxious about something bad happening in the future at work?
If we are fully in the present, there is no room for these thoughts to spiral out of control.
Never has the topic of mental health been of such importance, at the time of writing, at least half the world has been in lockdown due to Covid-19, millions have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, social contacts, personal freedoms.
Never has it been more important to develop the ability to be mindful, effectively to quieten the mind and to focus and to be aware of what is running through the random chatter running through your mind.
Our mind is the single most important thing in the world- it determines our happiness, and developing mindfulness it the first step through meditation.
I will be completely upfront and honest with you – the development of mindfulness will not come overnight, and may or may not come in weeks, like all skills worth developing, it takes perseverance, effort and determination. If you follow this guide, I am confident you will see the benefits and notice the improvements in being aware of what is happening in the present moment.
The first day on your journey to becoming more mindful is the most important step. Inaction is easier than action, and therefore day 1 is very simple: pick a place where you live.
Ideally pick a place that is quiet, away from where others in your household may venture, ideally a room where you don’t frequently visit. Alternatively if you are living in a flatshare and you only have your room, pick a corner or space which is free of clutter and undisturbed. If no such place exists, no worries, any place is better than no place. This will be your place of mindfulness meditation for the next few weeks – lets call this place M.
You’ll probably skim ahead to the next few days in this guide. Don’t until you have chosen your place.
I would like you to sit at place M – on cushions, flat on the floor without, lotus position, half lotus, kneeling, whatever feels most comfortable to yourself. Feel free to try out multiple positions.
It will take 2 minutes. Mine is in my living room, there are 2 cushions.
Have you done it yet?
If you have, feel free to jump right in to day 2 if you want to continue momentum.
For most of you, you will not have done the above, if you have, well done you are in the ~5% that have the willpower and motivation to do – congratulations. If you haven’t – do it now to join the 5%.
Now you’ve chosen a place – today’s task will also be extremely easy and will set the framework for the rest of this guide.
The best time to concentrate and develop the benefits of mindfulness is in the morning before the day starts, but will also be able to use the benefits of mindfulness throughout the day. You also have the ability to control what goes on in your mornings, throughout the day usually gets busier, phonecalls come in, unexpected errands arise- your morning should a lot more free than later.
Everyone has different routines, some get up and go straight to the shower, others have breakfast before they shower, some are so rushed they cram food in their mouths, chewing and digesting while showering – your morning routine is unique.
For this day- you need to fix in a period of time where you will meditate into this routine- ideally before part of your morning routine you enjoy.
For me, I get out of bed, and I am straight to my Place M. After Place M, I have the part of my morning routine I enjoy – coffee with a pastry.
Adjust your wake up time to incorporate 2 minutes extra to sit at Place M tomorrow. If you usually wake up at 7:30am, set it for 7:27. 10am? go for 09:57. Write it down somewhere, and you’re all good to go tomorrow!
If you’ve woken up with those extra 2 minutes spare, well done.
Do whatever you like or whatever you have scheduled in your morning routine first (if you have any) before getting yourself to your place M (set an alarm to remind you to go to place M if you think you may forget) and here we embark on our journey towards cultivating mindfulness.
Choose the sitting position which you discovered on day 1 at your place M, place your hands on your knees in whatever position you are sitting in.
Set your timer on your alarm for 2 minutes, maybe this is on your smartphone or you have an egg timer, 2 minutes.
Close your eyes, and just focus on your hands on your knees.
Maybe you are touching cotton pyjamas, maybe you have hairy knees, notice the texture of whatever it is your are touching. Maybe you have bony knees, just notice whatever feeling you are sensing between the your knees and in turn – your palm, the side of the palm, the heel of the palm, your ring finger, your middle finger, the tip of your thumb.
If your mind drifts, it is perfectly normal. Maybe you are thinking about the amazing shower you are going to have once you’ve finished this task. Perhaps like myself, you are looking forward to the luscious cup of coffee that gives you that extra kick to start your day.
Keep bringing your attention back to your hands on your knees whenever your mind drifts. Maybe you’re thinking about the day ahead, or the bus you might miss. What about if the alarm doesn’t go off?
Even if you spend the entire 2 minutes thinking about something else, this is completely normal. Just notice how your mind drifted away from your hands touching your knees, and gently bring back that attention to your fingertips and your palm.
Whatever you do, you cannot open your eyes, and you can’t check the timer as to how long there is left. Let your mind drift as much as it wants, just bring it back to your hands on your knees.
Once you’ve made 2 minutes, well done! Enjoy the next part of your morning routine. Whether you found this easy or challenging is immaterial, the point is that you successfully made it through without opening your eyes and sitting at Place M for 2 minutes.
Like with any skill such as learning to play the piano, persistent deliberate practice is required to maintain the previous level of ability, whilst small incremental adjustments and patience lead to improvements. Try running a marathon if you haven’t run 5km in a year..!
Days 4 and 5 will be repeats of day 3 to cement the foundations of routine into place.
- Get to Place M when it is the time in your routine
- For 2 minutes, close your eyes, focus on the contact between your hands and knees – whatever the material
- If your mind drifts, refocus back to your hands and knees.
- After 2 minutes and the alarm goes off, proceed to the enjoyable part of your morning.
- If you look at the time, or open your eyes before the alarm, try to attempt this day sometime later when you have time.
If for some reason you are unable to get to your place M through on any particular day- no worries (although it is only 2 minutes). Maybe you forgot to set your alarm/are running particularly late, perhaps you can try to squeeze in the practice later in your morning routine if possible, or before midday.
However as these days are only 2minutes, you should be quite hard pressed to find an excuse why you can’t make these 2 minutes. If anything delay whatever you have planned after Place M. It is far worse to skip doing something than doing a poor job.
However if say you do miss day 8, just do day 8 again the following day however this is not recommended. Try your best not to break routine the following day though, consistent deliberate practice will yield the best results in the fastest time.
For these days, increase the time to 4 minutes. This should now be more challenging in terms of focusing on the contact between your hands and knees. Even for the most skilled of meditators, to continually focus without any interruption in thoughts on a single point of contact is extremely difficult so don’t worry if you find your mind drifting multiple times.
With the increased time maybe you find your seated position is not so comfortable. You may find as well that you may have an itch somewhere. This is perfectly normal, try your best to resist as much as you can to keep your attention focused on your hands and knees. If you can control your mind to let go of the discomfort, that is exactly the state of mind where you want to be, by focusing your hands on your knees that should give you the ability to distract your mind away from whatever arises, whether that be a thought of the future, an itch or a random sound which peaks your interest.
Potentially you feel the unbearable desire to address your discomfort, go ahead and scratch that itch, but be sure to immediately bring your mind back but should it arise again, try again to resist. If you cannot resist, no worries at all, no one said this was going to be easy. Patience and persevering effort will prevail, for each itch, be grateful for the opportunity to practice and learn.
If you’ve managed to get through the first 8 days – congratulations you are on the first step towards becoming more mindful.
In the past 8 days you should have noticed a steady increase the ability to focus between your knees and hands if your mind previously drifted before, or perhaps you noticed that actually your ability to focus on your knees and hands was greater on day 5 to day 8.
This is possible – maybe due to boredom, maybe due to other external factors that make no day the same- the quality and duration of sleep the night before, did you have alcohol on day 7. It isn’t about whether you can spend the entire 4 minutes on the contact between your hands and knees- it is about being aware of exactly where your mind is going, and being able to notice it and therefore being able to bring it back.
It is this repetition of bringing your mind back continually that will ultimately result in increased mindfulness, and therefore its time to increase your skill by increasing the difficulty.
The time is now going to increase to 5 minutes, a relatively minor increase in the scheme of your day – assuming you sleep 8 hours, you have 960 minutes in your day that you are awake, however it is the small marginal gains that lead to improvement.
This day will be slightly different, like with the sitting position, I cannot say which seated position you feel most comfortable in so this is up to you to discover.
However instead of focusing on the hands on the knees as you have previously for the past week and 2 days, we will focus on the left nostril. As you inhale through your nose, you should notice a point at which the air you breathe in first hits your left nostril and this point of contact will replace what you have previously been focusing on in terms of hands on knees contact.
Feeling the air run in through your left nostril at the tip. My mind may drift as I feel the air travelling down my nasal passage, my chest expanding, ribcage expanding and diaphragm contracting, but it is okay as my mind refocuses back at the tip of my left nostril as air is exhaled back into my surroundings.
You may notice your breathing begin to deepen, slowing down, which is fine this is completely normal – remember to bring your attention back.
Maybe you notice your hands which are so accustomed to being on your knees and have assumed their natural position of comfort which is not on your knees, that is also great – again remember to bring your attention back to your left nostril.
Don’t forget once you have completed your practice to carry on with your morning routine!
These are repeats of day 9 in which focus is on the breath. The breath is a completely different story to tell and opens up a whole realm of possibilities to develop focus which I will probably write about in future articles (and probably deserves an entire guide to)- but at this point of time we need to focus firstly on the cultivation of mindfulness.
Again, a gentle reminder to allow your mind to think about whatever it wants and for as long as it wants as it drifts away from focusing on the point of your left nostril- this is perfectly normal. If you have previously been feeling the urges, continue to resist the need to open your eyes and look at the clock.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, about 10% of the 5% who started this would get to this stage having completed each part.
From day 15 onwards – the time is now going to be increased to 10 minutes. It may take a bit of time to get used to, 10 minutes can feel like an eternity, however thinking about it 10 minutes is a fraction of our day and we can easily spend hours of time on our favourite hobbies.
It may take a bit of time to get used to 10 minutes, however the key is continued persistence.
Up till now, you may in your day to day life start noticing things from time to time that you previously didn’t realise since 2 weeks ago- some examples:
- You may catch yourself day dreaming, before refocusing back to the task in hand,
- the touch of the door handle as your hands clasp round
- the refreshing pleasantness of water, your lips touching the smooth rim of your mug.
- How you are reacting to certain stimuli, upon seeing a good friend, you may immediately smile and be joyful -but you also notice your cheek muscles tightening and your eyes naturally get smaller as your orbicularis oculi muscles contract and you smile genuinely.
- As you step outside, you notice a crisp breeze hit the side of your cheek. Mindfully you contemplate whether to put on that scarf or not.
There are infinite moments to be mindful of, and it is simply awareness that these are happening that is the foundation of mindfulness and it is a great sign if you can catch yourselves in these moments and an immediate sign that you have progressed.
If you haven’t, don’t be disheartened and don’t get anxious – like with sitting at place M, everyone is different and finds their most comfortable position, everyone comes from a different place, maybe you don’t notice things, or maybe you do notice things but it doesn’t register in your consciousness – everyone is unique and masters different skills at different rates and patient perseverance will yield results.
Potentially this method may not work for you and you decide not to continue your practice, 1 method does not fit all and hence there are numerous teachings and techniques which are adapted to different learning styles so don’t become depressed about it- this method may not fit your style and so take pride in that you successfully got to this day (most do not have the discipline). If you feel on the cusp of a breakthrough, or in general feel that this guide has given you order, a sense of calm and insight or maybe other hidden benefits which have arisen from the practice- please of course do feel free to continue.
I read this quote somewhere – time is an illusion, and every unrealistic second of it matters. We may not be able to avoid our regrets or mistakes, but we can choose to appreciate every minute of it and it is exactly with mindfulness that this should hold true. I sincerely hope this short guide has helped you.
The content provided within this guide is not intended to be used, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychiatric, mental health, legal, or other advice in any shape or form. If you are looking for any medical, mental health or other advice please consult a professional. All decisions are yours alone and we are not responsible for your actions. The content provided in this product represents our opinions and should not be considered facts. Call your physician, mental health professional or national emergency helpline for all emergencies.
Before making a decision we suggest doing your own thoughtful research alongside our opinions (not to be deemed as medical, mental health or legal advice). By uncovering information yourself, the decisions made are entirely yours.