I just caught “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” author Michael Pollan’s interview on Oprah, and something he said clicked with me. When they were talking about life rules, Pollan said, when you’re chopping onions, just chop the onions.
As funny as it sounded to me at the time, it also made total sense: be appreciative and present when you’re doing something, no matter how boring it is. I actually have a friend who can make the most mundane things sound amazing, and while I’ve always envied her for that a little bit, I had no idea why she bothered until Pollan shed some light on it for me.
Given how often we all blow through our days as fast as possible, texting on our phones while eating and watching TV at the same time, I got to thinking about all the little opportunities we have every day to get a bit more out of the usual tasks. Try the following four hints to add some mindfulness and productivity to the less exciting parts of your daily montage reel.
1. Eat Breakfast Without Doing 10 Other Things At The Same Time
Breakfast is your first meal of the day, so make the most of it. Put down the phone and stop eating in your car on the way to work before you get a ticket. If you’re rushing your way through breakfast, you’re setting that hurried, stressed tone for the rest of your day. Starting off your day on the right foot is important because once we get frustrated or annoyed, it can be hard to shake that off. You want to put your best foot possible out of the front door each morning so you hit the ground with the best start you can have to your day.
Get up a little earlier so you actually have the time to enjoy your eggs or cereal in peace. Don’t use your phone, finish work or read the paper. Just sit there and enjoy your food and your thoughts. If you eat breakfast with someone else, feel free to engage in some pleasant chitchat, or you can all agree to have a quiet meal instead. Whatever you decide to do, make a commitment to it, so you don’t fall back into your old bad habits.
2. Try Mindful Showers
Whether you shower in the morning or at night, these brief wash times can be perfect for thinking. So many people come up with ideas in the shower that there are actually waterproof sticky-notes available so those thoughts aren’t lost once you step out. While baths are commonly associated with relaxing, showers are more associated with creativity, so much so that singing in the shower has become a long-standing movie device and punchline.
As with breakfast, try to leave a few extra minutes available for your showers so you’re not rushing around instead of relaxing and getting clean. If you’re living with others, you may need to agree to a shower schedule so no one is left without enough time to wash or hot water.
3. Go For A Walk
Walking has long been held as decent exercise, but did you know that your mind can get something out of it too? When you walk, you’re boosting your energy and getting away from the same, sometimes stale, scenery of your indoor world. The combination of physical movement, different scenery, solitude and fresh air can do wonders for both your mind and your mood.
Feel free to do a little people-watching to make your walk more entertaining. Is that couple over there happy or fighting? What’s the deal with the guy and the dog? Who is that old man on the park bench waiting for? One old children’s game is making up stories about people nearby, so feel free to let your imagination go wild. The results just might be of the incredibly amusing variety, and that can boost your overall mood. Just be sure not to get caught staring or talking to yourself!
4. Learn To Enjoy Sitting In Traffic…Seriously
Anyone who has been stuck in traffic knows how annoying and frustrating it can be. You start obsessing about all the other things you should be doing or all the places you need to get to. You find yourself willing the cars to move or all the traffic to somehow magically disappear. In all reality, traffic is just a fact of life, and there is nothing you can do to change that, so use that time for something better than being angry or flustered.
Although that may sound off the wall, think about how often you actually get to sit and do virtually nothing. Chances are, most of the time, you don’t have that luxury, but you do when you’re stuck in traffic. Think about goals you have or just daydream, or whatever else you want to do in that time period. If you’re behind on your reading, get some audiobooks and use those when you’re sitting there, waiting for the other cars to move. Have you not had time to listen to those new MP3s? Here’s your chance, and you can even sing along once you learn the words. Whatever you decide, make sure you do pay some attention to what’s going on around you for safety reasons.
5. Turn Cleaning Into Meditation
Most of us don’t find cleaning fun, but it’s still a necessary evil. Often, we find ourselves rushing through cleaning just to get it done in the least amount of time possible. This can lead to frustration, unnecessary stress and a house that isn’t nearly as clean or organized as it could be. By going into cleaning with a negative mindset, you’re actually making it worse than it has to be and missing an opportunity at the same time.
Try turning your cleaning time into meditation practice. When you’re going to clean, do each task completely and at a slow pace. Start off with a list of what needs to be done if that helps you focus, but only do each chore one by one. Avoid multi-tasking, as that splits your attention and can dent your productivity. Put all your energy, focus and concentration into each individual cleaning task from start to finish. Not only will you have a cleaner house, but you should find yourself more satisfied and relaxed afterward. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you need to practice. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and improving your meditation skills will take time.
Don’t just stop with the hints above. Look for opportunities in your daily life to be present and get more out of what most people consider mundane activities. Your only limit here is your own imagination, so feel free to let yourself run a little wild when it comes to the “boring” parts of your day!