© 2018 Maria Hunt. All rights reserved.
As psychologist, Rick Hanson, likes to say, “You can use your mind to change your brain to benefit your mind.” He suggests we practice one small thing a day to transform our brain to enhance our well-BEING.
Ideal “small things” are the ones that appear naturally during our day, or are relatively easy to accomplish. All you need is a time out to tune in to make space to savor the experience. Unplug, Slow down, and Breathe as you bring an enhanced consciousness to your activity. This can be accomplished in as few as five minutes… if you fully engage your senses.
As you are involved in a small pleasurable experience during your day today (such as when you drink your favorite hot or cold beverage, listen to a bird sing, or enjoy looking at a beautiful garden), take the time to engage ALL your thoughts, feelings and sensations on that ONE THING.
This practice was written by David Deitch, one of my colleagues at Avila University. We could call it “mindful sweeping” or “mindful cooking” or “mindful flossing” because it occurs whenever we build mindfulness into our daily routine. It is an ideal exercise to conduct when we find ourselves scrambling to get something done.
Think of this as an opportunity to make mindfulness “your own”! All you have to do is focus as close to 100% of your attention on whatever you are doing by engaging your senses. Do not stress or judge yourself if you have less than 100% attention. One hundred percent is simply an aim.
- Catch yourself in the act of rushing to check something off of your To Do list.
- Stop and be still while you take a couple of deep breaths.
- Pursue an aim to move deliberately: approach one task at a time… with calm, wonder and reverence… while maintaining a clear mind, an open heart, and a free spirit.
- Seek “what’s happening” with regard to your sense of sight, sound, smell, touch, even taste and movement.
- Smile when you catch yourself rushing again or reacting… and gently bring your vivid attention and mindful attention to your senses to this ONE task.
There is no one way to practice being mindful as long as we intentionally approach our tasks with a state of quiet openness and sustained awareness without clinging to or rejecting any experience… and without criticizing ourselves. Here is an example of how Dave Deitch addressed his challenging weekly task of mowing.
© Copyright 2007 Maria Hunt, with permission from Dave Deitch, Ph.D.
“Something attended to appears to change
even as one attends to it.”
Father of American Psychology, William James
Ever think about what it means to “be attentive”? Do we: (1) hold the object of our attention still in our mind or (2) do we vary how we focus?
Harvard psychologist, Ellen Langer, studied K-12 students’ attention and found that most young people (and their parents!) used the first strategy, even though it’s not the most effective way to focus. Because our brain responds to novelty, we cultivate a vivid focus when we vary what we look for in the object of our attention.
Because it’s easier to practice taking charge of our attention when using an external object, we’ll use a photograph for this exercise. However, feel free to use a “live” object. You simply have to BE STILL with it.
- Seek something familiar, something you routinely encounter in your life. Perhaps it’s the peaches on your tree, the outline of your car, what your desk looks like at your office.
- Use your smartphone to take a picture of the object.
- At least three times during the day, take out this picture and create a vibrant and clearly perceptible image in your mind… as if you are making room for its distinct presence in your mind.
- Smile as you observe how you establish your mental image.
© Copyright 2014 Maria Hunt
“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
Killingsworth, M.A., & Gilbert, D.T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932.
Would you believe that the average person’s mind strays from the here-and-now experience a whopping 46.9% of an average day… even when doing something enjoyable?! That’s what Killingsworth and Gilbert learned when they completed their ingenious study of 2,250 adults in the United States. When randomly questioned via an iPhones app, participants provided (1) a happiness rating, (2) a description of their current activity, and (3) their response to a mind wandering question that consisted of four options:
- No, I’m not thinking of something other than what I’m currently doing.
- Yes, I’m thinking of something more pleasant than what I’m currently doing.
- Yes, I’m thinking of something neutral than what I’m currently doing.
- Yes, I’m thinking of something more unpleasant than what I’m currently doing.
Almost across the board, participants were less happy whenever they strayed from a focus on their current activity. Interestingly, the quality of their current activity (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) did not predict mind-wandering. “Just This” is an exercise that can build our awareness of what is happening as it is happening.
Find a spot where you can be alone for 3-5 minutes. Because stress doesn’t quiet itself down on its own, we have to nudge it a little. Don’t try to force yourself to do more than you can do without irritation. Small steps will generally trump strides when it comes to brain training!
- Pause and take a few moments to close your eyes and breathe, allowing your breath to become relaxed and gentle. Notice the fullness of each breath cycle, breathing in and out for a couple of breath cycles.
- Now, with each inhalation, say JUST and with each exhalation, start to count to yourself, beginning with 1 and counting until you reach 10 exhalations. If you forget your place in the sequence, that’s okay. Simply start to count at 1 again. Gradually increase the number of repetitions of this sequence to strengthen your brain’s capacity to sustain focus.
- Now, with each inhalation, say THIS and with each exhalation, start to count to yourself, beginning with 1 and counting until you reach 10 exhalations. If you forget your place in the sequence, that’s okay. Simply start to count at 1 again. Gradually increase the number of repetitions of this sequence to strengthen your brain’s capacity to sustain focus.
- Finally, with each breath in, say JUST and with each breath out say THIS and repeat “Just this” as you breathe calmly.
- Allow yourself to experience a state of ease as you open your eyes and go about your day.
Guided Podcast of Just This Practice
You can download the mp3 of the Just This Practice via my Public Dropbox site. You can also listen to it on your computer using the podcast below.
I’m including an address to the link in case the podcast doesn’t work.
© 2012 Maria Hunt
It appears that the way people perceive the world is much more important to happiness
than objective circumstances.
– Psychologist Ed Diener, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth
There are numerous benefits that we derive from cultivation of a “gratitude attitude.” Among them are increased optimism, energy to spare, stronger connections to other people, and better at night! In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, however, it’s easy to lose track of the things we appreciate. Gratitude meditation intentionally brings this process into our awareness so we can get the most from our daily blessings.
This exercise is adapted from one created by psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough.
Some time in the middle of your work day, think about ONE ITEM (person, event, experience, or thing) for which you are grateful.
- Take a few minutes to meditate on the gift you feel you received because of that item.
- Use a phrase like, “I appreciate __fill-in-the-blank__ because __fill-in-the-blank__.” List the person, event, experience or thing for which you are grateful in the first blank. Provide the reason why it matters to you in the second blank space. For instance, every Friday I tell myself how grateful I am for curbside garbage pick-up for the convenience it offers. That’s because my husband and I had to collect and manage our own refuse when we lived in South Dakota… and I vowed I would appreciate the convenience of curbside pick-up for the rest of my life if it ever occurred again!
- Consider ONE MORE ITEM right before the end your work day, meditating on the gift you felt present in that person, event, experience or thing.
- Before going to sleep, bring these two items into your conscious awareness one more time… and smile.
© Maria Hunt and Avila University
Our brain is wired to focus on negative events and experiences… and our brain becomes more sensitive to these negative events and experiences with practice!
- We notice negative events and experiences effortlessly.
- We perceive negative events and experiences vividly.
- We recall negative events and experiences readily.
Because negative events narrow our brain’s ability to gain a “big picture” perspective, according to the latest evidence from the neurosciences, our beliefs seem more real and right and representative of EVERYTHING in our life… rather than a singular set of experiences at a singular point in time or “season”.
Positive psychologist warn us against “jumping into positivity” when we are in the middle of unpleasant or challenging situations that demand our attention. When mindful, we search for “the mustard seed” of positivity that already exists right now… even in the midst of chaos and sadness and confusion.
If what we attend to grows, why not focus the spotlight of our attention on the mustard seed that bring peace and ease and hope?
- During your day today, search for a “little thing” in life that brings you joy, hope, serenity, etc.
- Take 2-3 minutes to truly savor (and give thanks for) that experience.
- Share “the little thing” with at least one other person… in literal or story form. For example, if you like Estes park salt water taffy, share a piece of taffy with someone in the office. If you have no item to share, share a story of the sort of little things you enjoy, how you discovered the, etc.
Positivity is all about the process of Search-Savor-Share! Please share in the Comments section if you discover how to “search, savor and share” something positive as a company (and not just as an individual) I’d like to know!
© Copyright 2014 Maria Hunt
Sometimes life brings us difficulties or misfortunes that result in an experience of pain.
Let’s take a moment to pause, close our eyes, and visualize offering courage and support to all people who are in pain of any kind. This is a prayer or blessing adapted from psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s book, Love 2.0:
- May we find safety, even in the midst of pain.
- May we find peace, even in the midst of pain.
- May we find strength, even in the midst of pain.
- May we find ease, even in the midst of pain.
In pain, we are never alone.
© Copyright 2013 Maria Hunt
One of my favorite stories is about the about the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. As the story goes, Luther had a spiritual practice of praying an hour a day. One day he said, “I have so much to do today that I have no choice but to spend two hours in prayer.”
As many times as I’ve told that story (I’m usually the one who needs to hear it), I’m always surprised at the punch line. It is so easy for me to do exactly the opposite – giving up the things that truly feed my soul in order to do what is . . . “Important.” Could it be that the time to be mindful (prayerful, restful, quiet) is what allows the everything else to happen well?
– Marlene Wine Chase
There is research that support the fact that daily micro-moments of mindfulness increase our capacity to monitor our attention and enhance our working memory, which is the memory that makes connections between what we know and what is new to us. While those moments may seem to slow us down, they actually give us the resources we need to enhance our thinking! Spot on, Marlene!!!
Today, create a micro-moment (1-3 minutes) to breathe as a form of preparation before you begin a challenging task.
- As you breathe in, say to yourself IN and as you breathe out say to yourself OUT.
- As you breathe in, say to yourself DEEP and as you breathe out say to yourself SLOW.
- As you breathe in, say to yourself CALM and as you breathe out say to yourself EASE.
- As you breathe in, say to yourself SMILE and as you breathe out say to yourself RELEASE.
- Repeat for 1-3 minutes:
- In, Out
- Slow, Deep
- Calm, Ease
- Smile, Release
© Copyright 2013 Maria Hunt and Marlene Wine-Chase
Our brain responds to three types of attentional cues in our life:
- It notices what we need for our survival.
- It notices what appeals to our interests… or demands our attention.
- It notices what we choose to notice.
Most of the time, we function in the second category. We automatically absorb and respond to “demands and appeals” from our current environment. Because this can weaken our ability to direct our own attention, it helps to practice “paying attention on purpose” to keep the last function strong.
- I unplug, slow down and breathe.
- I slowly scan my entire body with an openness to learn about my physical sensations… not what I think I am experiencing but what I am actually experiencing.
- I allow my mind to reveal whatever is prominent, without getting lost in the sensation or my inner commentary (thoughts, beliefs, wishes, etc.) about the sensation.
- I curiously explore each predominant sensation as it comes up. I see if it changes as I notice it. Does it get stronger or weaker or stay the same over time? Does it get larger or smaller or move across my body?
- I gently guide my focus back to the simple sensation when I notice a judgment or thought or belief about it.
- I continue to focus on the sensation until it disappears or is no longer compelling. I focus on my breath until another sensation appeal for my attention.
- I do this for as long as I am able to hold a focus on my body sensations without struggling, or until 3-5 minutes have elapsed.
© Copyright 2013 Maria Hunt