Written by Jim McNerney Coaching Team

How much attention do you think you really pay to the things you do and the tasks you complete in a given day? It may be surprising to learn that most people are on “autopilot” for nearly half of their waking lives, paying little attention to the things they do throughout each day while lost in their wandering thoughts.

If you have ever taken a drive and arrived at your destination only to realize that you remember nothing about your trip, this is a perfect example of being “on autopilot,” and this habit could be more damaging than you might realize.

It’s very easy to slip into autopilot mode during a given day. We live in an incredibly connected world, and there are distractions virtually every place you look. With so much going on around you at any given time, it can feel easy to get lost in these distractions and lose touch with the present.

Being mindful is taking time to pay closer attention to the present and one’s own self. It can be as simple as taking a few seconds for some deep breathing or as involved as an hour-long meditation session, but the point of any mindfulness exercise is to pay closer attention to the moment and one’s place within it.

Practicing Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness is as easy as learning how to avoid putting yourself into autopilot mode. However, the ease with which many people slip into autopilot is the main complicating factor of this process. You don’t really need to do anything specific to practice mindfulness, you just need to ensure you are fully present in each moment and paying close attention to your surroundings, your thoughts, your feelings, and your bodily sensations as you move through the environment.

The other half of practicing mindfulness is learning how to pay attention to these things without judgment. It’s natural for human beings to make snap judgments about everything around them, from the places they visit to the people they meet. Being truly mindful means paying attention to oneself and one’s surroundings on purpose and without judgment, meaning appreciating things for what they are and not making assumptions about what they could or should be.

Formal and Informal Mindfulness Exercises

“Formal” mindfulness practice is essentially meditation. It is the conscious effort to set time aside to remove distractions, sit peacefully, and pay attention to one’s own body and breath. It’s possible to meditate while sitting, laying down, or even reclining in a comfortable chair.

The important part of meditation is the removal of judgments and the quieting of one’s thoughts. It can take time to master this, but once people learn how to meditate effectively, they tend to appreciate the practice and stick with it on a regular basis.

“Informal” mindfulness practice can take place any time during your entire life as long as you are actively choosing to be mindful of your present circumstances. The flexibility of informal mindfulness practice can be the most liberating or the most challenging part for some people. You can practice mindfulness at virtually any time as long as you are doing whatever you are doing with full awareness and undivided attention.

Mindfulness may seem to be a difficult concept to grasp at first, but most of the difficulty stems from the distractions present in everyday life. When you learn how to be a more active participant in your own life, mindfulness can become second nature and help you appreciate more of what happens to you on a daily basis.