Mindfulness for daydreamers who can’t meditate

I’ve mentioned mindfulness before on this blog. I believe it’s a great tool for maintaining our mental health and for helping to get control over our daydreaming. But if you’ve tried traditional meditations that encourage you to sit still, clear your mind and focus on your breath, you might have found it too difficult and decided that meditation isn’t for you. You’re not alone. I suspect that we daydreamers find it more difficult to clear our minds. After all, we have a lot of stuff going on in there. We aren’t dependent on the external world for our mental stimulation, so sitting still with our eyes closed doesn’t cut down the mental chatter. Any daydream that was going on before we sat down to meditate will probably still be running in the background, ready to pop into our awareness as soon as we have even a momentary lapse of concentration.

But I want to make a distinction here between meditation – by which I mean sitting in stillness and focusing your attention on your breath, bodily sensations, sounds etc – and mindfulness – by which I mean paying attention to the present moment regardless of what you’re doing. So if you’ve tried meditation and decided it’s not for you, it could be time to try some mindful activities.

You can be mindful in any moment, regardless of what you’re doing. Mindfulness is simply about noticing and mentally describing what is happening and being fully in the moment. For example, you could try some or all of the following:

  • When eating, make a point of noticing the taste, texture and temperature of each mouthful of food.
  • Next time you’re in the shower, notice the sensations of the water and soap against your skin.
  • Sit outdoors and notice sounds – birds singing, traffic passing, the wind in the trees.
  • Pick up a small everyday object (such as a pen, hairbrush or cup) and study it closely. Turn it around to observe how it looks from different angles, notice how it feels in your hand – it is light or heavy, warm or cold, rough or smooth?
  • Notice how you feel. Are you happy, sad, angry, calm, tired, energised? What sensations in your body tell you that you are feeling that way? What thoughts do you have when you’re experiencing this emotion?

You don’t have to be mindful for any set amount of time. It’s better to get into the habit of being mindful as often as you can throughout your day, and if you only manage a few seconds each time, that’s fine. Every time you make the effort, you’re training your brain to pay attention. The important thing is not to judge yourself. It doesn’t matter if you give up after a couple of seconds; what matters is that you made the attempt. And when you’re noticing your thoughts and feelings, it’s important not to judge those either. Mindfulness is about being aware, not about judging.

Mindfulness is likely to feel quite artificial to begin with. You might be wondering why you need to pay attention to such tiny details, or you might be frustrated that activities take longer when you do them mindfully. But remember, this is about training your brain to think and work differently, and, like any skill, the more you practice, the more natural it will feel.

Many daydreamers listen to music, pace or have some other activity that they do while daydreaming. Once you’ve practiced mindfulness in other contexts, you could try using it to break the link between your activity and your daydreaming. For example, if you listen to music while daydreaming, try listening to the music mindfully instead – focus fully on the sound as it comes into your ears, try to notice each note and the pauses between the notes, notice where you can feel the rhythm in your body, notice any emotions the music evokes in you. If you pace, then practice mindful walking – notice how the ground feels beneath your feet, mentally follow the sensations in each foot as it strikes the ground and leaves the ground, notice how many paces you take as you breathe in and how many paces you take as you breathe out.

When we spend all of our time daydreaming, it’s very easy to tune out the real life that is taking place all around us. But if we want to be more involved in that real life, if we want to lead a happier or more productive life outside our daydreams, the first step is to notice the life that is happening around us. Mindfulness is a great way to start.

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