Be here now. Stay present. Focus on your breath.
You’ve probably heard these mantras before, instructing you to stop worrying about the past and future, and to start becoming more mindful about the present.
But what does “mindfulness” mean exactly? Are we supposed to completely shut down our thoughts? Empty our mind? Ignore our problems?
And right now, cultivating mindfulness seems even more challenging. How are we supposed to tune into the present when our minds are brimming with thoughts and worries about the future?
At first glance, having an active mind and letting our thoughts drift into the past and future may not seem like a big deal--after all, thoughts are just thoughts. But the stresses that accompany those thoughts can accumulate over time and impact our health and well-being, and manifest in different ways, from sleep problems to teeth grinding to generally feeling unmotivated.
The good news is that mindfulness is something you can easily do at home and it doesn’t require much in the way of tools, direction, or even time. You don’t need to go on a silent retreat or spend hours meditating in order to achieve mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness exercises can be found in the most quotidian activities, like walking or knitting or coloring.
Whether you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or would like to seek more balance in your life, we’ll help you develop a mindfulness routine with the below tips, mindfulness exercises, and free worksheets.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about being in the present moment, without judgment, criticism, or distraction. Instead of mulling over the past or fretting about the future, mindfulness is a way to ground you in the here and now.
You don’t have to completely empty your thoughts in order to be mindful. The important thing is to notice when your mind is drifting, and then allow yourself to release that drifting thought and come back to the present moment.
Why are mindfulness exercises beneficial?
Mindfulness exercises can help you focus, stay calm, and cultivate more kindness, which translates to less stress and increased happiness.
Mindful activities can help you cope with the challenges and stresses of the day, which we need now more than ever. It’s so easy for our minds to dart this way and that, thinking up worst-case scenarios, or creating stories that aren’t true. But instead of getting carried away by your own thoughts, you can practice being more mindful to help steady yourself and focus on the present.
How to incorporate mindfulness exercises into your day
You can try any of these mindfulness exercises to help you focus and engage with the present. You can start small and try these exercises for 2-5 minutes and then build your way up. After you complete an exercise, see if you notice yourself being more present, more calm, or even just more aware of your reactions throughout the rest of your day.
Mindfulness exercise 1: journaling and letting go
The act of putting your thoughts down on paper is so satisfying and freeing.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, journaling is a simple but powerful way to organize your thoughts and gain clarity on a situation. After a bad day, it’s easy to get emotional and think in extremes. We receive a critique on a paper and we think “I’m a horrible student!!” Or we have one unpleasant encounter with a stranger or co-worker and we let that small incident keep us up at night.
But when your mind is looping with these thoughts and preoccupations, you’re disconnecting yourself from the present moment.
With journaling, you can harness these thoughts and put words onto paper, releasing them from your mind. You get to examine yourself and assess how you’re feeling from a clearer perspective and gain more awareness. Maybe you’ll find that the situation isn’t that bad. Or maybe you’ll realize that you know the right answer for next time.
So the next time you’re wrestling with doubt or worry or fretting about a long to-do list, try taking out your favorite notebook and allowing yourself to free-write.
- If you’re worried about an upcoming project, write down all the reasons why you’re worried.
- If you’re mad about a situation, release all your anger onto the paper.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, try to capture whatever words or feelings come to mind. Don't use complete sentences; just write down ideas or even draw what you’re feeling.
Remember: don’t judge or criticize your journaling. Don’t worry about having perfect grammar or vocabulary. You don’t even have to write in complete sentences. This is about writing whatever is coming up for you. This is for you and your eyes only.
No one is going to go back and read this entry. It is all about the process of getting it out and working through it, right here in this moment. It is not about creating any kind of final product, or even necessarily finding a clear answer.
You will feel so much better after getting it all out. While all your problems or worries might not disappear overnight, you’ll be able to cope with them from a much better, clear-headed place when you can face them and express them.
Mindfulness exercise 2: savoring everyday pleasures
We know that practicing gratitude is good for us. A regular gratitude routine can improve your health, happiness, and spirit. But when life gets topsy-turvy, practicing gratitude is one of the first things that falls by the wayside.
Why is that? You’d think that it would be easy to take a few minutes out of our day to appreciate what we do have, but it feels easier to bemoan what we don’t have.
One way to develop a regular gratitude practice is to schedule it around your morning or evening routine. You can do it first thing in the morning while you have your coffee or do it right before bed.
If you’d like to incorporate a little structure into your gratitude practice, you can try the Ink+Volt Gratitude Journal. The journal has 60 blank daily entries where you can record all the things and experiences that you are appreciating.
On some days, you might find that you have twenty things to be grateful for. On other days, you might struggle to find even just one thing. Lean into those challenging days because they will help you become more mindful and recognize what you do have. It doesn’t matter how mundane it is. Sometimes it’s the simple, everyday items and experiences that are so fulfilling.
You can write down things like:
- The smell of your coffee brewing in the morning
- The way the sunlight dapples through your curtains and creates a cozy, safe space.
- The tangerine sky during a sunset
- Your favorite book covers making your bookshelf look extra pretty
- Indulging in your favorite candles at night
The gratitude journal also has 10 weekly challenges to help you dig deep and enhance your gratitude routine.
If you’re looking to be more mindful throughout your day, a gratitude practice can help you feel more connected to the present.
Mindfulness exercise 3: taking meditative walks
Walking is not only good for your physical health, but it has positive mental health benefits as well. Walking can help clear your mind, relieve stress, help you feel more in touch with nature, and bolster your spirit.
While walking is a good mindfulness exercise, it’s easy to get distracted while we walk. We might be thinking about bills or problem solving a work project or wondering what to make for dinner.
If you’d like to make your walk more meditative and mindful, try to savor your experience and surroundings. If you catch yourself thinking about other things, try to bring yourself back to the present moment and notice what’s around you instead.
While you're walking, pay attention to the trees, the changing of the leaves, the smell in the air, and the sounds that you hear. Do you notice birdsong or children playing or dogs barking? Try to immerse yourself in your environment and take in what’s around you.
Some exercises you’ll find on the Gratitude Stroll Worksheet:
- What did you notice on your walk?
- Make a list in your head about everything you are thankful for on your walk
- What did you most enjoy on your walk?
Mindfulness exercise 4: reflecting on your current state
When life gets hectic, you need a simple way to cope, but how? You can start by checking in with yourself and taking stock of how you’re doing.
But of course, feelings can be fuzzy. On any given day, you might feel happy, sad, angry, or relieved about any number of things, all at once. The Ink+Volt Reflection Pad makes the process of self-reflection concrete and comprehensive, asking you to examine different areas in your life and give them a rating from 1-5.
How is your spirit feeling? How is your nutrition? Your work life?
If you’re giving high ratings to work and goals, but you're bottoming out in self-care, then you can pause and reflect how you could give yourself some nurturing care.
Are you giving low ratings to spirit and creativity? Then consider how you can enhance those areas of your life. Maybe you can find time for a creative outlet or take a break to be out in nature; even in small doses, these things can make a big difference.
The Ink+Volt Reflection Pad is also a good mindfulness exercise for people who are more comfortable quantifying things instead of describing them. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate our feelings! Numbers can feel much simpler and more approachable.
The Reflection Pad is also ideal for those extra overwhelming days. Similar to how a doctor asks you to describe your pain by giving it a rating, a Reflection Pad helps you identify how you're really feeling in a simple and clear way. You might find that it's actually only one or two areas of your life causing you stress, rather than everything being a mess. That can be a relief!
By taking time to reflect on different areas of your life, you’ll have a better sense of how you are feeling and commit to your present needs.
So the next time you find yourself feeling distracted or stressed, try to pause and commit to staying in the present moment with any of these mindfulness exercises.
It’s okay if stray thoughts enter your mind, you’re only human. Just acknowledge that they are there and release them, bringing yourself back to the present. Mindfulness isn’t necessarily about emptying your mind, but the act of acknowledging your thoughts and then returning to the present.