Master List: 58 Pragmatic Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Stress, Increase Focus, and Create A Better Life

27 min read
pragmatic mindfullness practices

pragmatic mindfullness practices

I’ve been practicing mindfulness for more than 15 years now, and I have built my entire business, Mindmaven, around the concepts of living a more mindful life. In fact, the whole idea behind Mindmaven was conceived on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. You can learn more about Mindmaven and how it owes its existence to mindfulness here.

So, I know what I’m talking about when I say that while regular meditation is one of the best and most efficient methods to get there, it is certainly not the only way. Keep in mind that Mindfulness is simply the art of being completely present in the moment.

This list is meant to be a compilation of small, easy changes you can make throughout your day to instantly begin living more in the present. This naturally leads to enhanced mindfulness and ultimately culminates in feeling better and more energized throughout your life. Use this list as a menu, of pieces of practical advice you can choose from.

While the list is grouped thematically to represent each stage of a full day of living mindfully, each piece will work on its own. And the first two will help to prepare you to successfully making the other’s habits.

Most of these tips are intended to do one of three things:

  1. Help you to focus on one thing at a time.
  2. Help you stay present in the moment.
  3. Prepare your mind in a positive way to improve your mental state and help you to accept and overcome the challenges that mindfulness will throw at you.

Do not overload yourself trying to implement each item at the same time. Choose the ones that you think will be the most helpful for you, and therefore the most likely to stick and become and habit. Try to pick 1-2 items from each section for a total of 4-8 practices. Those that you do choose, truly commit to establishing them as deeply ingrained habits. It is better to have a couple of things that you do consistently than to try 20 things and have none of them stick.

Here is the ultimate list of tips, tricks, and hacks to help you live a more present and productive life:

1: Mental stretching. Practice viewing yourself as flexible and open to change.

Take a few minutes out of each day and think about a topic you hold a very rigid view on. Commit to thinking about your chosen topic from the opposite point of view. Try to imagine what your reaction would be to this point of view, and then try to imagine you react in a much more flexible and open way. This is a powerful way to stretch your mind, and potentially remove mental barriers caused by rigid thinking.

This will help you to truly become the flexible and open person who can commit to and follow through with positive changes in their life.

2: Focus on doing one thing at a time with your whole mind and body. Practice by doing physical things that require your full attention to do them successfully.

Start small, try brushing your teeth, and when your brushing your teeth do not focus on anything else at all. Do not walk around your house, or think about all the other things you want to be doing or need to do. Just pay attention to the sensation of brushing, try to feel every tooth, every nook and cranny.

Morning: Mindfulness Practices to Start Your Day

3: Make your bed every morning as soon as you get up.

Study after study has shown that doing this has several specific benefits from greater productivity throughout the day to improved sleep at night. You can find a breakdown of study results and links here.

4: Reduce your wardrobe. Bring it down to just those basics you will wear every day to eliminate unnecessary decision making.

An easy way to achieve this is to follow my template. Switch out between two pairs of pants, alternate the same couple types of t-shirts, and keep all the same types of socks and other undergarments to keep it really simple. Similar practices have long been a favorite amongst high ranking and successful people all the way to presidents of the United States.

Move everything else into a different area outside the bedroom i.e. another room or into storage boxes. If you can, have two closets, one for your daily clothes and one for your dressier or special-use items. You will make less dressing decisions in the morning.

5: Know what you’re going to wear in the morning.

Take a moment in the evening to decide what you are going to wear the next morning and then stick to it. This will reduce the amount you have to make in the morning and keep your mind clutter-free for longer.

6. Don’t ever check the news in the morning. To stay mindful throughout the day it best to stay proactive, especially in the morning. Reading or watching the news inherently puts us in a reactive state.

Replace the morning news by reading 2-3 pages of a non-fiction, educational book on a topic of interest to you.

7: Get focused and energized by using cold showers, just slightly change your normal shower routine. Try turning your shower’s temperature setting to as cold as you can stand it for the last 30 seconds of every shower.

If you like it you can work your way up to only taking cold showers, that is even better.

8: Spend the first hour (or more if you can) of your day in Whitespace Time.

Use this time to focus on those things that are important to you, but that often get pushed back because they are not urgent.

9: Don’t start with your phone. Don’t pick it up until you have completed your morning mindfulness practice and prepared your mind to be ready for the day.

This means making your bed, stretching, setting your intentions, eating breakfast, Whitespace Time, whatever it is you do before you are ready to begin tackling tasks, do them all before looking at your phone.

Work: Mindfulness Practices for a Productive, Focused Work Day 

10: Start work proactively. The first thing you should do is look at your ongoing task list, and prioritize it. Organize those things that will move the needle most on what matters to you every morning so that you stay mindful of the most important tasks.

Starting proactively in this way before doing inherently reactive tasks, especially checking your email, will help you to keep a more proactive and present mindset throughout the day.

11: Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Set the intention each morning to enter into the day with curiosity and a desire to learn. Do three things to help you accomplish this:

See everything as though you were experiencing it for the first time. Be aware of how often you are drawing assumptions. Challenge these assumptions by seeking to understand and know deeper the subject you are making assumptions about.

Know by asking verifying questions, as though you are new to the subject matter, even if you believe you are an expert. You must believe that there is no such thing as a stupid question to allow yourself to ask every question you can.

12: Filter Blue Light. If you work on a screen for the better of each day, buy blue light glasses to reduce eye strain and protect yourself from headaches.

Most devices also have a built-in blue filter called “night mode” that can be turned on via the device’s settings.

13: Shorten your meetings. If your meetings are usually 30 or 60 minutes then make then 25 or 50 minutes instead, and stick to that.

Use the 5-10 minutes you have saved by ending the meeting on time to refocus with mini-meditations. Use a breathing technique such as box breathing. If you have a longer break and space, use the time to do some stretching and light yoga.

14: Listen Actively. Intentionally find reasons to be personally interested in what other people have to say. Listen to them with the intent of learning everything you can.

Commit to thinking of 3 things you want to learn from a person before every meeting you have, this will prompt you to ask questions and engage more thoroughly in the conversation. We suggest trying to learn about a personal passion, a professional challenge, and a miscellaneous life fact (i.e. their dog’s name)

15: A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. Identify only the items you need to complete your work each day (computer, keyboard, mouse, water bottle, etc.) and commit to only keeping those items on your desk, nothing else. Here’s a look at my setup for a clear, uncluttered mind.

This will eliminate distraction and keep you focused on what matters.

16: The same is true of a cluttered office/house. Ensure it is free of distraction.

Do not allow a television to run in the background or have distracting décor on the walls.

17: Set up your workspace so that can have a naturally good posture. You should be level or looking up at your screen, not down at it to avoid slouching.

Invest in a vertical mouse, and keep your keyboard in an inverted position, so that the front is higher than the back and it slopes away from you. This will keep your wrists in a more natural position. If you can, get a standing or desk or a desktop conversion kit to avoid sitting for long stretches of the day.

18: Go paperless.

Start by making all of your bills and regular payments paperless. Then scan all of your physical documents that don’t truly need physical copies into a hard drive or cloud storage, and organize them electronically. Finish by destroying and disposing of all of the physical records that are now digital.

This can be a long hard weekend worth of work, but the benefits of reducing the massive load on your mind that the clutter produces are well worth it.

19: Silence your devices. Turn off all of your notifications except for the one channel people can reach you for emergencies.

20: Pick one consistent messaging tool. Teach your network that if they really need you to respond they will use slack, or iMessage, or your preferred communication method.

Everything else should be off including email, news, social media, and other text apps. Make sure and do this for your phone, computer, smartwatch, and iPad or any other device you may have.

21: Clear your mind. Make sure you get fresh air outside of the building at least once a day.

To make sure you do this you can think of a reason you absolutely need to take a walk outside and make it a daily ritual. Pick a nearby trail or walking path to walk on daily and pick up any trash you find. This will become a part of your community service and make you feel responsible for taking your walk and getting into nature daily.

22: Incorporate power naps.

Lay down and breathe for 20 minutes sometime during your day, preferably when you feel yourself start to get tired or stressed. Let your body slip into a light nap. For most people, this can be a very refreshing and invigorating practice.

23:Protect your time.

Practice saying “no” to tasks or requests that can be done without you. Assess each request as it comes in and determine if it truly needs your time to be able to progress. Focus on your own priorities first and protect your time. You can read more about this in our blog post on The Art of Saying No.

24: Only do one thing at a time. The myth of multi-tasking is just that – a myth. In reality, your brain is a single-track processor.

Trying to do multiple things at a time forces your brain to switch from track to track rapidly. Each one of these switches comes with a cost; it drains your available mindshare and causes your mind to become fragmented and cluttered.

For example, do not try and write an email to someone while talking on the phone with someone else. Your email will not come out very good and you are likely to miss something important the person you are talking with said.

25: Smile more. Pause 3 times throughout the day, maybe right after meals/breaks, and think of reasons to bring about a genuine smile.

Try to remember a happy time with friends and family or a particularly fond memory with a childhood pet. Often thinking happy thoughts will bring about a natural smile without even trying.

But even if you have to force yourself to smile, it can help to improve your mood and increase your energy. Simply lift the edges of your mouth up ever so slightly, be aware of how this feels, you may notice it has an immediately uplifting effect on your mental state. You can use this tool to improve your mood or bring yourself back to a centered state as often as needed throughout the day.

26: Pause Practice. This is useful in all aspects of life, but particularly in business. When you come across something that you instinctually want to react aggressively to, let the awareness that you want to react strongly be a trigger to make you pause. This is specifically for interactions between you and other people.

Stop in your tracks, and pause for 30 seconds. Force yourself to breathe slowly or use a breathing technique such as box breathing or the 3-4-5 technique. After 30 seconds, ask yourself, am I ready to respond to this mindfully instead of reacting? If the answer is no, give it another minute.

If the answer is yes, ask yourself, what is the most skillful way to respond to this?

27: Become skilled at handling annoyances. Sometimes we have reactions to others where we get upset because we perceive their actions as being towards or against us, or our ideas of social norms.

Basically, it annoys us. This practice is for interactions and annoyances that do not involve you, but that you may find yourself reacting to as though they did.

Imagine sitting outdoors and trying to get work done, and having to overhear a loud and obnoxious conversation. We have all experienced something like this, and it is truly fascinating to observe how we react to these situations by getting riled up and angry. Use the power of equanimity by not reacting to the behavior (realize it is not being done to you), in doing so we take away from the power of their actions.

The skill is to react in the same way to the people talking in the same way you would react to a bird tweeting outside your window. You are not going to be upset at the bird, because it is simply doing what it does, with no regard to you. Even though humans are more complex, in the end, there is no difference, they are simply doing their thing with no intention of bothering or annoying you. So, you must choose to see and react to these things for what they are, just life happening.

Afternoon: Mindfulness Practices to Find Balance Throughout the Day

28: Learn mindfulness from observing the masters: children.

Children can be some of the greatest mindfulness teachers you will come across. The level of absorption of a child at play is very powerful, and something some people work very hard to achieve throughout their adult lives.

29: Take the time to play with them.

When you do, ensure you are fully mentally present in the moment with them. Kids can tell the difference between when you are just physically there and when you are emotionally present, by being present in the moment with them you will learn much more of their natural ability to be more mindful.

30: Delete Twitter from your phone. Only check Twitter once a day in the afternoon, on the computer. If this feels like too much, at least try turning off the notifications.

Commit yourself to this mantra “I will not let Social Media dictate what I do. I will dictate to Social Media what it does for me.” and repeat it every time you want to check Twitter or Facebook.

31: Stop or reduce the consumption of alcohol.

Commit to only drinking alcohol on the weekends and stick to that. If you feel good about it you can go further and commit to not any alcohol at all. A good tip here is to identify what you like about drinking and find a replacement for that aspect. For example, if you like the ritual of making and having a drink, learn to make an organic “mocktail” that can serve as your ritual instead.

32: Stop or reduce consumption of Sugar.

A good way to do this is to commit to not eating foods that were made for the express purpose of being sweet. Examples being candy, sodas, cake, pies.

33: Stop or reduce the consumption of caffeine.

Try to switch from Coffee to Green Tea in the morning if you feel if you still need some caffeine but want less. Or if it is the coffee flavor you like try switching to a high-end decaf to get the same comforting ritual effect without the caffeine.

34: Drink plenty of water.

Help yourself achieve this by always having a 16 ounce or larger water bottle within your line of sight. If you have committed to keeping your desk free of unnecessary items, this can be a necessary item. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women.

35: Eat with intention. When you are eating, especially your breakfast, do not read or watch or listen to anything else. Put your phone elsewhere, put down your book, turn off the t.v., turn off your music, and anything else that may be running in the background, paying single-minded attention to just one thing (the definition of mindfulness).

Pay attention to your spoon or fork, to the food moving from the plate to your mouth. When you chew focus on the taste, texture, temperature, and most of all pleasure of eating. Try to eat slowly, chew each bite with intention, and focus on the sensation of swallowing. Even try to be aware of how your hand moves from the plate to the mouth.

Initially, your mind may try to reject this practice as something that is boring or unproductive. If you can get past that, with consistent practice, the experience of eating intentionally will become intriguing or even fascinating to you and the act of eating will become even more refreshing and rejuvenating.

If eating is a particularly hard habit to change for you then pick another repetitive chore, something simple, that you can commit to doing more mindfully. Doing the dishes, vacuuming, folding your laundry, or anything else you do on a regular basis.To help yourself, think of a mantra about what you are doing. Repeat to yourself out loud or in your head, “I am mopping the floor, I am mopping the floor” or “I am cleaning the mirror” it can be whatever you’re committed to doing more mindfully.

36: Find excitement in the mundane.

We live in an overstimulated world, where we tend to jump rapidly from stimuli to stimuli with ever-increasing excitement levels in search of happiness that cannot be found this way. Finding the beauty and excitement in the mundane is accomplished when we are fully aware in the moment. This is observable in our consumerism and our constant need for faster more intense media consumption.

Because we are so overstimulated, we react to a lack of stimuli as though it is a horrible experience to be avoided at all costs. We call it boredom. Those of you reading this who have had the privilege of going on a multi-day mindfulness retreat will know that it takes time to ween yourself off the addiction to stimuli and to stop seeing “boredom” as a negative. You will actually begin to enjoy the simplicity and calm of a stimuli reduced world.

If you have not yet had this experience know that your reaction to boredom is driven by an addiction to being overstimulated. The tips in this guide are here to help you begin to change that. Those that get there often discover a whole new world of mindful experiences that is exceptionally positive and often far more rewarding than the stimuli driven.

37: Clean as you go.

Start with your cooking and meal prep, commit to cleaning as you cook or prep, and finishing your cleaning as soon as you are done, before you start anything else. This will begin to translate into your proactively keeping up with other cleaning tasks better as well.

38: Declutter your house. Start small and set aside 15 minutes per day.

Take on one small area at a time like a drawer, a corner, the entryway, and focus only on that spot.

39: Be aware of how much the things you own, own you. Make the conscious decision to get rid of the things you do not truly need.

2 cars versus 1, a boat you barely use, a condo you never visit. Getting rid of stuff, in general, is good, but pay special attention to things that need maintenance and upkeep to avoid them breaking. I believe that ownership of things very rarely leads to lasting happiness. Extensive scientific studies have been done that show a consistent negative correlation between materialism (owning things) and well-being. There is a reason why monks aren’t allowed to own anything except a robe, a bag, and a bowl.

40: Buy mindfully. Instead of just buying the stuff that you would normally routinely buy, make a wish list of things you want. If its online you can utilize the Wishlist features on your favorite shopping platforms.

Revisit that once each month to see if you still want it, if you do, practice donating 2 things you already own for every one thing you buy. Never buy anything because you will think it will give you happiness, long term, genuine happiness simply does not work that way.

41: Reject the impulse to buy. Online shopping has made impulsive purchasing easier than ever, so it is more important than ever to resist the urge to impulse buy online.

Even if you think you need something, increase your skill at rejecting impulse purchases. Make sure at least 3-5 minutes pass between the moment you see an item or offer you “need”. Ask yourself why you truly need the item and what the long-term cost of owning this will be beyond the money you have to pay.

42: Socializing is healthy for our minds. Spend more quality time with friends and family. Every day, or at least once a week, set aside time to think about a person you maybe haven’t spoken to in a while and would like to talk or reconnect with.

Try to set up a time to get together, even if just for a chat. You may find that just the act of reaching out to people makes you feel better. When you do socialize with others, try to develop the skill of going deep fast. Go deep and thoughtful, walk into the interactions with the goal of wanting to learn something new, even about someone you think you already know everything about.

43: Work out extremely slow. Do activities that lend themselves to slow, focused movements like yoga, bodyweight exercises, and stretching.

Be aware of how your body is feeling, focus your mind on each muscle being stretched or worked. You will find there is a whole world of complex feelings to tune into, and it can tell you a lot about how your body is doing. Do not listen to music or anything else, just direct your attention to your movement and the sensations in your body.

44: Practice physical awareness. Being aware of your body is a great way to train your mind to be continuously in the moment. Take 5 minutes to just check in on what’s going in with your body internally and externally.

Slowly move your mind through your limbs, feeling your muscles and checking for tension or soreness. Move up your back, linger on any tension held in your lower spine. Come up through the stomach and into your heart, then throat, then face, then head.

This can be done in any comfortable position and is a fantastic way to start or end a day.

45: Practice awareness by listening. Stop and set a timer for 2-3 minutes and only pay attention to the things you can hear.

Can you hear the engine of a car coming down the street? Can you hear birds or people talking? Can you hear yourself breathing? Only pay attention to what’s happening acoustically around you.

46: Practice visual awareness. Ask yourself what you see at the moment, and choose something within your line of sight to really focus on, and try to truly, deeply understand. It can be a painting, a tree, a piece of furniture, anything that catches your eye.

Try to pay attention to the details, the colors, patterns, textures, how looking at it makes you feel.

47: Practice creative endeavors. The act of creating can stimulate all three of the types of awareness we mentioned above and can help you become more skillful in being aware as well as have a calming effect.

Try to do something physical as well as creative to engage as many types of awareness as possible. Try building a lego set, making yourself a piece of furniture, or playing a musical instrument. A fantastic simple solution for finding something creative if you do not wish to commit the time to learn or perfecting an involved new skill is an adult coloring book. These work to reduce stress, focus your mind, promote awareness, and take no time at all to just pick up and begin doing.

For those of you who are tech-obsessed like myself, a wonderful app that gives you the same experience is this Mandala Coloring Book App.

48: Practice finding triggers or reminders throughout the day to stop and breathe for a moment.

You can use the Insight Timer app on your smartphone, use triggers (such as doing it after every meeting), or set a calendar reminder. There are many breathing techniques you can use including:

    1. 3-4-5 Technique
    2. 4-7-8 breathing
    3. Box Breathing
    4. Just take 3 deep slow breaths

49: Be aware of moments of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Breathe and allow yourself to go into the moment and ask deeper questions about these feelings.

Ask what is the source? What is fueling this anxiety? Often times if you examine your feelings around the core issue, your fears will begin to dissolve.

Help yourself to relax your physical body by using the 4-7-8 breathing technique to help yourself accomplish this. It is impossible for a completely relaxed human body to experience and fear.

50: Be open to feedback. Try to incorporate feedback from others into your mindfulness practice. When you receive it, receive it with gratitude and as much equanimity as you can bring up. Ask the person giving you feedback to give you a little bit of time to prepare to receive it.

Do so by repeating the mantra in your brain that “this feedback is here to help me grow, and I’m grateful to this person for being willing to share this feedback with me. Yet it is my choice to accept those parts of the feedback that feel true to me but to cautiously review those parts that are not right for me.”

Try creating specific tasks for the feedback you receive in your task management system, we recommend Asana and do not mark the task as complete until the feedback has been sufficiently implemented.

51: Keep a gratitude journal. Pay attention to things that make you grateful throughout the day, write them down, and try to include specifics as to why you are grateful and who made it possible.

Expressing and receiving gratitude has been scientifically proven to boost your mood and produce feelings of calm, happiness, and mental well-being. Stop and ask yourself what you are grateful for, if it relates to another person (like it almost always does) take another step and text that person a short message expressing your gratitude.

Here is an alternative, simple exercise in gratitude to help you increase your mental and emotional well-being from Dr. Martin Seligman.

52: Practice walking meditation. Walking meditation is a lightweight introduction to meditative practices that help to grow your awareness skills and increase your mindfulness.

Here is a great guide along with a video that can help you to quickly master walking meditation. If this seems like too much of a commitment then just choose a path you would normally walk, either from your desk to your kitchen or out to your mailbox, and do it mindfully. The simplest way to get into meditation is to download an app, we recommend Insert Timer, more about apps here.

Evening: Mindfulness Practices to Wrap Up Your Day

53: Don’t go to bed with your phone.

When you start getting ready to go to bed put your phone on a charger outside your room, as far away as possible, with all notifications turned off.

54: Sleep in the dark.

Remove or unplug the tv from your bedroom. Remove all other sources of blue light from the bedroom as well every night before you go to bed. These can be as small as blinking lights on a charger or an alarm clock.

55: Reading for at least 15 minutes before bed is one of the best ways to decompress your mind and allow you to stay clutter-free and awake ready to be mindful.

This should be after your phone is set to charge outside of your room and you have done your bedtime yoga.

This is your time to read anything you like, don’t feel bad choosing a novel over an educational read. But try to read from a physical book, if you can’t, then consider a device that only does eBooks such as a Kindle or Nook. Your phone makes it too easy to be distracted and hop onto social media or email.

Some books I really enjoyed and found value in are Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Buddha’s Brain, by Rick Hansen (for those who are into the science behind mindfulness).

56: Read by yellow light.

If you read in the evening before bed, use a yellow light source. Whether it is the bulb in your lamp or the night light setting on your kindle, do not read by blue light in the evening. Blue light stimulates the morning and will actually wake your brain up by tricking it.

57: A well-rested brain is a mindful brain. Get good sleep by committing to a few practices:

Sleep the hours between 10-2 when your brain is most receptive to deep and restoring sleep. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day. Do 10 minutes of guided bedtime yoga before going to bed every night.

58: There is a final, all-important piece of advice here, which is to simply meditate.

If any of the tips, tricks, and action items in this piece resonated with you, and you love the idea of living a more mindful and aware life, then you should really try taking up a regular meditation practice. It can be challenging work, but well worth the effort, and utilizing the practical advice shared in this post will help you to prepare your mind and ease your transition into living more mindfully through meditation.

Make it easier on yourself by picking up a course, one I really like and have done is Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield’s 40-day program, “Mindfulness Daily at Work.”

You can read more about apps to help you become more mindful here.

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