18 Jan Mindfulness Lessons from a Toddler: Part 2
Last week, I talked about the difference between mindlessness (operating on ‘autopilot’) and mindfulness (the practice on deliberating directing attention to the present moment without judgment). I compared my own mind, cluttered with thoughts, plans, and worries, to my toddler’s mind, free to observe and relish in the world around her.
So, again, I ask, “what can we learn and emulate from my daughter?” Everything is brand new and fascinating to her young mind, so it requires intense focus and concentration. As an adult, we hardly apply such distraction-less focus to anything in our lives. Don’t believe me? Try watching one television show in its entirety without looking at your phone or tablet. For me, that’s a real challenge because my mind wanders to 100 different places (i.e., “what other movies has this actor been in?” “did I pay that bill?” “what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?”) and I struggle to resist the impulse to ‘check’ on those thoughts.
Conversely, when we are engaged in something that requires intense focus, it is hard to simultaneously think of something else. For example, have you ever been in (or almost in) a car accident? In those moments, did you notice anything else going on in your surroundings? A dog barking outside? Your phone ringing? The music playing? AC blowing? Anything? Likely not. This is because tunnel vision removes your ability to focus on peripheral things as a survival mechanism, it is a fight or flight response.
This is an extreme example and it is certainly not ideal to experience such high levels of stress. However, it is relevant because I find that the easiest way to enter into your own mindful state is to focus on something. Remember that the focus will be fleeting because our minds are always roaming. Simply notice (with deliberate attention) where your thoughts went and bring your focus back to the mindfulness exercise (without judgment of the fact that your mind went elsewhere). Mindfulness is a practice and it will become easier with time. Why practice? Because the more mindful we are, the happier we are! Truly, research been proven that mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and improves focus, efficiency, interpersonal relationships, and confidence. Sounds good to me! Let’s start practicing!
Below is a mindfulness exercise that you can do anytime, anywhere. You can spend as little as 5 minutes. I strongly recommend bringing your kids with you!
Explore the 5 Senses During a Mindful Walk:
- Before beginning to walk, take 3 deep breaths and check in with how you are feeling. Calm? Stressed?
- During the walk, engage your senses. Notice and observe what you see, hear, feel, and smell. If you are with your kids, ask them lots of questions about what they are noticing and elicit observations.
- If your mind wanders, this is completely normal! Just notice the thoughts (you may even say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head), let the thoughts pass, and then redirect your attention back to your senses. This will happen again and again!
- If you notice your child getting off-task, re-engage them by asking questions about their observations.
- After the walk, debrief! Check on your breath, reflect on how your mind and body are feeling. Talk with your kids about what they noticed. Ask, “what stands out the most about today’s walk?” You might use something like this with your kids:
And that’s it. Go try it! Next time, I will talk about why children and teens need mindfulness in their lives now more than ever.
If you want more information about fight or flight and tunnel vision, check out these links: