There are many ways to practice being mindful. Some are particularly useful because they are rooted in habitual things we do everyday like eating, walking, driving, etc.
Many of us go through our days moving from task to task more or less automatically, without putting a lot of attention to what we are actually doing. We may get a lot accomplished, but how present are we to the experience?
Try an experiment: review the day’s events and what you were able to accomplish. After that, try to remember which shoe you put on first in the morning. Was it the right or the left? Or try to remember which side of your mouth you began brushing last evening? Most people likely can’t recall these details but it is a good way to refine our focus on the present moment. Mindful eating can serve the same purpose.
Try another experiment: the next time you take a bite of food, notice how many times you chew before you swallow. Also notice what you are doing with your utensils and your hands while you are chewing. Are you organizing the food in preparation for the next bite? Are you taking another bite before you swallow the previous one? If you are like most people, you probably didn’t pay much attention to this until now.
As an effective way to develop mindfulness, try chewing each bite of food for a minimum of twenty times. Try putting your utensils down on the table in-between each bite. Try swallowing all of your food before reaching for more. Try giving as much attention as you can to the taste of the food. And while you are at it, try using this practice as an opportunity to observe yourself with humor and curiosity—perhaps even playfulness.
Cultivating mindfulness is not easy; it takes a lot of practice. In some ways, it’s not unlike a young child learning to walk. Notice how often the child wobbles and tips over in the early stages of learning balance. But in particular, notice their demeanor. Notice how toddlers are typically smiling and of good cheer when they fall; they just get up and try again. Even if the child gets frustrated and starts to cry, the child usually just bounces back up afterwards and begins anew. Consider approaching the practice of mindful eating, or any form of mindfulness practice, with a similar approach.
Be kind to yourself as you begin to notice how often you are on autopilot. After all, being intentionally kind to one’s self is another form of cultivating mindful attention in the present moment.