If you’re not interested in meditating, you might wonder how to practice mindfulness without meditation.
As a meditation teacher, I often come across people who do not want to meditate. Sure, they want to be mindful. Just not by meditating.
I get it. There are many reasons why people might not want to meditate. Maybe you simply don’t have the time. Or you have a faith that is against meditation. For instance, if you’re an atheist. Some devout Christians believe that they should not meditate, because meditation stems from Buddhism (although there are indeed some meditations the bible agrees with). Or perhaps you simply struggle to meditate. I totally understand that, and although I do consider meditation a hugely beneficial practise, it is of course optional.
Yes, Mindfulness Without Meditation Is Possible
The good news is this: There are ways to practice mindfulness without meditation.
Truth is, you do not need to meditate to be mindful.
A lot of my students ask me, “Are mindfulness and meditation the same thing?” The answer is two-fold. On the one hands, there is “Mindfulness meditation”, which of course is an actual meditation practice. But then I also teach general mindfulness, which is much more versatile and can roughly be described as “Living in the moment without judgment.”
Although mindfulness stems from meditation (in fact, mindfulness is the English name of a specific Buddhist meditation technique) you absolutely do not need to meditate to be mindful.
You are naturally mindful without meditation
In a moment I’ll show you how to be mindful without meditation. But first, we need to consider why meditation makes you mindful, so that we can mimic the effects of meditation without actually meditating.
Many people believe that meditation makes you mindful. However, this doesn’t paint the full picture. The truth is that mindfulness does not come from meditation, it comes from space and from quietness.
If you spent your entire life living in a forest with no social media, no internet, no TV, no work, just quietness, you would naturally be mindful. The reason you are not mindful is that there is so much stimulation and information in our environment today.
Things like TV, social media, work, video games, the billions of ads we see… those things stop us from being mindful. They all jostle for your conscious awareness. Simply put: We live in an environment of information overload. And because of that, we do not have the mental space to be mindful naturally.
The reason meditation makes us mindful is because it shuts out all that information overload. It’s 20 minutes in which we just sit with our eyes closed. No TV, no internet, no stimulation, just quiet. That quietness gives you the mental space that you need to be mindful.
But it is not meditation that makes you mindful. It is the space and the quiet.
So now we know why meditation makes us mindful: because it provides space and quiet. And we can see how we can develop mindfulness without meditation. We simply need to create the space and the quiet in other ways.
10 Ways to Develop Mindfulness Without Meditation
Meditation makes you mindful because it produces inner calm, quietness and a sense of space. However, there are many ways to develop mindfulness without meditation. Here are ten of the best. They work by developing the three elements of mindfulness: Intention to cultivate awareness, present-moment attention, and non-judgmental attitude.
1: Practice Mindful Exercises (Without Meditating)
A lot of people don’t understand the difference between mindfulness and meditation. The two are not the same at all. Meditation is a practice or exercise in which we focus the mind. Mindfulness is a mental state in which we are consciously aware of the present moment.
There are many exercises in mindfulness that don’t include meditation [here’s a list of mindful exercises].
Some mindfulness exercises that aren’t meditation include mindful writing, yoga, tai chi, and taking a mindful walk in nature.
Here are some options:
Mindful Walking: Take a walk and be mindful of the process of movement in your body. When your mind wanders, simply return your focus to the movement.
Mindful Shower: Take a shower and be mindful of your body and the sensation of water. You can also connect with your senses by being mindful of the fragrance of the shampoo and the temperature of the water.
Mindful Eating: Eat slowly and consciously and truly focus on the process of eating.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): Focus on each muscle group in sequence. Tense your muscles and then relax them and notice the difference.
2: Understand that everything stops you from being mindful
Everything stops you from being mindful. And yes, I literally mean everything.
Look around you right now. I bet wherever you are you are surrounded by sources of information all of which are jostling for your conscious awareness. Ads. TV. Background noises. Social media. Clutter. There are literally thousands of things around you right now that are gobbling up your conscious awareness like Pac Man gobbles up… whatever those little gold things are.
The more stuff you have around you, the less mindful you will be, because all those things take up some of your conscious awareness. That’s why if you want to be mindful you should focus on eliminating stuff. And yes, I know that my use of the word “stuff” sounds a little universal and generic, but that is because literally everything is taking some of your mindfulness.
I find that by simply clearing up my home and workspace I find it far easier to be mindful throughout my day.
3: Zen Your Home
The key to developing mindfulness without meditation is to remove as many sources of information as you possibly can. A lot of times, that can be hard, because you are not in control of all the spaces you enter. If there is background noise at work, it can be hard to control it. However, you are in control of your home, and you can control that space. So, declutter, clean, and make your home a space that does not rob you of your conscious awareness.
4: Give up TV
Another way to be mindful without meditating is to give up or cut down on TV.
TV is one of the main sources of information overload. When you watch TV, you are literally subjected to thousands of pieces of information: the show, the ads, and whatever information you’re subjected to. Giving up or cutting down on TV will make you more mindful. No meditation needed.
When I gave up TV, my mind was much quieter, and I was naturally more aware of the present moment instead of being lost in my thoughts.
5: Nature is the key
Have you ever noticed that when you go for a walk in nature you are naturally more mindful? The scenery, the trees, the water, the sky… all these things relax your mind. And a relaxed mind is a mindful one.
The more time you spend in nature the more mindful you will be. Whenever I spend time in nature, I immediately become more mindful, and I am far more relaxed.
6: Change your hobbies
Hobbies can be a source of mindfulness or a source of mindlessness. If, for instance, your main hobby is playing video games then you will be diminishing your mindfulness, simply because games are another source of information overload.
But there are many hobbies that do help us to be mindful.
Karen Kissel Wegela Ph.D. says, “ I work with my clients to identify the activities that they already engage in that can become occasions for practising mindfulness. Most people have a number of possibilities. Practically all sports can work: basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, and so on.”
When I took up a few mindful hobbies (specifically, tai chi, piano playing, and walking in nature) I felt much less anxious and far more present-moment-minded.
Some of the best hobbies for mindfulness include hiking, yoga, and tai chi.
7: Surround yourself with relaxing things
When we are relaxed, we are more mindful. This is because a relaxed mind is calm enough to be openly aware of the present moment without being reactive to it. Think about the last time you felt serenely relaxed, and you might remember how mindful you were at that time.
To increase relaxation (and therefore develop mindfulness), surround yourself with anything that promotes inner calm. This can include water features, relaxing art, plants, and relaxing music.
8: Cut out noise with noise-cancelling headphones
One of the main reasons we lose mindfulness is because of background noises. This will be a huge problem if you live in a busy city. The sounds of cars and perhaps trains or planes; the constant chatter of other people; the bustling of the city… it all takes away from your conscious awareness. One way of cutting-out background noise, and thereby developing mindfulness without meditation, is to simply use some noise-cancelling headphones.
9: Take care of your body
Above, I mentioned that anything and everything grapples for your conscious awareness and thereby deprives you of mindfulness. This isn’t just limited to external noises, either. The sensations in your body also deprive you of mindfulness.
Things like itches, muscle aches, any tension… these things vie for your conscious awareness and thereby reduces your mindfulness.
One of the best ways to reduce these sources of inner-information-overload is to take care of your body. By exercising, eating healthy, and practising good hygiene, you can promote inner calm and wellbeing, which will relax your mind and help you to be more mindful.
10: Do nothing at all
If you want to cultivate mindfulness without meditation, spend some time doing absolutely nothing. Your mind needs downtime to deal with thoughts and feelings. The more downtime you give yourself the more relaxed you will be, and the more relaxed you are the more mindful you will be. No meditation needed.
Yes, there are plenty of ways to achieve mindfulness without meditation. It all comes down to reducing information overload and practising the long-lost art of relaxation. A relaxed and calm mind is a mindful one, whether you meditate or not.