Don’t just stand there – do nothing. Six mindfulness exercises you can’t live without

Updated to Habits, Productivity on December 14, 2022.

The benefits of mindfulness exercises are numerous. We all need them, and here’s why.

Standing in line at Starbucks yesterday, I felt pretty smug. I was the only one not staring into a phone.

I only noticed because I was doing the same thing that morning.

Face it, we are rewarded for doing. Call client, write proposal, have meeting, make sale, cook dinner, vacuum house, drive kids. Doing, doing, doing.

Even when we get a moment when we could chill (like standing in line), we keep on doing.

Sometimes we shouldn’t just stand there – we should do nothing.

The art of doing nothing

In this post I want share six ways to practice the art of doing nothing. Call it mindfulness, stillness, active meditation, or swarmygoopyblah, it’s all good.

The goal is to slow down, reduce anxiety, and return to an aware, calm state, ready to go. Instead of cranking off more hours, break up your hours with tiny bouts of mindfulness. 

In study after study, mindfulness programs reduce fatigue, symptoms of illness ranging from headaches to chest pain, and depression. Participants can focus more on work, take less sick time, and feel happier – what’s not to like?

Author and CEO of the Energy Project, Tony Schwartz writes it’s not more hours, but quality hours that should be our goal. We want to get the work done, be effective with our time, and return home with energy left the tank. The trick is to cycle between spending and renewing our energy.

“Human beings are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. That’s how we operate at our best. Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy — physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually — requires refuelling it intermittently.” Tony Schwartz, The Energy Project

Here they are: six super simple mindfulness exercises.  They’ll help you to be mindful, restore your energy and focus, and take a health break – all in three minutes, or less. Tell me, in the comments, when you practice being still and mindful.

1. Just sit there

Recently, I was between flights, waiting in an airport, thinking of all the To-Do’s poking at my guilt button. I was so tempted to reach down, grab my laptop, and start typing! All of my get-it-done neural pathways were firing.

Instead, I just sat there. 

Maybe out of exhaustion, or maybe out of need, I just sat, breathed, and watched the river of people flow past. I noticed the urging to get started – I watched that go by as well. 

It was like a mini-vacation from thinking and doing. I was still tired from the long day and travel, but I felt more alert and calmer. When I did open my laptop to do some work, I felt more relaxed and ready to focus on my writing project.

Tomorrow, no one will care what I do in this moment. 

So I let it go and breathed.

2. Breathe

Our breath is the centre point of our being and health. Slow your breathing, slow your metabolism. Even your mind spins a little slower. 

When feeling overwhelmed, notice your breath. You don’t have to change it – just notice it. Awareness of your breathing can help shift from thinking “Holly cr#p, I’ve got a lot to do!!”, to “Ah. What next?”

Simply notice the breath coming in, and notice it going out. Try it now as you read this. Nothing could be simpler, or more profoundly shift your state to mindfulness.

3. “Interesting” 

When I practice yoga, my mind goes to Vegas. Starting with the first Shavasana (flaked out lying on back), thoughts like: ’what-if’s’, ‘I-should-have’, and ‘I-can’t-believe-I-forgot-to’ bounce like unwanted beach balls into my consciousness. It’s bloody annoying!

It’s also natural. Researchers say we have some 60,000 thoughts a day. The problem is most are the same as yesterday! 

Researchers say we have some 60,000 thoughts a day. The problem is most are the same as yesterday!

Just like a mouse running furiously on a wheel, continual, repetitive thoughts keep us busy and blind to other options.

Mindfulness exercises are about noticing, without attachment. Like a leaf floating past on a river, negative, regretful, blaming thoughts don’t have to touch you – they just float past. Notice them floating past and think “Interesting.” 

You can also take this to the street.

4. Free walking

Going to a meeting? Fetching a coffee? Catch yourself going into your head and let it go. For just these few minutes, let it go and free walk. No agenda, no crazy, all consuming thoughts, just walking. You might be surprised what you notice. 

Yesterday, in the space of two blocks, on my way to a local cafe, I laughed with a City employee installing Christmas lights, picked up garbage, and hugged a friend I haven’t seen in a year. I returned to my desk happy and energized. And I was only gone 10 minutes. 

I could just as easily put my head down and rushed by it all. 

You can also focus at your desk.

5. Talisman focus 

Pick something in your office or home and bring all your attention to it. That can be your talisman. Mine is a photocopy of a postcard my brother Dan wrote to me in 1993 – the last time I heard from him. 

Let the world slip by and bring your attention to your talisman. Notice random thoughts trying to pull you away. Acknowledge them (I like to think “interesting”) and return to your focus.

No judgement, simply allow. 

6. Willpower waiting

It takes a bit of discipline to wait without fussing with your phone, or worrying about the 10AM meeting. Discipline builds willpower and willpower builds confidence and strength. 

Waiting without doing can be an act of meditation. At the stop light, the check-out counter, or before the meeting starts. No Ashram, sweaty yoga matt, or wilderness retreat – a moment of willpower waiting can happen where you are.

I’m writing this post just weeks before Christmas – a great time to be mindful. I think any time is a good time to make the best of your day.

Today, how about you put your phone away, take a deep breath, and enjoy a few moments of doing nothing?

Tell me, in the comments, when you practice being still and mindful.