Every now and again, I find myself thinking about the next routine or task seemingly without any recognition of the present moment. I’m at first a little shocked, then pleased, that all the education and training has paid off–doing that right thing at just the right time without any unnecessary surprises. Done. On to the next item while still thinking a few steps ahead. We get used to the mechanics of our work and it becomes easier to deal with challenging situations (or, at least the daily responsibilities). Sometimes we’re just in the flow, and that gets us through the shift. I think we’ve all had moments like these, only stopping to ask how‘d we do that? after the fact.
There we are, piecing together the details of a shift that pushed us to the limit and questioning how we managed to pull through without so much as a second thought to our actions. What if we could slow down time to reveal something valuable about ourselves when it mattered the most? The next time you’re confronted with a challenge, try some of the following tips on mindfulness to get the most out each moment. Each of these simple tricks and tips are aimed at helping remind us to focus, recompose, and grow in order to always be on the path to becoming better nurses, individuals, and contributors to the communities that matter to us.
Learning to Recognize the Wandering Mind
“Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.” - Shunryu Suzuki
You know that autopilot mode I was referring to? It’s pretty cool, right? Definitely. There’s a risk, however. All the learning and hard work we’ve put into our jobs affords us the ability to rely on rote memorization or practice, but be careful not to let the moment slip by without taking something valuable from the present. The great difficulty is that our work, like other daily tasks (i.e., dishes, driving, laundry, taking the dogs out, etc.), risks becoming stagnant. When we begin to notice that time is rushing by and we’re oblivious to it, take a deep breath and find your center. Doing this helps keep us on track to find beauty and opportunity in even the most mundane task because we’re being vigilant with our awareness.
Helpful Bonus Tip: As simple as it might seem, one of the best ways to create an understanding of our own psychology and mindfulness is to make it a habit of writing down a short reflection of the day before going to bed. Plan on keeping the task incredibly straight-forward, just writing the essentials and noting any significant moments wherein you had noticed your mind wandering and how you reigned it back again. At the end of a few weeks, find a time to read over your writing to see patterns emerge that can help us identity how to maintain mindful awareness in similar situations or in the midst of familiar difficulties.
Mindfulness Takes Repetition
Think about your day, in detail. What did you do? What was said or overheard? What happened around you? Chances are, you’re probably missing a huge amount of detail because of the natural limitations of the brain. We like to imagine that we are astute and paying attention, even that these characteristics make us the nurses we are on the job. In reality, the brain is only capable of so much before it fills in the gaps of our awareness with mental static–bits of imagery or words or base emotional recognition that fill in the spaces around our significant memories. The trick to harnessing the power of mindfulness is to realize the limitation of the brain and work to circumvent them:
1) Start making more significant memories by working with intent, communicating with presence, and practicing with meaning.
2) Try this for the next week, each time you step through a doorway, pause and acknowledge your gratitude for someone or something precious in your life.
3) Approach a familiar task with renewed awareness by slowing down and finding pleasure in the individual parts of an experience, as well as the whole.
4) Reach out for a mindfulness buddy who can help you enjoy and commit to mindfulness as a way of life–enjoying more of our life, loves, and work.