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Did you ever notice how some people manage life’s ups and downs with Zen-like calm, projecting a quiet air of positivity and peace even amid chaos? Meanwhile, you feel like one misstep will bring your whole house of cards falling down around your ears, causing you to overreact at the smallest roadblocks.
What’s the secret? It could be mindful behavior. What does that mean? The fine folks at the University of California, Berkeley, define it as a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. Adopting mindful practices can help you stay grounded in the present instead of ruminating on the past or growing anxious over the future.
If you want to gain a calm mastery of your life, mindfulness can help. What is mindful behavior? Here are six tips to help you cultivate it.
1. Learn to STOP
When something triggers an emotional reaction, your immediate response is to react. First, be gentle with yourself for past mistakes — you’re human. Quick reaction times helped keep your ancestors alive in the days when hungry lions posed daily threats. However, now it’s time to take charge of your neurobiology by learning to stop.
You might have heard of the S.T.O.P. technique if you’ve ever had cognitive-behavioral or dialectical behavioral therapy. Your first step is to learn how to recognize when you feel triggered. That means taking time to reflect after you behave inappropriately. What caused you to lose your temper or react in fear? What was happening in your immediate environment — for example, the smell of a passersby’s cologne could spur an emotional reaction in someone who was abused by someone who wore a similar fragrance.
Once you recognize the symptoms of emotional disquiet, follow these four steps when they occur:
- Stop: what you’re doing, taking no action — give yourself as much time as you need. At first, you might retreat for a day or more, but in time, you’ll learn to trust your ability to make choices that serve you and be ready to move on within minutes.
- Take: A few deep breaths. Quiet your emotional reactions. Again, this process may take time at first, especially if you have a severe history of trauma. That’s because such experiences physically alter your brain and nervous system — but you can heal them with patience, mindfulness and care.
- Observe: What are your feelings? Tune into your physical sensations — is your heart pounding? What emotions can you identify? What mental messages are you sending yourself? Notice these without judgment, like a scientist investigating a test subject.
- Proceed: Mindfully choose an action that serves you in the present. It may be taking action on what disturbed you. Conversely, it might mean making a cup of tea and retiring early to let your subconscious “sleep” on the matter until you feel rational enough to approach it with a calm mind.
2. Play Devil’s Advocate
Playing devil’s advocate is another mindful behavior technique borrowed from therapeutic approaches. Most professionals refer to the process as “cognitive reframing,” but guess what? You can have fun with it — this process need not be boring.
What should you do? Spend some time getting mindful of your thoughts. Do you tend to dwell on the negative? For example, you might catch yourself musing, “Why should I even attend? No one will notice if I’m there or not,” before the office holiday party.
Then, have some fun countering those ideas with more positive ones — even if they’re outrageous. For example, you might say, “Today might be the day I get to talk to the real big boss, who’ll notice how overdue I am for a promotion,” in the office-party scenario.
Go crazy. After all, it’s just as likely that something unexpectedly fabulous will happen as a disaster. Maybe your bus will get stuck in the snow on the way to the gathering — but perhaps you’ll meet the love of your life while waiting for the driver to apply safety chains.
3. Write It Out
Journaling is one of the best ways to practice introspection. It also inspires mindful behavior, helping you work through challenging scenarios and express overwhelming negative emotions in a manner that won’t do you harm. Best of all, you don’t have to be Stephen King — any scribblings will help if you are consistent with your practice.
Dedicate 15 minutes to writing daily. What should you put in your pretty new journal? Why not reflect on the following questions:
- Gratitude: What are you thankful for today? Even in your darkest moments, there’s always a reason to rejoice.
- Life goals: Where do you want to be in five years? Your journal isn’t a job interviewer, so feel free to express your genuine desires without a nod to productivity.
- Feelings exploration: What kind of mood are you in? What happened to inspire your feelings? This technique is a useful one for figuring out your emotional triggers.
4. Make a Plan
People who seemingly glide through life with Zen-like ease only make their existence appear simple from the outside. However, even minimalist lifestyles entail careful planning and consideration.
For example, you’re more likely to finish your to-do list if you put it in writing, so give that planner a workout on Sunday evening. When charting your week, including plenty of free time and buffers around crucial activities so that you aren’t stuck rushing from one activity to the next with no time to breathe or reflect in between.
Please don’t forget your basic needs. Adding them to your agenda serves as a visual reminder that your health takes priority, too.
5. Prioritize Mindful Self-Care
The World Health Organization defines self-care as those activities that promote positive health and help you manage any existing conditions. When making your weekly schedule on Sunday, include time for the following:
- Healthy eating: Avoid ultra-processed foods laden with sugar, salt, white flour, unhealthy fats and additives. Include time in your week to prep healthy freezer meals and cut up veggies and fruit, so they’re simple to grab and add to your lunch box.
- Movement: The World Health Organization recommends 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Find something you adore and consider finding a workout buddy to double as an accountability partner if you struggle to stick with the program.
- Hygiene: Taking care of yourself feels good, but it’s one of the first things to go when you get overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. Give yourself time to wash your face, brush your teeth and hair and keep your clothes and body clean.
- Relaxation: Everyone needs time to unwind. Leave as much free time as possible in your schedule for socializing and chilling with loved ones or by yourself. Keep the last 30 minutes of your day sacrosanct for snuggling in bed, practicing a few minutes of yoga and meditation or quiet reading to ease you into sleep.
6. Empathy First
Humans are social creatures — but far too many seem to have forgotten this truth in a society that praises individual merits at the expense of more secure relationships. However, people respond best to others who treat them as humans.
Therefore, practice mindfulness through empathy. If you were in another person’s shoes, what would you be thinking and feeling? How would you react physiologically? Putting yourself in another’s place is a valuable exercise in the golden rule — treat others how you want to be treated. Chances are, other people will respond more positively when they see you care.
What Is Mindful Behavior?
What is mindful behavior? It’s the magic stuff that helps some people overcome life’s adversities and setbacks with grace instead of falling apart and resorting to negative actions like addiction.
Fortunately, you can cultivate mindful behavior by following the above steps. It takes time, but you can learn this vital skill.
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