Mindfulness

How Setting Cues Can Help You Become More Mindful

08/02/15

I first became fully aware of this idea in the lucid dreaming community. The techniques used to become lucid in a dream (aware that you are dreaming) typically involved some kind of cue.

This means that people would do various things to remind them about lucid dreaming in their waking life to increase their chances of becoming lucid as they sleep.

For example, someone might set an alarm to wake up during the night. This then acts as a cue to get up, stay awake for a short period of time and then go back to bed with the strong intention held in their mind of entering a lucid dream.

If we are setting out to become more mindful, this can be a very useful tool for us because our brain learns immense amounts of information simply by association. Think of the crazy memory championship competitions in which competitors memorize thousands of numbers in an hour.

They all retain and recall those numbers based on the associations they make to other things they have experienced, or to other symbols such as words and images in a mnemonic.

“You may find that you experience an immediate reward of being calmer, clearer, more present to the moment and less stressed.”

There exists a model for habits that Charles Duhigg posited in his book ‘The Power of Habit’, and it is a very useful tool in understanding how to make mindfulness, or anything else for that matter a habit by first utilising cues.

The idea behind this is that all habits have 3 fundamental steps to them.

The cue is the thing that reminds, or triggers you to think about doing your particular habit, and then that propels you to go through the routine. After the routine is done, you will get the reward out of the habit.

In regards to mindfulness, we can utilise this 3 step process involved in habit building in order to incorporate mindfulness practice into our daily lives.

First we need to find a cue that reminds you to become mindful. What I personally propose is walking through a door. Use the moment you walk through a door as an opportunity to go through the routine of becoming mindful of your surroundings, your cadence as you walk, your current thoughts and emotions and your facial expression.

You may find that you experience an immediate reward of being calmer, clearer, more present to the moment and less stressed, along with feeling some accomplishment each time you do this.

Walk through a door – cue

Become mindful as previously described – routine

Reward – peace of mind, a growing capacity to be mindful

With this method, aim to become mindful for just 30 seconds to 1 minute after passing through the door, so that flows with your day and doesn’t impede it. As a small caveat – although I am terming this practice a routine, realise that each time you become mindful it will be unique, you will  be noticing different details in your environment, different sensations within you, etc. Also remember to be mindful with intensity, since it is a short amount of time!

“All these details are there constantly, you just have to take the time to pay attention to them.”

There is also a lucid dreaming technique called All Day Awareness or ‘ADA’ for short. It is essentially based on the idea that if you become intensely aware of what is going on around you in waking life for a short period of time, randomly throughout the day, that this will become a habit that will translate into your dreaming life. I tried it, and it worked an absolute charm, and many other people have found success with this method.

Essentially, this is mindfulness with a slightly different purpose, and so it can easily apply to growing daily mindfulness.

The idea is simple. Just set around 4-6 alarms on your phone dispersed randomly throughout the day, then forget about them and go about your day.

You will invariably hear that soothing ring of the alarm, reminding you to become mindful of whatever you are doing.

Whenever you hear that sound – that is now your cue to immerse yourself fully into the moment. When that alarm rings, I want you to first notice the soundscape of music coming into your ears. Hear each nuance of it, and then become mindful of what you are doing.

Arranging papers, driving, writing, watching a TV show, balancing the books or booking a flight. Whatever it is, simply ‘watch’ yourself doing it. Become aware of the physical actions you are making, become aware of your breathing. Become aware of the sounds that are occurring around you. Become aware of the sensations you are feeling, the thoughts you may be thinking and your current emotional state whilst doing it. Pay attention to every minute feature, because all these details are there constantly, you just have to take the time to pay attention to them.

Do this for 2-5 minutes, but no longer than 5 minutes. The idea is to have a short burst of intense mindfulness, and then go back to whatever you are doing until the next alarm rings.

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