As humans, we have a tendency to worry about things both past and future, but ultimately the only time and place that we have complete control over, is the present moment. While lockdown has been keeping many of us at home, it’s only natural that your mind may be working overtime to try and predict what might come next.
In times of stress, many people find a sense of calm by practicing mindfulness – an exercise which can help you to focus on the present moment, and better understand your thoughts and feelings. Meditation is a popular mindfulness exercise used by many. But there are also plenty of other everyday activities that you can keep your mind focused firmly on the present moment.
From colouring to birdwatching, through to learning pottery at home; here are 10 interesting activities that can help you stay in the present moment.
1. Mindful Cooking
With plenty of smells, sounds and tastes to enjoy throughout, cooking can be a great way to focus your mind on the present moment. Many of us find ourselves rushing the process in an attempt to simply get through it and move on to either the eating part, or one of many other tasks that we busy ourselves with during the daily grind. However, taking the time to fully engage in an act of self-care like cooking, can not only distract you from any racing thoughts, but it can also give you a real sense of accomplishment. There’s something very satisfying about sitting down to enjoy a meal that you put real thought and care into – especially if it tastes great!
Next time you go to cook a meal, try to approach it as a mindfulness exercise. Whether you’re following a recipe, preparing your ingredients or stirring your onions whilst they sizzle away in the pan, try to focus wholly on each step of the process. Think about each utensil that you are using – what does it do? How useful is it to the process? You can also taste test your food along the way, focusing on the texture and flavours. Cooking can also be a colourful process, so consider how all the ingredients contrast with, or complement each other based on colour. By having complete focus on each part of the cooking process, you will hopefully be able to find yourself really living in the moment and enjoying the journey just as much as the destination.
If you’re unsure how to get started with mindful cooking, then Headspace has a free five-minute exercise that you can try, here. It also offers three helpful techniques that you can use to bring greater awareness to your cooking sessions.
You might also find it helpful to hear more about mindful cooking from someone who teaches it. Lina Mbirkou is a Mindful Coach. She discusses some of the benefits of mindful cooking in the video below…
If you find it difficult to keep your mind in the present moment, then you may also notice that you experience feelings of restlessness, that prevent you from relaxing. When this happens many of us turn to our smartphones and start scrolling through our social media news to keep our hands busy, and search for possible answers that may settle our worries. However, this only tends to make the problem worse, because we come across new things to worry about. Knitting is a great remedy for this, because it keeps both your hands and mind busy, at the same time as giving you a sense of accomplishment.
For centuries knitting has been used as a way to relax and unwind. The repetitive movements of the knit and purl stitches can allow you to unlock a sense of flow and enter a somewhat meditative state. And although knitting is relaxing, it doesn’t allow your mind to wander too far – because drop a stitch and you’ll end up with a hole in your pattern.
If you’ve never tried knitting before, then consider giving it a go. Once you get the hang of it, it can be difficult to put it down! You’ll be knitting toys for your grandchildren and scarves for your neighbours before you know it.
Love Crafts have created a helpful YouTube video for beginners, which will show you how to make a slip knot, cast on, knit stitch and cast off.
Once you become more comfortable with the basis of knitting you can look into more complicated knitting patterns. For example, How to knit a bunny from a square and How to knit a scarf for beginners step by step. You can also browse a range of knitting courses on our site here, or check out our introductory guide to knitting.
3. Flower arranging
Simply looking at a vase of flowers can make you feel better instantly. Some people have found great comfort in having flowers around the home during lockdown – because it can bring brightness, cheer and connect us with nature. If flowers bring you joy, then consider whether you’d be interested in learning more about flower arranging. It’s an aesthetically pleasing activity that requires concentration and creativity, which can be great for helping you push negative thoughts out of your mind, so that you are better able to focus on the present moment.
Flower arranging can be a fun and interesting skill to master. In the first instance, many people think that it’s simply about placing a bunch of flowers in a vase of water, but flower arranging can soon become a very satisfying and relaxing hobby. From learning how to select the best flowers to creating masterpieces, to understanding how best to cut and preserve them.
If you’re wondering where to get started, then there are plenty of free video tutorials available on YouTube which will cover the basics of flower arranging. For example, Simple Solutions: The basics of flower arranging and Creating a basic table arrangement.
An option for those that would be keen to study floristry in more depth, could be to take an online Floristry diploma with New Skills Academy. You’ll learn everything from how to create wedding flowers, through to how to set up your own flower shop or stall.
4. Bird watching
You can take up bird watching from the comfort of your own home, or from your local park or woods. And it’s completely up to you how far you choose to explore it as a hobby.
It might be enough for you to simply watch the birds as they land on your windowsill, or on the roof or tree opposite your home. Try focussing on their movements and interactions and considering how they relate to one another. Or you could choose to focus on the beautiful variety of colours or the different bird songs that each visitor has.
Since being at home more, I’ve become well acquainted with two pigeons who regularly land on my windowsill and peek in, or fight on the flat roof below. In my pre-lockdown life, I probably never would have noticed them, and I’m finding their interactions with one another quite intriguing. A bit like a soap opera unfolding in front of me!
If you have a special interest in birds, then you may want to take your bird watching experience further, by learning more about different species, how they behave and where they tend to nest. The RSPB has a helpful guide that covers these topics, or you can learn the basics of bird-watching in our beginner’s guide to bird-watching. The RSPB also regularly recruit for volunteers throughout the year – which you can browse, here.
If you’ve got a lack of birds in your area or you struggle to spot them, then you could consider doing a virtual bird watching session. Explore.org has a range of live cams available that will allow you to check in on a wide range of birds including Eagles, Great Herons and Hummingbirds.
Over the last few years, colouring has become increasingly popular with adults. It’s frequently used to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s thought that focussing on something creative, cheerful and low pressure, can help to keep the mind busy whilst promoting feelings of calm. Colouring is a stress-free, low pressure activity because you can do as little, or as much as you like in one sitting, and it’s difficult to make a mistake. It can also give you the feeling that you’re making progress with each new area that you fill.
It can be helpful to choose to colour drawings of things that you really like or that inspire you – because you’ll feel more inclined to work towards colouring the whole thing. Crayola has lots of free, highly detailed drawings aimed at adults, that you can download, print off and colour.
If none of the drawings on Crayola’s website take your fancy, you could also consider buying yourself a colouring book. Some people prefer this as they can work through it systematically. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, then Amazon has a great selection.
For those who’d like to go a step further, and fancy learning how to paint or draw, our introductory guides can help you get started.
Whether you have a garden or not, there are plenty of ways that mindful interactions with nature can bring you peace and contentment. Research shows that nature and happiness are closely interlinked because of nature’s ability to make us feel more connected to our surroundings. Gardening has also been shown to reduce loneliness, stress and anxiety.
Whether you’re caring for a couple of small cacti on your windowsill or pruning a 10ft tall hedge, the act of tending to plants, flowers and green spaces requires concentration on the task at hand – which is driven by the prospect of a pleasing result. It’s quite difficult not to focus fully on repotting a plant or pruning your apple tree because of the desire to get it right; not just for aesthetic reasons, but so that you can help your plants and flowers live long, happy lives! To help get you started, you might like to read our gardening checklist, or our article; 8 superfoods that you can grow from home.
If you’re interested in developing some green skills but you don’t have a garden, then Vertical Veg’s website can show you how to grow plants in containers in small spaces – while Patch can help you choose the right houseplants. If you are lucky enough to have a garden and you want to learn the basics, or advance your existing skills, then the Royal Horticultural website is packed with plenty of helpful tips and advice to help you on your way. We also have our very own gardening section on site, which we update regularly with gardening to do’s and inspiration – you can find this here.
If you’d like to develop your gardening skills on a deeper level, then you could also look into doing a complete gardening diploma, which will teach you everything from the secrets of great soil, through to the importance of sustainability.
As garden centres remain open across the UK – now could be the perfect time to nurture your relationship with nature.
When you think of pottery, you might automatically be transported back to the famous scene in the 1990 film, Ghost – with Patrick Swayzee and Demi Moore. But learning to throw a plate, pot or mug on a potter’s wheel, can also be a mindful and fulfilling experience. The great thing about clay is that it is never boring and there’s an endless list of things you can create from it. Following your clay on it’s journey from a murky lump to a unique and beautiful object that you can place on your mantelpiece or gift to a friend, can be incredibly rewarding.
The reason that pottery is a great exercise for keeping your mind in the present is because really engages our senses – particularly touch or smell. For example, feeling the warm clay in your hands and smelling it’s earthy scent. Clay can also be unpredictable and although you may have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to create, your ball of clay may have other ideas! In a recent interview with Vogue, ceramicist, John Sheppard said, “You have to be in tune with the clay and react to what state it’s in to work with it.”
The downside to pottery is that setting up at home can be pricey. But if you’re planning to be in it for the long haul, then the investment can be worth it. Cromartie Hobbycraft has produced a helpful guide to help you choose the right pottery wheel, which you can find, here. If you’re looking to purchase one on a budget, then you could consider picking up a second hand one on eBay. Alternatively, Pottery Crafts sell a selection of built to order pottery wheels, which you can browse here.
Once you’re up and running, YouTube has a wide selection of free pottery tutorials including wheel throwing for beginners and how to wedge your clay. Or you can view pottery courses available through our site here.
8. Decluttering and organising
Decluttering and organising is the kind of activity that once you start, it may be hard to stop. Sometimes it can happen without you even meaning it to! Have you ever tried to look for something in a messy cupboard and before you know it, it’s three hours later and you’ve sorted and rearranged the entire thing? I know I have. The process tends to be all encompassing and can offer a great form of escapism. There’s no room for anything else in your head when you’re trying to figure out whether to keep those comfy brown loafers with the worn out heels or that beautiful black dress that is just one size too small but that could fit again one day.
The other great thing about decluttering and organising spaces is that you receive instant satisfaction when you see the results. Consider taking before and after pictures of your work to track your progress. We’d love to see them!
If you’re looking for some inspiration, then check out our article; How to declutter and reorganise your home – which contains plenty of tips on how you can make the most of your living space, and enjoy your decluttering and reorganising journey.
Organising consultant Marie Kondo, also has a great series on Netflix that will show you how to get rid of items that no longer bring joy to your life, and tidy those that do. Alternatively, she has a course on Udemy that you can work through at your own pace – or she offers some free tips over on her YouTube channel, which you can watch here.
Engaging in physical activity can be just as great for your mind, as it is for your body. Not only does your brain release endorphins (happy hormones) when you exercise, but it also connects your mind and body. It’s difficult to exercise without considering how that exercise makes you feel, and without tapping into the mental willpower to finish what you started. This is especially true of strenuous exercise that raises your heart rate and really gets you sweating. You can read more about the fascinating impact that exercise can have on the brain in our article; How exercise can lead to better brain health.
Since lockdown began, many of us have been prompted to exercise more or to find new ways to get creative with exercise both outside and at home. If you’re looking for a few ideas, you may find it useful to read our guides; How to stay fit at home, and 8 different fitness ideas for lockdown and beyond, or our articles on running, cycling or yoga.
10. Hanging out with your pet
Our pets tend to live in the present moment with little regard for the past or future. Words like pandemic and lockdown are also unknown to them, which can make hanging out with them very refreshing. By seeing how happy and engaged they are with life, chances are you will forget about everything else.
Pets have a funny way of connecting with us emotionally even though they can’t talk and when we spend time with them, our full attention tends to be focussed on whether they are having a good time. Because they can’t speak to us, we also spend a great deal of time interpreting their behaviour and looking for signs of what they could be thinking or feeling. While we’re doing all of this, we don’t tend to be worrying about the future or rehashing the past.
If you’re struggling to keep your mind in the present, then consider spending some extra quality time with your pet. This could be something as simple as watching your fish swim around their tank while focussing on the light on their scales and their interaction with one another. Or you could try taking your dog for a long walk, playing fetch in the garden or teaching them a new trick. Our pets are precious, so any extra time with them can only be a good thing!
If you don’t currently have a pet, but you’re considering getting one, then you might find it useful to read our article on the 10 benefits of owning a pet.
A final thought…
“With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Like everything in life, staying in the present moment becomes easier with practice. The more you engage with activities that you enjoy, the more likely you are to focus solely on the task in front of you. Staying present can also be much easier if you temporarily free yourself of external factors like your smartphone or your TV. They tend to distract us from the things that we’re working on, meaning that we’re unable to give our full focus to any task that we’re trying to complete – and feeling torn between multiple activities can increase anxiety and unrest.
It’s also worth remembering that staying in the present moment doesn’t just help with stress. Being able to focus the mind on the present is a trick that is used by high performance athletes, artists and musicians across the globe, as a way of achieving peak focus when it really matters.
We’d love to hear from you! Do you find any other activities help you to stay in the present moment? Join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.