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How to practice mindfulness until you master it

mindfulnessFrom yoga class to how you eat your lunch, mindfulness is a buzzword that’s thrown around a lot—and Erin Olivo, PhD says it deserves all the attention.

Developing it is one of the first steps to living in a balanced state she calls “wise mind,” which is outlined in her recent book, Wise Mind Living.

“Wise mind is about being aware of your emotions, but being rational,” says the clinical psychologist and assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In other words, it’s about finding the perfect balance between logic and emotion when dealing with challenges and making decisions. (Sound good?)

mindfulness“I really think fundamentally, no matter your struggles or the goals you’re setting, the thing that keeps us from achieving what we want or feeling good in life is not managing the emotions that come up along the way,” she explains.

There are lots of steps to getting there, but being mindful of your emotions will set you on the path towards managing them—you just have to exercise that muscle in order to get there.

“There is no quick approach to becoming more mindful,” Dr. Olivo says. “It takes actual practice.”

One place to start? Try these two simple exercises from Wise Mind Living.

1. Choose a daily practice and make it more mindful.

Pick a daily activity that you tend to do while zoning out—like making coffee, chopping vegetables, or taking a shower—and really think about it for a week. Don’t just go through the motions. “Pay attention to the sensory experience of it, like the smell of the fresh tomatoes or the sound of the water,” Dr. Olivo says.

She likes to do it while brushing her teeth, for example, and she pays attention to how she’s gripping the toothbrush and patterns that emerge. “I always start with my lower left teeth,”  she says. “When you start to tune in and pay attention, you’re going to notice tiny things like that.”

mindfulness2. Catch yourself being judge-y.

“Judgments are one of the things that take us out of the present moment and into the past or the future,” Dr. Olivo says. For a full day, make a conscious effort to notice all of the judgements you make, positive and negative, about other people, situations, and yourself.

“Any time you catch yourself…notice it, label it as a judgment, and resist the temptation to judge yourself for being judgmental,” she says. (AKA, chill!) “Then try to re-process the information with neutral (nonjudgmental) language.”

Practice both of these, and before you know it, you won’t even berate yourself for the cavities you notice while brushing. —Lisa Elaine Held

For more information, check out Wise Mind Living or

(Photos: from top: Life of Pix, Dr. Olivo, and Wise Mind Living)