Your partner starts telling you about his day and suddenly your mind wanders back to work and that email confirmation you forgot to send. Next thing you know, he asks what you think about so-and-so, and you have no clue who he’s talking about. It’s a commonplace scenario, and an oft-cited complaint of couples in therapy: a partner who doesn’t listen.
All relationship problems stem from poor communication, says medical writer Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author of Blending Families and 22 other books. “You can’t communicate while you’re checking your BlackBerry, watching TV, or flipping through the sports section.” If simple distraction, and not something deeper, is keeping you from really hearing all your partner has to say, learning how to be present will enhance your communication skills and your life.
Alexandra Frey and Autumn Totton, founders of the Mindfulness Project and authors of the upcoming book, I Am Here Now, lay out 10 ground rules for becoming more present and mindful, even when chaos swirls around you.
Be right here right now. Anytime you’re swept away in thoughts about the past or future, notice that your mind has drifted and gently bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on an anchor, such as your breath, a specific part of your body (like the space between your eyebrows or the way the soles of your feet feel on the ground), or sounds.
Be aware when you judge. Practice paying attention to your thoughts and the judgments your mind tends to make. Don’t try to stop or resist them; just curiously notice them, then usher them out. The point here is to become aware of how often you render judgments, on others and yourself. Awareness of your tendency to judge is the first step to stopping it.
Practice patience. Be willing to see how your experience with mindfulness unfolds. Be patient with yourself when it’s uncomfortable and your mind would rather rush to the next item on your list. It’s just the wandering nature of your mind. Treat it as you would a puppy being trained to sit; bring patience, affection and a sense of humor to the task.
Be kind to yourself. Mindfulness allows you to recognize and even turn toward some painful thoughts and emotions. When you do, be compassionate toward yourself, just as you would turn with warmth and kindness to a friend having a rough time.