4 Mindfulness Exercises for Greater Self-Awareness

When was the last time you felt truly present in the moment you were in?

Especially now, as we face unprecedented changes in our daily lives, you might answer that it’s been a while. We live in an age where multitasking champions over focus. Our minds are bombarded with relentless waves of information, and a good portion of our days are spent working, leaving us little time for self-awareness.

There’s a way to combat this feeling of disconnect and rush, however, and that’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness means being intensely aware of your present sensations and feelings. Scores of research suggest that practicing mindfulness can relieve stress, improve cognitive flexibility and focus, boost working memory, and increase a person’s compassion and empathy.

No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can increase your self-awareness by practicing mindfulness throughout your day. Here are 4 simple exercises to help you do that:

Photo by Ümum Bulut

1. Pay attention to your surroundings.

It’s easy to let our brains cruise on auto-pilot. This is especially true when performing mundane tasks, like washing dishes or driving to work. But have you ever arrived at your destination and realized you didn’t notice anything about the way you got there? You can combat those moments of disconnect by soaking up everything around you. You’ll notice sights, sounds, and smells that you never realized were there before. A heightened awareness of your surroundings can also lead to feelings of gratitude and appreciation for the world you live in.

Photo by Tim Goedhart

2. Focus on your breath.

When life feels like it’s spinning out of control, mindful breathing will help you reclaim the calm within the chaos. Close your eyes and breathe deeply into your nose for four counts. Release the breath through the mouth for eight counts in a long, drawn-out exhale, and repeat. Bring your awareness to how the breath moves in and out of your body, how your abdomen rises and falls. Let your shoulders drop from your ears and unclench your jaw as your breath flows freely through your body.

Do you notice a difference yet?

Photo by Marissa Cristina

3. Set intentions.

Many of us move through life with goals in mind. Buy my first house. Land that promotion. Publish a best-seller. Become the first female president in history.

Setting goals allows you to work toward a desired outcome. Setting intentions, however, means charting a course for your day that’s judgment-free and rooted in the present. There is no required result. Setting intentions is a way of saying, “I’m going to practice this one thing, and see what happens.”

It helps to set intentions shortly after waking up in the morning. These prompts might guide you to get started:

• How might I show up today to have the most positive impact?

• What does my body need today?

• What does my mind need today?

• During difficult moments, how might I show more compassion to others and myself?

• How can I feel more connected and fulfilled?

Photo by Madison Lavern

4. Meditate.

Meditation can be practiced anywhere you have a comfortable and quiet place to sit.

Sitting in an upright position, bring your arms parallel to your torso and close your eyes. Focus on your breath, but breathe naturally. Allow your body to relax with each exhale.

You will probably notice your mind wandering after a few breaths. That’s perfectly normal, and it’s important not to judge yourself for it when it happens. Just calmly bring your attention back to your breathing when you notice your mind going elsewhere.

The key to meditation is to free yourself from judgment. Everything is a process, including maintaining inner calm! And if you want to take your meditation practice with you on the go, try using apps like Calm or Headspace, which offer free, expert-led guided meditations.

Looking for more mindfulness exercises? Check out our 5-week Mindful Moments Series which features practices in meditation, movement, and breathwork.


Cecilia Seiter
Cecilia is a freelance writer and contributor to Slow North. She writes largely about sustainability, especially as it applies to beauty, wellness, and the future of technology. She is a graduate of the journalism department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is based in Los Angeles, CA.