Fun mindfulness exercises exist! They are out there. People are doing them every day as they go about their routines.
You don't have to meditate. I mean, you totally can if you want. I'm all about it. But I know it's not for everyone and it's not right all the time. So, I think it's important to have some fun mindfulness exercises that don't exclusively include meditation.
Somewhere along the way, I think mindfulness and meditation have gotten conflated.
Let me destroy this misconception right here, right now.
Mindfulness and Meditation are not the Same Thing
Mindfulness is more about an awareness of your own personal mental process than about emptying out your brain.
Just because you're trying to be mindful, does not mean that you have to be bodiless.
See what I did there?
Being mindful can mean we're still in our bodies, moving and maneuvering through our chaotic days. It doesn't have to just be a meditation or a yoga break.
I think that when we are truly mindful, we are taking stock of our inner thoughts and feelings in the midst of the chaos. We're also taking stock of the chaos itself.
So, you can think of these 8 fun mindfulness exercises as the gum chewing (all day fun) to meditation's teeth brushing (twice a day only, please). But like, if chewing gum was super silly and fun and yet also helped you become aware of, and better in control of, your thoughts and feelings.
Without further ado, here are 8 fun mindfulness exercises to help you throughout your day:
Exercise 1: Take a Hike
If I want to become more aware of my place in the world, I don't leave the world out by closing my eyes and sitting in a dark room. I put on some comfortable shoes and step out into that world.
This game is called Take a Hike, and it's really simple.
I just walk around and pretend I'm hiking and taking in all the sights. See, a part of mindfulness that I think is super important is noticing the beautiful world that's already there.
We usually get so wrapped up in our hectic days that we stop noticing other people, nature, and beauty of all kinds, really. This game asks that you approach the world with the same excitement and wonder that you might on a vacation or checking out a local park.
Pop on your unjaded, curious-about-the-world binoculars and see the world anew.
2. Take the Long-Cut Home
Another fun mindfulness exercise is to force yourself to take a detour or force yourself to enjoy a detour that comes your way naturally.
Instead of walking directly from your car to your house, take a little detour. Go the long way or go the wrong way. This just forces you out of the habit of only going directly from point A to point B, and isn't mindfulness all about enjoying life's journey?
Another key part of this exercise is to enjoy the detours that are going to come your way whether you like it or not.
Get stuck behind a slow poke on the highway? Enjoy it.
A train with 547 cars stops you in your tracks and you're late for work? What can you do? Just force yourself to be in that moment and enjoy it.
I feel like if you can do this, you can probably do mostly anything you put your mind to, no?
3. Call it Like You Sees It
When I'm in my head, overthinking, or just generally not paying attention to the actual world around me, I try this everyday game I stole from improv class.
All you need to do is point to something, anything, and call it what it actually is.
See a bird? Point and say it. "Bird."
Don't get creative or try to be funny. You are just about the business of calling things what they actually are.
This will help you be more mindful and present, wherever you happen to be.
It may also make people thing you've lost your marbles.
4. Nope, Try Something Else
When you're meditating you're supposed to passively observe your thoughts like floaty, little clouds. Don't force them to stop. Just note and let them float away.
Why can't we do this while our eyes are open and we're headed to the grocery store?
The next time you think, "Wow, I hate that guy" or "I look so gross today," I want you to stop yourself.
Tell your nasty, little, floaty cloud, "Nope."
Then, try out a different thought.
If that new thought is still a buzzkill, try out another and another until you land on a thought worth thinking.
You'll still be getting the mindfulness of meditation, but you don't have to quarantine yourself from the rest of civilization.
5. The Good Book
There are a lot of ways to keep a journal. I call this version "The Good Book" because I like to especially focus on tracking my positive thoughts in order to, fingers crossed, eventually have more of them one day.
Buy a cutie little blank journal. Doesn't have to be fancy pants. And just record your thoughts.
The idea here is start noticing patterns. When are you most anxious? Why do you start to get negative? What's going on in your life when you are the most clearheaded?
Track those thoughts and become more mindful of your own inner life.
If nothing else, it's like taking notes for your weekly therapy session.
6. Affirmation Station
Another fun mindfulness exercise is to create a daily affirmation habit.
Instead of letting our thoughts just be whatever they are, come at as randomly, and bombard us relentlessly, setting a time everyday to look directly into the mirror and praise yourself, affirm your worth, will help you break old habits of mind, especially the self-sabotaging kind.
Plus, it's kind of fun to hear nice things about yourself, even if said nice things are coming from your own mouth.
So, look deeply into your eyes and let those compliments rip.
You're kind. And sturdy. You're trustworthy. And a good listener. You're creative. And put other people's needs above your own. All great qualities.
You have to be sincere for these affirmations to work, though.
Because no one can call bullshit you like you can.
7. Curious Detective
For my money, closing your eyes to the outside world is not going to take you all the way to mindful-town. Because you can't close your eyes forever. And when you finally open them, there will be other people there.
You can't control other people. You can't really predict them or even tame them. Miley Cyrus taught me that.
All we really can try to tame are our own thoughts about said people.
One way for me to do this is to pretend like I'm some kind of olden times detective. I need to get to the bottom of who this person is, so I ask questions and observe carefully.
The thing is: detectives shouldn't rush to judgment about other people. They can't assume it's the first suspect (it is never the first suspect; Law and Order taught me that).
So, this game only really works if you keep an open mind about people and then get as much information on 'em as you can.
This will help you get out of your own head, begin clearing those clouds out, and start being more observant and aware of others. Or mindful, if you will.
8. The Alien Game
These fun mindfulness exercises have taken us from hiking around to keeping a journal to...pretending we're an alien from outer space, just trying to fit in here on the planet Earth.
When I'm feeling anxious in a crowd or nervous or just stuck in an endless loop of unhealthy overthinking, I like to play The Alien Game. You just pretend you have just arrived here on Earth, and your mission is to fit in, to not stand out. It's a classic alien tale, really.
So, instead of racing past people as you hurry to work, you would have to go with the flow of the crowd to not get alien caught.
I tend to be at my most unmindful when I'm stuck in a crowd of people. For some reason, it makes me get stuck in my head, too.
The Alien Game aims to fix that by forcing you to pay attention to other people instead of your own goal of getting somewhere at some time.
Join the Party and Make Mindfulness Fun
My version of mindfulness is about opening your eyes to the actual world. It's about observing and learning more about how you think and feel.
Part of this work is learning about how you habitually think and feel about the inanimate and animate objects that are all around you.
Do you always think the worst of people? Get stressed out in public? Make assumptions? Ignore people? These are things that are malleable. You can change how you think though playful mindfulness.
That's not to say we should accept everything going on around us. Once we become more mindful of our own thoughts, it's still our job to take strides to change our schools, communities, states, countries, and world for the better.
Mindfulness doesn't have to mean acceptance. It can mean noticing that there's a lot of garbage on the street on your way to work. The noticing can be the first step for change...not acceptance.
So, get out there, open your eyes, see what's going on in the world and how you feel about it.
Try these 8 fun mindfulness exercises to get more grounded and centered, to become more observant of the world and your own mental landscape, and to stop harmful, habitual patterns. Get out into the world.
And for 112 more fun and effective improv-inspired exercises, check out my brand new book Play Your Way Sane.