Zen and Washing Dishes: How to Be Mindful in Everyday Tasks

With all the emphasis on the benefits of mindfulness meditation, you might think that the practice involves drastic changes in your everyday routine. This might not sound all that appealing, considering all the must-do items you have already on your list, especially since you’re now in recovery. There is, however, a way to incorporate mindfulness into almost everything you do. Here’s a look at how to be mindful in everyday tasks.

Washing Dishes Calms Nerves

Achieving a perfect state of bliss while washing the dishes? Is this an oxymoron? For those who detest scraping and cleaning dishes, silverware and assorted pots and pans and would rather veg out on the couch, there’s a bright spot of hope. A study in the journal Mindfulness found that mindfulness while washing dishes can reduce nervousness by a significant degree while also stimulating the washer’s mind.

Here’s how to engage in mindful dishwashing, according to researchers.

  • Focus on the aroma of the soap you’re using to wash the dishes. Presumably, this means that selecting a dish soap with a scent you like will enhance your ability to enjoy this task.
  • Use your sense of touch to feel the shape of each dish, glass, pot, pan or piece of silverware as you wash it. Instead of numbing out and trying to avoid the sensation, go with it. Recognize that each item has a unique purpose —and touching it reinforces the benefit of being able to make use of it.
  • Use washing dishes as a form of therapeutic meditation. Everyone has dirty dishes that need cleaning. There’s no getting around that. Even if you use the dishwasher, there’s still the pre-cleaning and scraping off of excess food that needs to take place. Consider the act of washing (or pre-cleaning) dishes as a very basic way to accrue the benefits of meditation. Be conscious and aware of what you’re doing. Be in the moment. Calm your mind and center your thoughts. Enjoy the respite from everything else clamoring for your attention. Take comfort in the bubbles and sparkly clean dishes as you complete your task.
  • One added benefit is that you’re cleansing your mind at the same time as you’re accomplishing the dishwashing chore.

Leaf-Raking, Snow-Blowing and Being Mindful

When it comes to the outdoors and common seasonal duties that may get on your nerves, how about using mindfulness when you have to rake the leaves in the yard or blow snow off the driveway and sidewalks of your home? There’s a certain innate sense of nature’s bounty — OK, too many leaves and way too much snow for your liking is perhaps the inevitable first thought — that you can and should acknowledge. These tasks — raking leaves and clearing the snow — remind you of the differences in the seasons and the beauty of nature. This in itself can bring you back down to earth, center you in the present, and allow your mind respite from all the pressing demands and duties you encounter on a daily basis.

As for how to be mindful while leaf-raking or snow-blowing, consider these tips:

  • Celebrate the fact that you’re alive and present and able to be in nature.
  • Take in the unique seasonal scents, sounds and textures — the smell of the fallen leaves, the crispness of the snow, the whisper or gusts of wind, the silence that surrounds you after a deep blanket of snow.
  • Breathe deeply as you take in the activity you are about to begin. Fill yourself with the knowledge that you are doing something that requires your attention while also allowing you the opportunity to be mindful while doing it.
  • Stay with the action, really attuning yourself to each motion — lifting the rake, combing the leaves with the tines, gathering accumulated piles of leaves, thrusting the snow shovel into snow, trailing the shovel down the driveway or walk, creating a mound of snow alongside the driveway. This is being in the here and now, focusing your attention on what you are doing at the moment.
  • Breathe deeply as you work through the task at hand. Your body and your mind need the oxygen — which also helps restore a sense of calm and well-being.

Organizing Closets, Cleaning the Garage and More — While Being Mindful

Who doesn’t dread the occasional and time-consuming projects involving organizing closets, cleaning out the garage or basement, or tidying up the children’s bedrooms? Even if you tackle this only on rare occasions, it can be a chore you put off as long as you possibly can. There is a better way, however, and that involves being mindful while you get to work.

Why not just plow through the task? What’s the benefit of being mindful in the process? Consider these factors and maybe you’ll change your mind.

  • When you’re mindful, the time will fly faster than if you occupy your mind with how detestable you find the task. Mindfulness, with respect to tasks and chores such as closet reorganization, garage clean-out and straightening up the kids’ domains, means you focus your attention on the moment, wiping out extraneous thoughts, allowing yourself to acknowledge that distractions may seek to claim your attention, breathing deeply and then continuing the action you’ve begun. Before you know it, you’ll be done. That surely beats glancing at the clock every two minutes and wishing this job was finished.
  • Think how satisfied you’ll feel once you’ve accomplished this task. Visualize the space you’ll reap from the newly organized closet, the swept and cleaned-out garage or basement, and the seemingly new and much larger kids’ room. Outside of being cleaner, your home will also feel just a little bit bigger without all that clutter.
  • Separate the job into sections that you can tackle more easily rather than diving in all at once. With a planned route of action in mind, you can fully focus on the motion of doing the work. As with other everyday tasks, use all your senses to take in the textures, shapes, sizes and colors of the items you’re working with. Play soothing music if it helps you stay in the present. Burn a scented candle or place a room freshener device in the area.

Now that you’ve seen how to incorporate mindfulness into everyday tasks, whatever you need to do on a regular (or even infrequent) basis that you’d normally want to avoid, it’s a little less burdensome and a lot more beneficial. For those in recovery — and their family members — being a little more mindful in everything you do pays handsome dividends and costs nothing. And the best part is you can do this anywhere, anytime. Be mindful, be present and get a lot more accomplished.

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