Tips to practice mindfulness – from my dog

So I may have an entire module on the neuroscience of mindfulness as part of my Masters in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health, but the interesting thing is that I’ve learned so many tips from my dog.

He’s a nine and half year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Buster, and he’s definitely a lot prettier than he is smart, so I’m fairly sure he wasn’t consciously teaching me these tips. He is my first dog and I certainly never understood how much joy a dog can bring until I was lucky enough that he picked me to be his mum. And I certainly couldn’t give birth to anything that cute so he’s definitely my baby.

So here are a few mindfulness tips I’ve become better at over the years thanks to my little Buster:

Get excited by the little things: #crushinglife

Ever since he was a puppy, people have always commented on just how excited Buster is to be alive. When he’s out for a walk he’s excited by everything. It could be a leaf that falls on the ground in front of him or if someone stops to give him a pat or cuddle (he does kind of ask for cuddles).

At Next Evolution Performance, we call this #crushinglife. The neuroscience (of which I’m pretty sure Buster isn’t completely aware) behind this is that the brain can’t distinguish between something like winning the lottery and getting a great carpark, so if you choose to get super excited by the great carpark, or running into a great friend (even if they don’t give you cuddles on the street), your brain creates the same positive neural pathways as though you have just won the lottery.

So try getting excited by the little things every day and see how your perspective changes…!

Notice everything

Further to #crushinglife,  in order to get excited by the little things, we need to notice the little things first, in fact, just watching how Buster notices every little detail that’s right in front of him has really taught me a lot about being super present and noticing my surroundings.

How often do you walk the same street and make an effort to notice something different each time? Try it and see how “in the moment” you feel. In that very second, you may realise you really have nothing to worry about.

Engage all of your senses

When we are out for a walk, Buster uses all of his senses. He’s looking right in front of him and if he thinks something is edible he’ll try to taste it. If he hears a noise, he will turn to see what it is, or maybe it’s the sound of the traffic lights that tells him it’s time to cross the road. When someone stops to pat him he leans in and is relishing every moment of that person’s touch.

How often do you actively engage all of your senses while you are walking or sitting quietly? Ok maybe we don’t try to solicit pats on the street but hey – whatever works for you!

Smile at others

When Buster is out for a walk, it’s almost like he’s smiling, and so many people smile and him and me as part of the reaction. I now try be conscious about walking with a smile too. It’s amazing how many people smile at you when you have a cute dog, or when you smile at them – and I’m pretty sure a net increase in worldwide smiling can only be a good thing.

Nothing else matters other than what’s going on right now

And probably most importantly, Buster’s not thinking about what he was doing 10 minutes ago or what he’ll be doing in the next 10 minutes. That exact moment in time is the only thing that’s important right now and he relishes every second as it comes. He’s certainly taught me to break life down into a series of moments instead of just one destination.

Life is short so be grateful for all the moments

I’m fully aware that Buster won’t be around for the rest of my life, one day I will need to adjust to life without him – a thought which brings tears to my eyes. And the same can be said for our human loved ones. So don’t take any moment for granted, be mindful to relish every single moment. So let’s put down our phones for a while to be mindful to enjoy the moments that make up this life.