In a culture where life is often lived digitally, mindfulness matters.
While our brains are increasingly adept at sensing fake news or deciphering complex texts based on emojis, increasingly we struggle to orient ourselves to more physical, embodied, aspects of the world. Mindfulness is one way to train your brain to be present in the physical world of sensory experience.
Research shows that mindfulness physically changes our brain in ways that help learning, memory, and emotional regulation (check out this study on the National Institutes of Health for more information). Regular mindfulness practices also soothe anxiety, increase gratitude, and can improve relationships. (One study even found that therapists – who rely on relational connections as part of our work – who consistently practice mindfulness have improved therapeutic outcomes, regardless of their method of therapy.)
How Can A Mindfulness Worksheet Help?
This worksheet can be used as an easy end-of-the-day reflective exercise to allow you a few moments to slow down and process a bit of what your mind and body experienced during the day. Sensory experience (noticing sights, smells, tastes, etc) is a big part of growing mindfulness. My hope is that through the habit of using this worksheet, you might begin to mindfully take note of sensory experiences throughout your day.
The bullet journal style model for capturing main points without a lot of writing works perfectly for this worksheet. Long format journaling can have major mental health benefits, but for the purpose of cultivating a practice of awareness and noticing in your daily life, a pared-down form of journalling helps create a habit that hopefully triggers a growing, internalized, practice.
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How to Use This Worksheet
As you complete this layout, take a few moments to remember and notice the sensory feelings you had this day and the experiences surrounding them. This is the most important part so I’ll say it again: mindfulness is in the remembering, processing, and feeling of the experience, not in the process of tracking and recording on paper. Take time to re-experience these moments of your day. For example: For “Hearing,” think: What was the noise? When did I first notice? What did I feel about that sound? Did I strain to hear or was it so loud it was all I was aware of?
If you can’t think of anything for any of the senses, check-in with yourself and your body as you fill out the worksheet. What does the sound of your pen on paper sound like? What’s the texture of the paper, or the smell in the air right now? Mindfulness can be found and practiced in every moment – not just the parts of your day that stand out.
Instead of a label on each and every line, this layout uses a color-key that you get to color yourself to identify which entry is which sense. You can use colored pens or write in black with a highlight color behind to designate.
Including a Sixth Sense
It’s optional, but I recommend including a 6th sense: “knowing” or intuition.
Human have an ability to read our environment (sensing safe or unsafe before obvious cues present themselves) and sense things about people (such as their emotional state). If we pay attention, this sense helps keeps us safe and helps us to know how to care well for others. When we don’t pay attention, we can dull to the voice of intuition, and potentially find ourselves in relationships and situations that harm us. Most of us don’t pay attention to our intuition – we were taught long ago to ignore our body’s cues and to “be nice” instead of practicing reading a situation well and trusting our instinct.
Practicing a habit of naming and honoring a time each day that you intuitively read a person or situation correctly can improve your sensitivity and trust in your own intuition – and trusting your intuition can save your life.
Is Mindfulness Really Worth Journaling About?
Critics call the mindfulness movement a veiled excuse to “dumb down” culture via adult coloring books, but the research doesn’t back that argument up. Habits of mindfulness have been linked to development in the hippocampus region of adult brains, an area of the brain which is important in learning, memory and emotional regulation.
It’s worth noting, however, even as the fad of adult coloring books recedes, that there is a big, big difference in “coloring” and mindfulness. Doing the activity of coloring is not, in itself, a mindfulness practice, but is a way many adults find it helpful to slow their mind to move into a space of mindfulness. Coloring as a distraction from life or a way to “check out” after a long day may have its benefits, but is not mindfulness. Mindful coloring means slowing down and taking time to be aware of all five senses, notice what you are sensing, and letting what you notice pass in and out of your awareness without judgment.
For many people, mindfulness without an activity can be overwhelming. In my professional work, I never ask a trauma survivor to enter mindfulness by opening their mind wide to any thoughts or sensations – for people with PTSD this can feel like opening the door and rolling out the red carpet for already intrusive thoughts and sensations to flood the brain. Instead, I invite participants to do an activity – usually coloring – and engage their senses around the act of transferring color onto a blank page.