By Leo Babauta

Once you’ve started doing the habit each day, the next most important skill is doing the habit mindfully.

Why is mindfulness important? Well, a few good reasons:

First, many people do their habit by rushing through it, just trying to get it done. If you are exercising, for example, you might want to do it quickly and get on with your email or other tasks. This is a mistake, because then the habit feels like another chore you have to finish, something to be completed but not enjoyed. You don’t look forward to doing it, then, and eventually you’ll procrastinate.

Second, you learn more about the habit when you’re mindful. If you mindlessly do a habit, you’re not giving it any thought or focus, and you’re not paying attention to the details of the habit or how you’re doing it. You don’t learn as much this way. If instead, you pay attention, you’ll notice little things that you’re doing, you’ll notice your mind’s urges and rationalizations and resistance, and you’ll see where you make missteps. This is a much better way to learn.

Third, you can make the habit the reward. If you pay close attention, you can actually enjoy the habit more, because you’ll start to appreciate little things about it. For example, when I run, I can appreciate my surroundings, how great my body is starting to feel, the quietness of not being connected to the computer, the solitude of my thoughts. This makes the running a treat. Any activity can have the same kind of quality of enjoyment if you mindfully pay attention.

How to Mindfully Do Your Habit

As you start your habit, take a breath, and pay attention to the breath as it comes in and goes out.

Now do the activity (yoga, stretching, writing, drawing), and pay attention to your movements and to your body as it moves. Feel your hand on the ground (for yoga) or on the pencil (for drawing), feel your feet touching the ground if you’re walking, feel your arms or legs moving, feel your chest rise and fall as you breathe.

Notice also your surroundings: the wind, the temperature of the air, the look of the ground, the room around you, the quality of the light, nature, people, sounds. Notice as much as possible, and appreciate these things in your life.

Try to keep your attention on your breath, your body, your movements and your surroundings. But when your attention inevitably wanders to other thoughts … that’s OK. Try to notice this wandering when it happens, and don’t judge the wandering thoughts. See what thoughts are coming up. Are you worried about something? Confused? Wanting to quit what you’re doing? Rationalizing something? Do you have an urge to check on something? These are all OK — just notice them.

See your thoughts, your body, your surroundings, and appreciate what you can about each one.

And don’t forget to smile.