Washing those dreadful dishes after a long day seems like the furthest thing from relaxation. Or is it? Student and faculty researchers at Florida State University have found that mindfully washing dishes calms the mind and decreases stress.
Published in the journal Mindfulness,the study looked at whether washing dishes could be used as an informal contemplative practice that promotes a positive state of mindfulness — a meditative method of focusing attention on the emotions and thoughts of the present moment.
“I’ve had an interest in mindfulness for many years, both as a contemplative practitioner and a researcher,” said Adam Hanley, a doctoral candidate in FSU College of Education’s Counseling/School Psychology program and one of the study’s authors. “I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being.”
After conducting a study with 51 students, the researchers found that mindful dishwashers — those who focused on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water, the feel of the dishes — reported a decrease in nervousness by 27 percent and an increase in mental inspiration by 25 percent. The control group, on the other hand, didn’t experience any benefits.
The research team also included Alia Warner and Vincent Delhili, doctoral candidates at Florida State; Angela Canto, assistant professor at Florida State; and Eric Garland, associate professor at University of Utah.
Source: Florida State University
I also asked Adam a few questions by email in preparation for my spot with Tony Delroy. Here are his responses:
Thanks for your interest in the dishwashing study and that is exciting that the study may get some airplay in Australia. My responses are below and if you would like some further clarification I would be happy to try again.
Is dishwashing likely to be easier to do mindfully than say gardening – or walking?
I hesitate to say that any practice type is easier. I think certain practice types resonate with certain people. Since the study, a number of people have talked about how they’ve always experienced dishwashing as meditative. Comparatively, a friend’s dad has mentioned gardening as his preferred practice and another friend naturally gravitates to walking meditation. I think the beauty of informal practice is that there are seemingly endless ways to practice and everyone can tailor their practice to best meet their needs, engaging in activities that feel naturally meditative as well as previously identified unpleasurable tasks.
Can I offer our listeners any suggestions on how they might make dish washing less of a chore and more mindful – what do you think the critical instructions on mindfulness were for your subjects?
We adapted our instructions from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness:
“. . . while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. The fact that I am standing there and washing is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves. If while washing dishes, we think only of what we would rather do, hurrying to finish the dishes as if they were a nuisance, then we . . . are sucked away into the future—and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
It has also been suggested that approaching dishwashing mindfully may also be experienced as a compassionate act of nurturance for the self and others. Cleaning as an act of service and loving-kindness.
Repetitive silent activities have long been thought to help with creativity – do you have a view on that?
I am not familiar with the literature on mindfulness and creativity directly. However, mindfulness is believed to relax habitual cognitive patterns and biases (e.g., disrupt that “autopilot” sensation), reducing reflexive or reactive thoughts. Less reflexivity appears to be consistent with more flexible responding, and this flexibility may be experienced as creativity. The tendency of mindfulness practice to encourage awareness of the present moment, disengaging from thoughts of the past or plans for the future, may also afford the psychological space for greater spontaneity. Less rumination and worry would likely allow for more creativity.
Hope this message finds you well and thanks again for reaching out.