Can the Way You Wash Dishes Improve Your Life?

By Claire Welshe

When was the last time you looked at your empty coffee mug and realised you had no recollection of drinking it?  Perhaps you even wondered if someone else drank it…. until you realised you were the only one at home!

It’s easy to go into “automatic pilot” when we’re at home, completing daily chores routinely while our minds run away with worries… such as; who you will talk to at your friend’s party tonight or whether your presentation at work yesterday was good enough.  The next thing you know, you feel so stressed that you just want to run away and hide under the doona of your unmade bed.

Believe it or not, approaching domestic chores in a deliberate, mindful way can help you manage your stress levels.

Start by choosing an activity that you do every day, say washing the dishes, and consciously set this daily task as a reminder to do some mindfulness practice.  Start simply, perhaps just by noticing the sounds made by bowls and cutlery clinking together in the sink.  Then notice how the warm suds against your hands contrast the cool evening air on your shoulders.  Smell the lemony scent of detergent mixed with the remnant cooking smells of the meal you just enjoyed.  Notice the rainbow of colours reflected off the tiny, glistening soap bubbles.  Move the dishcloth slowly and deliberately, enjoying the satisfaction of seeing a grimy bowl transform into a sparkling dish, occasionally slow-dripping clear water droplets as it dries.   When you notice your mind starting to wander away, gently bring your attention back to the dishes.  Focus solely on the task.  Don’t stop until you’re done.

Even doing a small mindfulness practise, such as the one described above, can train your mind to bring your attention and awareness under voluntary control, rather than on “automatic pilot”, when we let our minds run away with its endless list of worries.  Mindfulness simply involves moment to moment awareness of your experience, without judgement.  Despite being a simple concept to describe, mindfulness can sometimes be difficult to put into practise, especially when we have developed a habit of focussing attention on worries about the future and rumination of the past instead of what is happening right here, right now.  To help train your brain in this skill, choose an activity that you know you will perform every day and use it to serve as a daily reminder to flex your mindfulness muscle.  It can be having a shower, drinking your morning coffee, folding laundry or cooking the evening meal.

Choose one thing to start with, practice it every day if you can, and notice the greater sense of mental wellbeing, improved working memory, reduced stress, improved focus, reduced emotional reactivity and greater flexibility in your thinking that will start to follow.  The more you practice, the better you get!

Who knew that washing dishes could improve your life so much!

Claire Welshe

Claire Welshe

Mental Health Occupational Therapist & ACT therapist

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