Busy, busy, busy! We’re all so very busy! We’re on conference calls while driving. Folding laundry while watching TV. Interacting with the kids while making dinner. Replying to texts and emails while on line at the supermarket. We’re doing it all! We’re juggling! We’re multitasking! We’re getting it all done! Or are we?
Though doing multiple things at once may seem like a normal — even practical — approach to managing a busy life, this relentless task-juggling is taking a toll on our well-being. In fact, it’s not actually improving our productivity either. Studies show that dividing our attention can overload the brain and reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent! And we all know that when it comes to dialing or texting while driving, the repercussions can have fatal consequences, too.
Your brain cannot actually multitask.
Despite what many of us have been led to believe, researchers have found that it’s actually impossible to fully focus on more than one task at a time – our minds just don’t work like that. So, instead of burdening your brain by attempting to do way too much all at once, combat the crazy that constant (hyper) activity brings by learning to practice mindfulness.
Leave juggling to circus professionals.
The phrase ‘mindfulness’ may call to mind something spiritual. But in my own life, and for most of my patients, mindfulness is a more agnostic practice. For us, it’s simply a healthy, practical antidote to the frantic busyness of multitasking that’s become the exhausting default setting of modern life. Mindfulness is about mono, rather than multitasking. In simplest terms, mindfulness can be defined as “clear awareness” or “genuine presence.” Think of it as a way off the multitasking merry-go-round. When you are mindful, you are fully in the here and now, keenly aware of your mind, body, and environment.
Embrace the art of ‘monotasking.’
Mindfulness is a moment-by-moment practice that you can implement any time of the day or night and during any activity (or non-activity). If you’re washing the dishes mindfully, you are doing nothing more than washing dishes. You’re feeling the warm, soapy water running between your fingers, noticing the weight of the plates and glasses in your hands. You’re not daydreaming about what you’re going to do this weekend or running through your to-do list in your head. You’re fully engaged in that one thing you’re currently doing. Can’t quite recall what monotasking feels like? Think about the experience of playing with a young child, or meeting with a valued colleague at work, or reading a good book. That’s the type of engagement – and mindfulness – to strive for.
Soothe your over-revved brain.
When you implement mindfulness, you are fully engaged in whatever you are doing. Cultivating this skill will help to reduce brain overload and actually help you tackle each task with more efficiency by training your brain to focus on doing one thing really well. Granted, our digital lifestyles encourage anything but focus. But mindfulness (or monotasking) gives your brain the opportunity to calm down and operate at a more relaxed pace, instead of being perpetually ‘on’ and hyped up.
Be here now – and cool it on the selfies.
In this era of non-stop selfies, status updates and constant connection, it is extraordinarily difficult to remain present and fully participate in what’s happening right in front of you. Consequently, most of us wind up with one foot outside of our experiences: posting photos of friends instead of engaging with them, photographing meals instead of tasting and savoring them, and so on. Simply put, social media is the archenemy of the present moment. Every time you lower your eyes to your device, you’re essentially leaving the room, breaking the human connection and adding more tasks to your brain’s already overflowing list. On top of that, you have to come up with a clever caption, crop and filter your snaps, find the best hashtags and so on. Not very ‘insta,’ eh?
Be here now – to feel less stressed.
In choosing to be mindful, you create healthy boundaries by committing to doing just one thing at a time and, in so doing, giving yourself the gift of sinking into everything the present moment has to offer. There’s another bonus to this practice. With time, mindfulness helps you begin to develop clearer awareness of your inner experience, enabling you to more easily tame the emotions and urges which, when you’re under stress, can spur unhelpful actions like reaching for a sugary treat, an alcohol-laced drink, or cigarette. The awareness that comes with mindfulness is step one in loosening the grip of less-than-healthy behaviors that undermine your physical and mental well-being. With that newfound awareness, you can notice the craving but choose not to act on it. You can even notice the thoughts and beliefs surrounding the urge — like that you need that cookie or cigarette or social media post to calm down. You’ve created a small space to look at that belief and ask if it’s true, giving you more control over those undermining behaviors.
Practice makes perfect: Mindfulness 101.
Mindfulness is an ongoing practice, a moment-by-moment decision to be exactly where you are right now. You can choose to be mindful at any moment of your day. Simply follow your senses to quickly and easily click into mindfulness: What do you see, feel, taste, hear and smell in this exact moment?
To get started, try this simple mindfulness exercise:
- Sit comfortably in a chair.
- Feel your back, butt and thighs resting on the chair.
- Take a deep breath in, feel the expansion of your lungs.
- Hold your breath for a few seconds and breath out. Feel the movement of your chest.
- Take a few more breaths. Remember to notice the rise and fall of your breath — your pathway into presence.
Remember, when you’re tapped into your senses, you are mindful and present — so enjoy!