Bringing mindfulness to habits
Many of our ways of coping with the challenges of daily life seem like a good idea, but they turn out to be unhelpful. What happens when mindfulness meets multitasking, rushing, tensing, keeping up and keeping going?
Time is precious, so it makes sense to do as many things as you can at the same time … right? That’s an attitude our culture encourages, but if our attention is spread across several things, how fully can we take in any of them? And what effect does multi-tasking have on our state of mind? Research suggests that you don’t actually get more done by multi-tasking. It’s more efficient, as well as more satisfying, to give your full attention to whatever your doing so you can do it properly.
A mindful alternative: doing one thing at a time (at least when that’s possible).
2. Tensing Up
Perhaps your experience sometimes goes like this. You know it’s going to be a difficult conversation. You turn it over in your head beforehand. You think you’ve worked out what to say, but when it comes to it, you’re feeling tense. The other person responds badly and you tense up even more. You snap at them. This isn’t going well …
A mindful alternative: staying open to what’s happening. This means noticing tension whenever it arises and finding the space to be open to what the other person is saying, even if you don’t like it. Mindfulness practices can help.
3. Keeping Going When You Really Need to Stop
It’s late afternoon and you notice strain creeping into your work, but you’re on a roll so you just keep going. That evening you’re shattered and realize that the strain was actually much greater than you felt at the time.
A mindful alternative: pacing yourself. Pacing means slowing down or stopping before you want to. That can be a challenge, but the experience of running long distances or managing pain shows that if you pace yourself you can achieve much more.
Rushing happens when we’re so focused on a deadline that we prioritize speed over everything else. It can go like this: It’s morning and you’re trying to get yourself and the kids out of the house. You clean your teeth faster, eat your breakfast faster, talk faster. By the time you’re all on the road, you’ve had a couple of arguments and you’re rushing to work … and the day hasn’t really started yet.
A mindful alternative: getting off ‘autopilot’. It’s true that some things need to be done quickly, but bringing awareness to what’s happening interrupts the tendency to rush. We need cues to remind ourselves to get off autopilot and take things steadily.
5. Trying to keep up with what’s happening
So much of the information that comes at us through the mainstream and social media carries a hidden message: ‘It’s important that you keep up and stay in touch, otherwise you’ll be left behind.’ So we keep cramming more stimulation into our limited minds, squeezing out the space in which we might feel calm and spacious.
A mindful alternative: paying attention to what we take in through the senses and reducing input. Our attention is a precious commodity, we need to guard it carefully.