I’ve noticed lately that I’m having a harder time focusing for more than a short period of time. My brain is telling me that it needs some quiet time to rest and ponder issues. Unfortunately, my monkey mind doesn’t like the idea of sitting still and being “unproductive.”
My True Self is telling me that, by skimming over everything, I’m missing something – deeper meanings, real connections and more important messages.
Although my monkey mind continues screeching, my True Self is calm, whispering a little louder each day. I’ve learned the hard way (too many times than I’d like to admit) that ignoring the whispers of my True Self is not a wise idea. If they go unheeded, the whispers turn into yelling and, eventually, they hit me over the head until I listen.
With all the skimming and jumping around, my monkey mind feels good about “getting things done.” I can cross off the constant inflow of small to-do’s from my list. I’m programmed to think that, as long as I’m in motion being busy, it’s “productive” work.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. “Productive” isn’t always important.
We know that multi-tasking is a lie. There are all kinds of brain research out there that prove that we can’t do a bunch of things at once. Instead, we burn a ton of energy quickly switching between things. No wonder being “productive” is so exhausting. Our brains weren’t designed to do this for extended periods of time.
What’s a frazzled, over-worked, scattered and exhausted person supposed to do?
Pause. On a regular basis. For extended periods of time.
“What?!?!?!” my monkey mind screams. “Are you crazy?! You’ve got too much to do to just stop. You’ve got to keep charging ahead! You’ve got to stay busy! Look how much more is still to do on all of your lists!”
To which I respond, “Your inbox will be full on the day you die.” The inflow never stops and there’s nothing you can do about it.
What you can control is your response to it. You don’t have to let your monkey mind rule your life and burn you out.
You can learn to tune into your True Self that guides you towards what’s important to you in a sustainable way.
The Magic of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is an amazing tool to help you make the shift from a frantic life to a calm and enriching one.
You can’t change what you’re not aware of. Mindfulness is the practice of pausing in the moment and noticing, without judgment, what you’re doing, what’s going on in your mind, how you’re feeling and what’s happening around you.
When I catch myself stressing out about something, I go through the following steps:
- Say to myself, “You’re stressing”
- Take a few deep breaths
- Say, “Be here now”
- Notice that what I’m stressing about is something in the future that hasn’t happened
- Everything is perfect right here, right now
- Calmly come up with a plan to deal with what I’m stressing about
- Let it go.
You can’t have a simple life if you’re unwilling to let go of what you’re used to. ~Leo Babauta
Once you notice what you’re doing, thinking and feeling, you can pause to make new choices. Instead of following routines, you can choose to go in a different direction, take a different action and see what happens.
Instead of getting back on the figurative treadmill, you can choose to do one thing at a time and be fully present while you’re doing it.
Or you can choose to do nothing at all.
How I’ve Used Mindfulness To Get More Done
I used to keep my office door open all the time so that I can be “accessible” to anyone who might need me. Day after day I would get frustrated because I would spend the day helping others while never even starting the first thing on my own priority list.
Fortunately, with a little mindfulness and reflection, I realized that I didn’t need to be completely accessible to everyone all the time. I made a sign for my door that said: “Please do not disturb me. I’m focusing.” Initially, it got a few laughs but no one knocked or barged in. No one complained that I wasn’t accessible. It worked.
I had created the space I needed to focus on my priorities – one at a time.
Recently, I’ve felt frazzled with too much to do. Even after closing my door and putting up my “focusing” sign and completing things, my mind felt like it was short-circuiting. What did I do?
- Take some deep breaths.
- Notice the short-circuiting.
- Ask my True Self what it needs to feel better.
- Listen to what my True Self whispered.
- Act on what I heard as soon as I could.
This meant going home at the end of the day, sitting on my front porch with a glass of wine, looking at the trees and breathing deeply. I feel much better now.
Instead of pushing myself to do more, taking work home and ignoring my True Self – all of which would have made me more frazzled and cranky – I paused.
That pause doesn’t seem like much, but it’s all I needed to calm the frayed nerve endings and get my mind back together so I could be focused and energized when I got back to all the work that’s waiting for me.
It also helped me to realize that I have the ability to make the time to focus deeply on things that are important to me. I don’t have to listen to the screeches of my monkey mind telling me to hurry up and move on to the next thing or try to do ten things at once.
By prioritizing myself and pausing, I could give my mind, body and spirit – my True Self – what it needed to feel human again.
From plenty of personal experience, I know that pushing myself too hard for too long isn’t productive. It’s destructive on many levels.
With time and practice, I can hear my True Self whispering to me when I’m doing too much. I know that pausing is the most effective thing I can do to be more productive.
How do you tune into your True Self?
What do you do during your pause to re-energize yourself?
I just found my new favorite mindfulness app: Chill. It's just what I need in the middle of a hectic day to remind me that all is well in this moment and to simply breathe. You can set it to give you up to five reminders a day to be mindful like:
"Take a moment to think of someone you love. Feel that love inside you. Sit silently with that feeling for a moment."
"Feel the silence inside you. Feel how expansive that silence is. You're as vast as the sky."
"You are right here, right now. Don't let your thoughts tell you otherwise. Breathe in this moment."
Chill also provides beautiful daily quotes from Buddha, Lao Tzu and other Zen masters on a backdrop of a peaceful image. With a touch of a button you can also share these quotes via text, email and all the social sites. The app's curator is a Buddhist ordained in the tradition of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The quotes are based in Buddhist ideas of mindfulness but come from many traditions. They speak about the challenges we all face, and how to mindfully center ourselves in the midst of modern life.
It's free or $1.99 if you want to get rid of the little ads at the bottom. It works on iOS and Apple Watch. You can find out more or download the app HERE.
What if the only thing between you and the answers you're looking for is the right question? The kind of question that can instantly cut through years of confusion, is worth a thousand words of advice, connects you to the wisdom of your heart and unlocks the truth inside you.
What is the right question? You can find yours somewhere in your deck of Inquiry Cards.
Each Inquiry Card - each question - is an opening to insight, intuition, intention, integrity, inspiration, inner compass, introspection, instinct, inner vision, involvement, integration, innate intelligence, intimacy and infinite possibilities.
It all begins with Inquiry. Because the answers are inside you.
I am loving my deck of Inquiry Cards! I've been using them for the past couple months. They come with a beautiful wooden stand where you can place the card/question that you're focusing on. Simply seeing the card on the stand on my desk reminds me to pause, take a deep breath and spend a moment asking my True Self the question and being open to whatever answers arise.
Have you been trying to start or maintain a meditation practice but life keeps getting in the way? I'm there with you - and I found a solution: Daily Meditation Videos delivered to your inbox every morning. They've been gently nudging me each day to take just a few minutes in the middle of my day to stop and breathe. The creator has done the hard part of culling great guided meditation videos from YouTube and delivering them to you in a simple, beautifully designed email. All you have to do is click, listen, relax and breathe.
The Mindful Body program includes many ideas that you can use every day to avoid gaining extra weight while keeping your energy and spirits high. It’s also a great gift to share with the special people in your life.