14th February, 2014
I pulled into the car park, switched off the ignition and reached across for my bag on the passenger sitting seat beside me. It was 7.00am and I had just arrived at work. I definitely needed a coffee. A skinny latte with two sugars to be exact. I walked across to the little cafe that sits underneath our office building. Jaz, the owner smiled at me as I walked through the door and started to make my usual. I leant against the counter and fished out my phone, checking my face book feed for anyone I knew who may be awake already. Jaz and I swapped money for coffee in a well rehearsed dance. “Have a lovely day!” we both said in unison, as I wandered out the door balancing my coffee and overstuffed work bags.
It wasn’t until I swiped my security card at the front door that I realised what I had done.
As I wandered through the office, turning on the lights, the photocopier, my computer, the kettle and the air conditioner, I wondered how it was at all possible that I had driven for over 45 minutes in semi-peak hour, without thinking. I literally could not remember how I got to work, and I remembered nothing about the trip, until I had pulled into my car park across form Jaz’s cafe.
Of course it wasn’t the first time I had been functioning on automatic pilot. There have been many times I have driven somewhere and not remembered the trip. Or other activities where I can barely remember what I did or what I may have said. Taking a shower in the morning, had somehow become an opportunity to go through my ‘to do’ list for the day ahead. I barely felt the water, and often forgot if I had shampooed my hair twice, or even put the conditioner in. Talking with my husband, and catching myself midway through the conversation having no idea what he just said ~ my mind had drifted off to some other random thought! I need to finish the washing. I’d better get the dishes stacked in the dish washer. Oh, I forgot to message my sister back about her son’s wedding…the list goes on.
I used to think that I just needed to get better at multitasking, but it turns out that that’s not quite the way to go. Multitasking, once the jewel in our professional skill set, is just a way of doing a ridiculous number of tasks at the same time, and none of them very well.
The recent research on mindfulness, has uncovered that it is much better to focus on one task at a time, and do each task well. Interestingly, this is better for not only our frazzled minds trying to squeeze as many thoughts per second into our heads, it is also much better for our physical health, and surprisingly has a direct impact on the length of our lives.
Dr Craig Hassed, from the Department of General Practitioners, and a leading researcher at Monash University in Melbourne, speaks at length about the importance of mindfulness on our physical health and the impact on reducing ageing, and the risk of major disease and illness, such as heart disease. It’s worth checking out his work, because frankly there is no way in hell I could explain his, or his fellow researchers, amazing work. There’s much about the structure of our DNA and cells…and I’m not that kind of cool scientific girl.
However, the fact that mindfulness assist us to live happier and healthier lives, well, I’m on board with that. How could you not be?
One of the most simple activities you can integrate into your life is To be present in the moment that you are in. Focus on your breathing. Talk yourself through it if your mind keeps wandering off. “Breath in, now I am breathing in. Breathe out, now I am breathing out.” Feel your breath into your body and focus on what it feels like for your breath to exit your body. Connect your body to your breathing as you go, and feel the present moment. If you are in the shower, think about the water. Say to yourself, “Feel the water, focus on the water. Feel how amazing this hot water feels on my body.” As you wash yourself, focus on the smell of the soap, the way it lathers up between your hands. How soft does it feel on your skin? As you wash your hair, focus on the way the shampoo feels, the smell, the warmth of the water. If you find it difficult to stop your mind from wandering off, then talk yourself through the activity you want to be resent for. Feel the towel you wrap around your body as you step out of the shower or the bath. Feel the cool air on your skin. As you eat breakfast, focus on the food you are putting into your mouth. How good does it taste? How warm is your morning cup of coffee or how much does your fresh juice make your taste buds sing? Savour the moment you are in. Be present in your life.
Another way to re-train your wandering mind is through a mindfulness meditation exercise. This helps you to begin to use your mind in a different way and to again focus one thing at a time. It also helps us to focus on the things that are the most useful and helpful in our lives. There are a number of mindful meditation courses offered in community centre or on line that you can google.
However here are a few tips to get you started:
- Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than you need to get up so you have 15 minutes to focus on your breathing. Give yourself permission to lie in bed for 15 minutes and breathe. Remember to talk yourself through breathing in and out if you find your mind wandering off.
- Make a promise to yourself to be present for the people who move in and out of your world through your day. Remember to look them in the eye. Focus on what they are saying to you. Suspend your own thoughts and answers and truly listen to what the other person is saying. Repeat back to them what they have said so you are sure that you are listening correctly.
- Experience your life as it is happening. We often only truly experience things when they are special events, such as a wedding, a birthday, a public speaking presentation. We focus because we don’t want to miss anything, or we are anxious about what we are about to do, so our mind becomes hyper vigilant and you can feel every cell in your body as if they are all focussed and standing to attention! So much can occur in our daily life that is just as extraordinary, beautiful and important, but we miss it. We forget to stop and savour the moment that we are in because we have already sprinted ahead to the next item on our list. Stop! Breathe! Savour the moment. Feel that breeze on your face. Listen to the church bells. Smell the ocean on the sea breeze. Feel the warmth of the fire and the love of your partner as you snuggle together on the couch. Feel the exquisite sensation of the ocean on your skin as you take swim in the heat of a late summer afternoon.
- Taste the food that you eat. Savour every mouth full. Imagine the work and effort that has gone into growing the food and preparing the food before you. Imagine the creativity that has gone into cooking the meal that you are eating. Breathe in the care and the love. Be grateful for the effort that someone else has gone to so that you can eat this meal right now. Be grateful that this food has been grown in the first place, and thankful that you can nourish your body with this amazing produce.
- Imagine that you are feeding each little cell in your body, caring for them, so they can care for you. Remember that your cells, every single one of them responds to how you feel, not just the food you provide. If you feel stressed, they all feel stressed too. If you are angry or unhappy, they are angry or unhappy too. They only care about you, a bit like your own personal entourage! Make sure that you tell them that you love them. Breathe and focus on each and every cell in your body and let them know how beautiful they are!
- Be present for every activity in your day. Feel your feet on the floor, or the grass. Breathe. Focus on how you feel when you brush your hair. Breathe. When you shake hands with someone. When you read a story book to a child. When you type up an email. When you kiss your partner. Breathe. Focus. Be completely present and mindful of your life.
- At the end of the day, before you go to sleep, focus on your breathing again. Let the thoughts and stresses of the day go, and focus on your breath, paying particular attention to how your breath feels as you breathe in and out.
Finally, being more mindful is about improving your concentration, your mental health and your wellbeing. It’s also about physically improving your health and increasing your life expectancy. More than anything it’s about becoming present and experiencing the moment of time that you are actually in, LIVING your life and enjoying it!
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
― Mae West