Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mindlessness vs. Mindfulness: The Battle Continues

Lately I have been making a serious attempt to try to be more mindful in my life. I am actively seeking inner peace (of course, who isn't?) and I have come to the conclusion that mindfulness is the cornerstone in achieving a more peaceful existence.

But in this quest I am quickly learning that being mindful can be quite challenging, especially for a chronic multi-tasker like myself. Some days I find mindfulness to be downright impossible. I spend a lot of time "trying to be efficient" and "making the best use of my time" and while all of this efficiency and time-saving is happening in my life, I am not paying attention to the beautiful world around me or the amazing people I am surrounded by.

I am a well-oiled machine. I get stuff done. I often get many things done at one time and I do them well. For this reason I am an excellent employee and I am great at managing my household. But I don't take a lot of time to smell the flowers or feel the sunshine. I don't even take a lunch break at work on most days.

Well, who has time with all of this efficiency going on?

Multi-tasking aside, there are also other ways that I go through life "mindlessly". How many times have you driven somewhere and then not remembered how you got there? Happens to me a lot. More times than not I allow my brain to "zone out" during routine tasks instead of being present in the moment. Doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, folding laundry...these are all things I do while my brain goes into auto-pilot.

Every moment in life is precious, even those that are routine and boring. And quite honestly, life is too damn short to be "zoning out" and not paying attention to the world around me!

I have also noticed how mindlessness has actually become a habit for me. I have been having some issues with my iPhone this week. I won't get into the boring details but the issues I am experiencing are causing me to have to keep my phone switched off for a couple of days. In doing so, I have become acutely aware of how mindlessly and routinely I pick up my smart phone.

The first day I had my phone switched off, I think I reached for it about a half a dozen times before remembering that I couldn't use it. Sometimes I was reaching for it to deliberately send someone a text message or to check my e-mail, but mostly I was reaching for it without an actual purpose. I was literally picking up my phone without even thinking about it - several times in one day.

Interestingly enough, the technology that was designed to bring people closer together (social media, text messages, e-mail) has given people more opportunities to isolate and avoid those around them.

Technology has given me a tool to disengage.

I'll be honest: if I am in an awkward situation where I feel uncomfortable or if I am alone and feeling bored, I will use my smart phone as a source of comfort. I can browse Facebook, check to see if anyone has sent me a text message, flip through my photo album, catch up on e-mail, or just stare down at the blank screen if it suits me. Something about having that little device to focus on always seems to relieve me of mental discomfort.

I have used my smart phone for comfort so often in the last 5 years that now the mindless scrolling, browsing, and texting has become a habit. A bad habit. And it has gotten so bad that this mindlessness has seeped into every day life - if I am sitting in the car with my family or at a restaurant with my husband or even at the movies with a friend, I have to consciously stop myself from grabbing my iPhone. I am embarrassed to say that it actually takes effort for me to remain engaged most of the time.

Why does my brain want to disengage from my surroundings? Why is it so hard for me to remain present in the moment?

I am working on finding the answers to these questions. I am also working on finding new ways to be mindful and I am doing so in teeny tiny baby steps:

  • When driving in my car I sometimes drive in silence or take a different route to a familiar destination. I change up my routine a little and I have noticed that I pay more attention when I take away the opportunity to "zone out". 
  • When I arrive home from work I turn off my smart phone until I put my kids to bed. This gives me a chance to sit and have dinner with my family and to spend some quality time with my kids for a few hours without the temptation to be mindless. 
  • At work I have started taking a lunch break each day and when I do I go for a walk outside, even when it's cold. This gives me a break from my desk/workload, it gets me outside with nature, and removes the opportunity to mindlessly zone out on Facebook or something else online for an hour. Plus, by giving my brain a break from technology and allowing my body to get some fresh air, I return to work after lunch feeling refreshed and more energized.

I still have a long way to go in the battle of mindlessness versus mindfulness. But if I can spend a little time each day staying engaged and present in the moment, then I am that much closer to finding inner peace.

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