This year I made only two New Year’s resolutions. But, boy, will they be hard to work on. The first one is to achieve a less busy mind. What do I mean by that?
When you think about your lifestyle in this day and age, it is hard not to perceive it as busy. Whatever is your job, if you have family or not, if you are a student, employee or self-employed, you are busy! We are trapped in between work or professional requirements and those of family and friends, and often; our ambitions and self-imposed pressures add oil to fire. No wonder why most of us feel overwhelmed most of the time. I think it is almost a miracle to find a person who would not suffer from anxiety, sleep deprivation and/or other types of psychological challenges (me included). Being busy is becoming a glorified lifestyle: she/he who is not busy is lazy, missing out on life, or both.
In the past few years with development of smart phones, tablets and commonly accessible 3G and wi-fi networks, the “burden” of being constantly connected is adding to the already substantial levels of stress and busyness. While having a constant internet connection can be very convenient and helpful, and at times, even lifesaving, for most people it is a form of distraction and pass time.
Have you noticed that people can no longer be just waiting without doing something? Whether it’s at the clinic, in public transport, or at airports, the majority of in-transit people have their heads bent downwards looking towards their smartphones. I plead guilty of this too. Lately I am becoming very aware of this habit many of us have, and I am increasingly noticing it everywhere I go. In many places around town, it is very common to see friends sitting together in a coffee shop but instead of talking to each other, they are staring into their phones.
For me personally, internet has become a double edge sword. I use it for studying, acquiring knowledge, keeping up with the latest research in nutrition and eating psychology, buying books, keeping in touch with family and friends in Slovakia and even with the local community… What bothers me is that I feel I am getting addicted to it. The vast amount of available information, the ease of access, and the fact that I have a medium to communicate with the world at large from a small handheld device have all got me stuck on it. While at first, like any novelty, I quite enjoyed the fact of being connected and communicating with others through text and emails, in more recent times I am finding that I do not like it that much anymore. I find that this whole “being connected thing” is stressing me out; making me feel constantly stimulated, and leaving me feeling overwhelmed. My mind is like the white hare from Alice in Wonderland, who runs around constantly complaining about how late he is. Whereas what I really want is to become that wise caterpillar, who is just chilling out; observing the world and puffing out clouds of blue smoke.
Now how can anyone achieve that?
The first step to any inner transformation is to become aware of what is happening and whether it works for you or not. It is like going to your first AA meeting – and am not saying you necessarily have been to one – and saying “My name is… and I am an addict.”
The urge to be constantly busy – whether busy doing something or just busy being online – takes attention from what is inside you: your true self, and presents you with attractive distractions. If there is always something to do and somewhere to go, you do not have time to be with yourself. So, by creating a busy environment around us; for example, by having the TV on all the time, by always keeping the radio on at home or in the car, by chatting through smartphones, or by constantly checking your Facebook page, you are avoiding your best friend: YOU!
Development of social technology has another drawback – multitasking. We continuously force our brains to switch between multitudes of tasks. There is a good amount of research done on multitasking and scientists agree on the fact that it makes us less efficient and has harmful effects on brain function. Research also says that human brain can handle tackling only two tasks at the same time. So if you are writing a paper, listening to music and texting with a friend at the same time, your brain is overloaded. If you multitask, you do everything less well and you stress yourself out. Not so much of a good thing to do after all.
Sometimes I really miss my pre-internet era self. I have a distinct memory of how I was without my iPhone. I had to remember appointments and addresses. I had to memorize directions and occasionally even ask a random person on the street how to arrive to my desired destination. I had to write down my shopping list on a piece of paper. If I did not want to carry a book with me I had nothing to read while waiting. No music, no chatting, “liking”, posting or commenting on posts, and no taking “happy snappy” photos (that result in having many duplicates of the same shot). I could not google everything right when and where I wanted to search for something. Don’t you also find it really annoying when somebody takes out his or her phone in the middle of conversation you were having, to google some fact that you were talking or arguing about? I want my old self back, my old brain back. I want back my mono-tasking, focused, “old fashioned” self.
Every resolution needs an action plan. So, since I’m yearning for a peaceful and focused mind, here’s how I plan to achieve it:
Exercise. Personally, CrossFit and Yoga are my choices. Yoga especially helps me to be connected to my body, be more aware of pain, and teaches me how to disassociate myself from that pain. As our Yoga teacher says: “observe the pain”.
Close Facebook and Twitter applications on your phone and computer.
Check emails and other social networks only twice per day at dedicated times (unless there is an emergency or you are expecting a very important message).
Meditate. I know, this old-new “boring” advice appears everywhere. But there is a reason why all spiritual teachers advice meditation. It has an opposite effect on our brain than multitasking. Here are few benefits of meditation: better focus, less anxiety, more creativity, more compassion, better memory, less stress, more grey matter. (Reference link). There are many different types of meditation so everybody can select one that seems the most appealing. I chose mindfulness meditation and the Presence Process. You can read about various types of meditation here .
Practice an activity. Imagine there were no TV and/or internet. All the time wasted on social media and watching senseless shows would be yours. You can learn to play an instrument, play board games with your friends, do cross stitching, knitting, gardening, painting, writing, reading a novel, playing chess, solving Sudoku, crosswords and/or many more. Concentrating on an activity is also a form of meditation as it promotes relaxation and gives you joy of creating something nice and tangible. I love when my mother-in-law takes out her stitch works. She is in her 70’s now, in her young days they would get together with her friends to stitch and chat.
Practice mindful eating. As an eating psychology coach I advice people that are trying to lose weight or are dealing with emotional eating to stop multitasking while eating. It is very helpful to sit with your food and pay attention to it. This is a great way how to strengthen connection between your mind and body. Your brain will sense satisfaction sooner and you will not tend to overeat. Moreover; focusing fully on your meal gives you a sense of nourishment. I usually practice mindful eating but there are times I do not. I am making a promise to myself to focus more on it.
I know you are wondering what my second New Year’s resolution is. Well, it is to be less judgmental and more curious. But that is a completely different challenge that warrants a completely separate topic.