The other day I was sitting down to lunch with a colleague of mine as she was complaining about the fact that lately, she doesn’t seem to be able to get as much work done as she used to, she nagged about all the distractions in her life. While we were having this conversation her phone was sitting face up on the table, pulling her attention away from me with every little ding and message that popped onto her screen. I didn’t need a notification to tell me what the problem was here. I was totally annoyed. She was in a state of distraction, and unease! Not good. I had to shake myself free from her chaos and hold my stress-free life vision, I certainly didn’t want my neurons to begin mirroring hers! After about ten minutes she slipped down in her chair, relaxing a bit, grabbed her phone and threw it in her bag. (It worked, my brainwork, my steady vision worked!)  I was locking her in and helping her become less distracted! 

The modern world is filled with technology that has made our lives so much easier, but has it? We can keep in touch with relatives from all over the world or use Google to find the answer to any question that pops into our head (I miss my encyclopaedias!). We no longer have to wonder where our loved ones are when they’re not standing by a landline because we can send them na instant text message (or in some cases, track their phones). Adrian tells me to ask Siri or Google it to find an answer, this is unnatural for me, I want a book, I want to thumb through something and struggle for a moment to find an answer.

Having so much information at our fingertips isn’t always such a good thing. Over time our brains are becoming more and more fragmented, finding it harder to concentrate on one task at a time and making distraction inevitable. Studies have shown that young adults tend to spend almost a third of their day in contact with their phone - almost as much time as we should be sleeping at night. Think about that, eight hours with their phone, it’s not natural. When I was growing up I wasn’t even shoved in front of a TV for more than two hours!

While our ability to be distracted was originally about survival - ensuring we weren’t so laser-focussed on our task that we were ambushed and eaten by a tiger/predator - these days our habit of jumping from stimuli to stimuli is stopping us from being able to concentrate on simple actions and tasks, like complete a letter or finish unloading the dishwasher all at once! I’m not saying social media is entirely to blame, but it definitely isn’t helping the situation at all. Every teeny alert pulls at me, robbing me from my focus.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the process of connecting to the present moment by focusing your attention on the experience of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations as they arise and pass. In mindfulness practices, the aim is to accept thoughts and feelings as they flit into your brain rather than seeking to control or avoid them.

Tax time wasn’t that long ago (sorry to dredge up those bad memories for you!) and since I was trying not to think about it, naturally that was all that would enter my brain. Every 3.5 seconds I’d find myself being distracted by thoughts of receipts or wondering what I did with all those documents that I was supposed to submit to the insurance company, and before long I wasn’t able to get anything done. When I took the time to meditate I found that these thoughts were occupying my mind because I was so stressed out about them, and what do you know, that just made me more stressed. Crazy!

Rather than keep trying to ignore it all I acknowledged that it was something important and made a plan for how I could move forward. I scheduled in time to focus on my taxes and to get everything ready and then I was able to move on with my life!

Mindfulness is like waiting at a train station. You can see the trains as they pull into the station, acknowledge how fast they’re going and their destination, or just watch them go by, but we don’t have to actually get carried away by the train. The key is to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings as they enter your brain but keep your feet on the platform (or at the very least, jump on the first available train back to where you started). You don’t have to keep going, it’s nice to simply sit on the platform and watch all the different lively people, coming and going!

How can mindfulness fight distraction?

Mindfulness is all about pulling our thoughts back to the current moment to experience what is happening in the present and allowing us to concentrate on what is important. It can be difficult to think about one thing at a time, our minds are racing and we’re constantly being pulled in different directions, so practicing pulling ourselves back from the distractions is the key to using mindfulness this way. I have to practice this everyday, it’s one of the first tools I begin to share with my clients in Bulletproof coaching, it’s also the most important and life changing!

While meditation and mindfulness might have its roots in Buddhist spiritual practices, contemporary psychology has adopted the practices as a method for increasing awareness and responding skillfully to mental processes that contribute to emotional distress and maladaptive behaviour. Meditation and mindfulness can help improve your ability to focus by helping your brain to manage its cognitive resources more efficiently by not outsourcing any of its jobs to other parts of the brain.

Since mindfulness techniques like meditation teach you to be in the moment, studies have shown that those who practice these techniques regularly demonstrate better sustained attention than those who don’t. Basically, you’re using meditation to train your brain to stick to the important tasks and downplay the effects of those crazy distractions, email alerts!

What are the positive effects of mindfulness?

You don’t need to dedicate your life or even the majority of your day to mindfulness to feel the benefits (although you might find yourself being more mindful without even noticing).

Mindfulness has been shown to help reduce feelings of stress, depression and anxiety, while also helping to increase positive feelings and emotional wellbeing. (Isn’t this reason enough to begin a practice? You would think… BUT NO…. not many people will sit and gain the benefits…) These feelings or emotional balance continue long after you’ve stopped meditating because you’ve increased your brain’s ability to recognise and react to negative stimuli such as your kids screaming at each other, or that deadline that hasn’t been met and even all this delightful technological distractions.

I have more good news for you, if you’re like me you might have days when you’re so tired you can barely keep your eyes open… a result of hormonal sleepless night. Well, meditation can also help to improve your sleep, slow cellular aging (because nothing ages us faster than being enveloped by negative emotions) and improve glycemic control thanks to meditation’s ability to help lower blood pressure and blood cortisol levels. Hello? Are you reading this? Paying attention? This is huge, at least it is for me. I hate to admit that I suffer from an ounce of vanity patrol, but since I began meditating, my skin has even changed and my vanity nag has fallen silent!

How can we start being more mindful?

It’s easy to get carried away with thoughts or our imagination which can also lead to us being distracted from the more important tasks at hand, but if we’re wanting to start being more productive we’re first going to have to be more mindful about our actions.

The best way to fight those feelings of distraction and improve our cognitive abilities is to bring an increased awareness to our actions and this can be achieved through mindfulness.

Here are 5 ways you can start being more mindful in your life to become more productive, effective and present:

1. Stop multitasking. One of my favorite sayings is it is better to do one thing well then lots of things poorly and that is how I feel about multi-tasking. To be honest, multi-tasking doesn’t actually work. What you’re doing is distracting yourself from other tasks and completing everything to a sub-par standard. JUST STOP! Don’t do anymore, stop fooling yourself, you can’t and shouldn’t be emailing, making travel plans and helping your son with his homework, a disaster is bound to happen, like the reservation will get booked for the week before your actual departure date! Instead write a short list (with a max of 5 at a time) and work your way through each item, not moving on until the one before it is complete. Simple!

2. Avoid social media. Social media is a wonderland of distractions which is why you should avoid it like the plague if you want to be productive. If you have no willpower then block the sites from your computer and save your scrolling for your downtime. Since social media happens to be a big part of my business, I like to batch and schedule as much of it as possible in advance so that I’m not finding myself spending all day on Facebook being distracted by cute puppies. {SHUT it DOWN!}

3. Turn off notifications. While phone calls are a bit of a necessity (especially if you have a kid like me and want to be able to be contacted in an emergency) those little app notifications that are constantly buzzing on our phones are definitely not. You don’t need to know -- every time you get a like, comment or message so switch them off and manually check them later, if you have nothing more worth your while! No more FOMO you are an adult, act like one, (sorry for the tough love here but this one tiny bad habit really gets under my skin!)

4. Tweak your schedule. Sometimes I get stuck slogging through emails for longer than I like to admit because every time I send one out I get 3 back in its place, ugh. To combat this problem I’ve given myself specific times to check and respond to my emails, after my morning tea time and at the end of my day. By having a set block of time to get this done I can shut down my email entirely and concentrate on my work, and clients who I meet with everyday!

5. Practice mindful meditation. If you’re having one of those days where your mind seems to wander halfway across the world in a moment of chaos then there’s no way you’re going to be able to power through it. Take a few moments to close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing and take stock. The key with mindful meditation is to slow down and take notice of your mind. Let go!

 

Mindfulness is a huge part of my life and I want to encourage you to jump into it, don’t let any new tech bad habits wire your brain for the worse! Want more help in this area? Find me!