Practising mindfulness sounds frightfully boring. That’s why I prefer to think of it as a fun game that I call stealing back my life. You can play it too.
Start by rating your busyness on a scale of 1 to 10. Where do you come out? For most, it’s likely to be somewhere between 11 and 13. Disturbingly, being completely over-stretched is today considered fairly normal. It is not however sustainable. In fact, this constant cycle of doing and worrying about the next thing, is making a lot of us feel burnt out, anxious or depressed.
By playing the game of stealing back my life, you can get your busyness rating down to something far more manageable. Play well and you may even steal back enough time, energy and mental focus to feel calm, relaxed… and possibly even inspired.
Before you get playing, here are ten helpful hints.
No matter how efficient, productive and capable you may be, you will never get to the end of your to-do list, do a little celebratory twirl and then take a satisfied nap knowing everything is right with the world. Your only real option is to get comfortable with the fact that some things will remain ‘undone’.
As brilliant a machine as your brain is, there are limits to its capacity. If you ask it to focus on five tasks at once, it will not smoothly process these tasks in parallel. Instead it will have to switch its attention between these five tasks, leaving you feeling cognitively fatigued. If you are attempting to drive, talk on the phone, eat noodles, change the radio and find your sunglasses all at once, there’s a good chance it won’t end well.
There’s a fine line between prudent planning and worthless worry. In times of high stress, it’s easy to step far over this line as you contemplate every possible thing which could ever go wrong and mentally rehearse for it 984 times in a row. By learning to bring your focus back to the present moment, it is however possible to feel less stressed and steal back significant chunks of your life.
While it’s tempting to think you can fit more stuff in by simply staying awake longer, this strategy will almost certainly backfire. Sleep is the world’s most restorative elixir and plays an incredibly important role in sustaining good mental health. If you want to steal back your life, steal back your sleep. Mindfulness can help you relax, slow your racing mind and enjoy more quality time dribbling into your pillow.
Try mindfulness and you may immediately notice that you have a frighteningly large number of thoughts racing through your head. This doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong or that you are no good at it. It means you have been successful in bringing awareness to your thoughts. Having this awareness is vitally important if you want to succeed in stealing back your life.
Your attention is an incredibly precious commodity. Your loved ones crave it. Advertisers are desperate for it. Mark Zuckerberg has an incredible appetite for the stuff. Right now, I am trying to grab hold of a small piece of it too. With so many people clambering for your attention, it pays to be very discerning about who and what you give it to.
You have a constant tsunami of information coming your way. Will any of it help you solve Brexit or bring peace to the Middle East? It’s unlikely. Will it help you resolve your feelings towards your high school nemesis who you are hate-following on Instagram? Probably not. A brilliant way to start stealing back your life is to stop giving so much attention to all those things which don’t really affect you or are outside your sphere of influence.
On the weekend I stole back some of my life by not checking my email. In a café I stole back some of my life by not pulling out my phone. In the supermarket I chose to stand in the checkout queue and take a few deep, slow breaths, rather than racing through the self-serve section and getting in another frustrating, no-win argument with that annoying robot who keeps demanding that I place my items in the bagging area. Get good at this game and you will steal little mindful moments everywhere. You will soak in the sunshine, smell the roses and gleefully embrace the present with wide open arms.
Chances are there is a form of mindfulness you already love. ‘Flow’ activities are those in which your mind is totally absorbed. When you are performing a flow activity, your mind gets wrapped up in the task at hand, rather than wandering off to worry about the future or re-hash the past . Whether para-gliding or painting is your thing, prioritising the flow activities can bring about a sense of timelessness and be a highly rewarding way to steal back your life.
When you have a million things to do, stopping to spend 10 minutes doing something as simple and seemingly non-productive as focusing on your breathing may seem like a really odd choice. A regular pause is however incredibly useful. In this pause you may realise how much your attention is being dragged away. You may realise how much of your mental energy is being devoted to things which really do not matter. You may even find the ability to re-focus your attention on the present and steal back yet more of your life. Most importantly, you may be able to connect with a sense of stillness, peace and calm, that you would rarely otherwise experience amidst all the frenetic doing.
While you may not have played stealing back my life before, it’s easy to get started. Anyone can participate, you don’t need to buy a special team uniform and it’s a whole lot less complicated than cricket. Best of all, the prizes are amazing! Just by devoting a little time each day to this game, you could end up with less stress, better emotional wellbeing, greater mental clarity and a nice, healthy chunk of your life back!
So, what are you waiting for? Don’t just sit there… actually, do just sit there. Sit there and take a few slow, deep breaths. Give yourself permission to just “be”. Sit there and feel the rhythmic rise and fall of your chest. As you slowly breathe in and out allow yourself to relax your jaw, your shoulders and your arms. With your next few inhales and exhales, really hear your inhale and feel your exhale and see if you can make your exhale just a little longer. Inhale for a slow count of 3 or 4 and exhale for a slower count of 6 or 7. Perhaps complete 3 to 4 cycles of this mindful breathing. Then turn your attention to your entire body, noticing how your whole mind and body responds to this conscious breathing. Now press your toes into the ground and release. Repeat. Set an intention to bring this sense of calmness with you throughout the day, knowing you can come back to this practice anytime you need to with just a few breaths.
It seems like you are winning already…