We are obsessed with filling every minute. Productivity requirements at work govern our daily schedules and outside of work we continue the constant mental stimulation. We are seemingly incapable of allowing time for ourselves to either think, or (gasp!) to NOT think. Here is a small list of times when we could just “be,” but instead we strive to fill each moment (mostly with use of our phones).
- waiting in line
- waiting anywhere (doctor, etc.)
- sitting on the toilet
I am guilty of trying to “fill time” in every single one of these scenarios with social media, podcasts or other distractions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, especially if time is being filled with something productive or educational. Even entertainment shouldn’t be considered wrong, but I do think we could benefit from examining why we are compelled to fill every moment. Often I find myself thinking, “Someone make me STOP scrolling!” It’s like a pull I don’t even always feel control over, like a true addiction. I don’t want to delete my social media apps because they make me happy and feel connected to others, and I use them for my business. But I could definitely improve on my time management with them and to what I allocate time on my phone.
This idea occurred to me (as most ideas do) in the shower. Ah, the shower: the last place of refuge from my phone. Unless, of course, I put music on. I started to think, “why is the shower where so many people talk about having their best ideas?” And I think the answer is simple: we are alone, it is quiet/sounds are drowned out, and we are completing a rote task that allows our minds to wander. It’s the perfect recipe for problem solving, idea triggering and uninhibited creative thinking.
What is stopping us from creating this environment of mental creativity outside of our 10 minutes of shower solace? We just don’t think to, is what I’m thinking. Either that or we literally don’t get any time alone anymore. Hey, I might be onto something there. With quarantine, it is quite possible that people in general (especially parents) have not gotten a moment fully ALONE in months. MONTHS. I know my husband hardly has. After having Covid19 myself and being home for almost 3 weeks, I still felt so mentally drained when I returned to work. I realized on my drive in on that first day back how great it felt to be alone. To sing in the car if I wanted. To listen to podcasts again. To just BE in silence. It was so nice, and for all those people out there who don’t have a commute anymore, I understand that you might be feeling the opposite of lonely (and not in a good way). Reconnecting with ourselves is important, and without a moment alone how are we supposed to do that?
I have actually gotten mad at myself if I am waiting in a line and forgot my phone, or any other scenario where I could “use” the time “better.” Let’s be honest, though. Unless you’ve made the active decision to delete emails any time you’re waiting for something (good idea, btw) then you’re probably mindlessly scrolling. Consider, just for a minute, just being. Allowing your mind to organize the rest of your day, reflect on how things could go better, or just simply staring off and allowing a brain break. We tend to think of “staring off” as an unproductive waste of time. But mental fatigue is very real, and providing these mini-downtimes could actually be mini-recharges. We could even decide to actively take several deep breaths during these times and we might be surprised at how much better we feel afterwards. Maybe these breaks will trigger a reminder to stop and drink water, send that birthday text or schedule a (virtual?) get together with friends (the latter two being much better uses of our phones)! When we are constantly on the go, we lose sight of the big picture of our lives and those little forgotten items are what keep us up at night when we are trying to fall asleep. “Oh, shoot! It’s so-and-so’s birthday.” “Bah, I meant to text about this weekend’s plans.” “I forgot to pack that thing my coworker asked to borrow.” WHAT IF mental breaks throughout your day allowed you the clarity to handle those things in a timely manner? That way, you could actually be ready to turn your brain OFF and drift off to thoughts of the beach or to something fun instead of a mental “to-do” list.
The thought of that is relaxing me already.
Of course, the benefits I’m describing are also associated with actual meditation, which is huge in the wellness world and is constantly recommended by those who practice it. I support daily mediation for anyone who can do it, and I would encourage anyone to give it a fair try. I also think that meditation can come in many forms, and whatever works for you is what you should incorporate into practice. The truth is, many of us feel like we don’t have the time to set aside for a mediation session, it feels “too woo-woo,” or else we just forget. What we do have, though, are little moments throughout our day that we could reframe as opportunities for a little mental rest. Below are some times I’ve noticed are actual mediation times for me in the nontraditional sense (in addition to the ideas listed above).
- driving in silence (I HIGHLY recommend this)
- morning routine in silence
- food prep in silence
- painting nails (which is now much longer since I have a dip nail kit)
- eating in silence (alone)
If you cannot set aside time for an actual meditation practice (which may be more of a mental barrier than literally not having 5 minutes to do it), it could be a great start to incorporate some mindful moments within other tasks throughout the day. It’s like a checking-in with yourself. “You good? We good? Anything I should be alarmed about? You need a minute?” I laugh as I type this but simply validating our own feelings and energy levels throughout the day could considerably impact at least our satisfaction with the day if not our overall happiness.
I once heard this little guided mediation/reflection for the end of the day:
- What went well today?
- What could have gone better?
- What can I do to make tomorrow better? (or “What could I do differently next time?”)
I still do this exercise on occasion, and it’s so simple that I feel like it’s actually really helpful. You can do it while climbing into bed or trying to fall asleep, even.
Recently I began meditating early in the morning, first thing. I don’t have a special place or a pillow or anything, I just sit in the middle of the floor of my bedroom with my eyes closed. I am mindful of my posture so I can breathe deeply. I make sure to do at least 5 rotations of this breathing pattern: 4 seconds in, hold for 7 seconds, 8 seconds out. Then I continue breathing regularly, and I ask myself what I am grateful for that day. Since it’s a daily thing it doesn’t need to be heavy. Today I was thankful for the ability to do my own manicures at home because they make me happy. Other days I pick a specific person, or any of the other thousands of reasons out there to be thankful. Honestly, this 5 minutes has made a difference in the way I start my day with my attitude and my vibe. Since it’s first thing, sometimes a little stretching feels great, too. And I haven’t felt that it’s slowed down my morning routine; it almost improves it because I have centered myself and already made decisions about how I’m going to approach the day. I know it’s hard for me to stick with things like this in the long run, but if I can continue it a few times per week I will consider it a win!
The purpose of this article is to shed light on our tendency to be so “busy” that we often miss the big picture. We get stuck in stress, in routines and in keeping our heads above water that it’s hard to break the cycle. What if those people we all know who seem to “have it together” are just naturally better at taking short breaks to organize their thoughts? They might not even realize they’re using mindfulness strategies to keep their head on straight! I am hopeful that if I can continue some kind of mindfulness/meditation/reflection routine, I will be happier, healthier and more productive.