From busy to better: 9 tips to restore the sense of selfby
Addicted to technology? Sleeping with your smartphone? Making endless lists and feeling more and more burned out and behind every day? Deleting the “me” time from your calendar and hitting the vending machines when you stay late at work?
The way we talk about stress is stressful.
We scold ourselves to “focus.” We constantly remind ourselves how we’re failing.
Instead of celebrating our “wins,” we tell ourselves how much more still needs to be done. We cancel the walk with a friend or the swim (“just this once”) when a client or supervisor makes last minute demands.
Then we read about the damaging effects of stress on health and distract ourselves with thoughts about the next vacation.
Instead of planning that vacation, when we do get home, we eat a heaping bowl of ice cream, and watch Scandal.
The thoughts that fill our heads are a little like the popcorn in popcorn machines in movie theaters.
Each thought a kernel, popping, and then taking up residence, and filling the space. Thoughts like: “I can’t get it all done. I have too much to do. How could I have forgotten to do that! They need that when?! Why can’t I keep up?? Why did I do that? How could she have done THAT? There is no end in sight. Another night with no sleep. Do I have time to finish this?!”
We all have these thoughts; thoughts that hurl us forward into anxiety about the future and thoughts that slam us backwards into regrets from the past.
These thoughts steal our moments, clog up our creativity, and act as work, joy, and attention inhibitors.
At your best, your mind is “spacious.” In this state, there’s “space” to notice what’s right in front of you. There’s space for a flow of attention and energy. There’s often less stress and a more open mind as well.
Here are nine tips for syncing up with the moment, and enjoying a satisfying flow in your moments, your work, and your days.
Time to change the conversation
The conversation about distraction, multi-tasking, and the stern command to focus creates a level of stress, anxiety, and a feeling of inferiority.
Today’s conversation makes our world more limited and more stressful.
It’s time to start talking about what we’re getting right, about what we are accomplishing and enjoying instead of what we still have to do and how we’re failing to keep up.
It’s time to talk about what we want to connect to, instead of what we want to disconnect from.
Cute is cool!
Cute is cool. It turns out that even looking at images that we experience as cute, can be uplifting.
Researchers Bradley and Lang created a database of images called the International Affective Picture System. This has been used to test positive and negative responses to photos.
Subjects tend to react negatively to spiders and car crashes with injuries, and positively to all things “cute.” Displaying photos of cute cats and puppies, and sharing these images online has a more positive impact on you than you realize!
So – surround yourself with photos that offer a burst of “cute.”
Retire the never-ending list
Many of you write lists that you add to endlessly.
Things are crossed off and added, and the list is never done.
You never celebrate your accomplishments because the list is populating like the rabbits in Watership Down.
Here’s an alternative: at the end of each day, make a list of no more than five items to focus on the next day.
Make another list of things that need to be done that you will NOT be doing the next day. At the end of the day, celebrate what you’ve completed and give yourself discretionary time to relax.
Discover the 'how'
To discover the “how,” you need to take a break from the “what.”
When you ask, “Am I happy? Is my life working?” you can spin yourself in circles questioning just how happy you are and is that happy enough? You are probably at least a little bit happy all of the time.
Start asking “how?” How am I happy? Even in a difficult situation, you can often notice one thing, and when you notice that one thing, it often opens your eyes to more. And more. Goodness.
Notice beauty every day
Noticing beauty has a soothing effect on the autonomic nervous system. It takes only a moment. Look around. Notice. Notice beauty: a color, a shape, a texture, a plant, an object, a tree… Soak it in.
This can also bring you into the present moment.
Notice what you like
Noticing what you like also has a soothing and softening effect. When you’re in conversation with someone, notice what it is you like about them.
Sometimes it’s softness in a person’s eyes. It might be a sense of their vulnerability. Or a sense of their strength. The way they listen. The passion they express for ideas. Notice.
This will enable engaged attention and bring you into the present moment.
Attention restoration theory
Attention Restoration Theory, first described by researchers, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, is about the preference people have for images of natural environments.
Exposure to nature and natural scenes has a restorative effect on the brain’s ability to focus.
Dr. Marc Berman did further research on this, demonstrating that a walk in a park or a natural setting, is significantly more restorative (even in bad weather) than a walk in an urban setting. A walk in nature improves both memory and attention.
Essential self technologies
There are new technologies, Essential Self technologies, coming out that support states of engaged attention.
The importance of sleep
Research from Cedars Sinai indicates that one night of sleep deprivation decreased insulin sensitivity by 33%.
In the same study, six months of a poor diet caused a 21% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance contributes to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and cancer. It helps to choose a consistent bedtime and rising time.
If you want to harness the superpower that is your attention, instead of talking about distraction, give these nine tips a try and let me know how it goes at http://LindaStone.net (comments section)! Or get me on Twitter at @LindaStone.