Wow, I feel sooooo much better now, because I realize it’s really not my fault! According to the recent Time article “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish,” my ability to relax and focus on whatever I happen to be doing right now has evolved in a unfavorable way because of my brain’s ability to adapt and change itself over time. Seems that all this technology we enjoy so much has come with some serious side effects! Thanks a bunch to all you techno-innovators: (Mr. Gates, Mr. Jobs, Mr. Zuckerberg, et al. ). Here’s a link to the article just in case you think this might sound just a little too fishy: http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/.
I used to be busy – really busy. I raised a large family, worked multiple jobs, and balanced work/family/life for many years. With incredible support from my late wife and our wonderful kids, I somehow managed to accomplish all of my goals, including about 40 years of flying, building a 5000 sq ft home from the ground up, a successful career in education, and three college degrees, including a doctorate from Purdue University. Nonetheless, like many others, I made too many poor decisions and certainly experienced painful losses along the way.
Throughout those years, I remember thinking/wishing I could figure out a way to quiet some of the madness that was constantly swirling around in my mind, to focus more on important things, to slow down just long enough to enjoy and/or smell the roses. I’m actually quite surprised my head never literally exploded. Too bad I didn’t know then what I am learning now. I guess I was just too busy.
About 10 years ago I learned that multitasking is very counter-productive to not only getting things done; it’s also counter-productive to a calm and peaceful life. You may want to check it out a blog post I wrote a little while back titled “Coffee, Tea, or Multitasking”. So while I’m certainly not the best person to tell anyone how to slow down and smell the roses, what I can tell you is that I’ve recently discovered something that has helped me tremendously. It’s called mindfulness.
According to some, mindfulness is simply “The intention to be present in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever is happening, free from distraction or judgment, with a soft and open mind.” This is a good definition and a perfect place to begin. Of course there are many resources on the web, as well as some great apps for mobile devices such as Calm, which is available for iPhone and Android platforms. I enjoy using Calm on my phone and love the backgrounds, the sounds and the ability to “cast” directly to our living room TV.
While mindfulness won’t magically solve all your problems, it will change your perspective on life. And it will help make to your attention span longer than that of a goldfish. So here’s a few things you can do if you are interested in the benefits of practicing mindfulness in your own life:
1. Set aside some time each day for quietness. It doesn’t have to be long—even ten minutes per day is helpful. Once you begin this ritual and you see the difference it is making in your ability to relax and have a calmer mind and a better attitude, you’ll wonder why you haven’t heard about it until now.
2. Engage your senses in something pleasant and enjoyable. Contrary to what you might think, neuroscience has proven that multitasking is a myth—our brains can only do one thing at a time. Employing multiple senses such as touch, smell and sound helps our racing thoughts dissolve. Hiking, painting, exercise, and travel are great multi-sense activities; oh, and don’t forget sex. You don’t think those two monkeys are just thinking about the pretty red flower, do you?
3. Look for mindful moments throughout your day. Instead of checking your email or Facebook every 5 minutes, take 30 seconds for mindful breathing. Focus on each breath as it enters your lungs, then again as it leaves. Contemplate how you are alive because of the oxygen in the air you just took in. Rather than being angry at the traffic light for turning red, relax your hands on the wheel and focus on the blessings we all enjoy by having vehicles that can take us just about anywhere.
4. Grant yourself permission to take care of yourself first. While this might sound a little selfish if you’re a parent, how can you take care of your children if you are worn out, tired, distracted and drained? Self-care is a huge part of good parenting (and partnering). I remember Wayne Dyer stating something like “You can’t help sick people by being sick, or poor people by being poor, or lonely people by being lonely.” It’s true! In chapter 5 of my book “12 Principles of Success and Fulfillment,” I say “If you want to make a difference in the world, first take the time and energy to make a difference in yourself.” In other words, be selfish; then save the world.
5. Realize that your energy, whether positive or negative, is contagious. We humans are like magnets; we gravitate towards others like ourselves. If you want your children or your partner to be more optimistic, boost your own a little. If you want to “attract” less drama into your life, stop radiating drama. Your positive energy can and will help others in your circles, by encouraging and inspiring them to raise their own.
6. Do what you can in the present moment and let go of everything else. There are so many things we have no control over at all: other drivers, our partners, our friends, even our children. Interestingly, the opposite of letting go is mentally or even physically reacting to the things we can’t control, which usually results in stress. You certainly don’t need more of that, right?
7. Figure out what brings you joy and do more of it. All of us are different, you know, like snowflakes. Different strokes for… When we take the time and effort to find our purpose, our mission, or our value here in this life, we enjoy everything more. We experience more happiness, more calmness, and more fulfillment. And even better, the clock slows down for us, just like those summer days when we were 13 years old.
In summary, put your phone away for a while. Turn your tablet off. You don’t want to be like Mr. Limpet, do you? Of course not! So find a place for mindfulness, and begin incorporating it into your own life. Certainly there are a lot of distractions in this world, but there is also beauty all around us. Plenty of flowers to smell. Plenty of sunsets to enjoy. And don’t forget to be grateful for everything you have, and all the blessings you enjoy. If you don’t know where to start, check out my latest book: The Power of Gratefulness: a 30 Day Personal Renaissance.”
To Your Health, Wellness, and Success,