I’m pretty much what you’d call a type ‘A’ personality. There’s a part of me that is, or used to be secretly proud of this statement. Doesn’t type ‘A’ mean you’re a perfectionist? That you work hard and achieve high? Well, maybe, but only if the conditions are perfect, and it’s likely that if you really are a type ‘A’ nothing will undo you’re perfect world faster than welcoming a little person or two into your life.
Type A’s like to have their ducks in a row, a very neat row. Generally, their brainwaves run at a pretty high velocity, often jumping on different thought trains and travelling fast in all sorts of directions. Sometimes helpful ones that solve problems quickly and get things done efficiently, especially if you can focus your full attention and can mobilise yourself to that task in that moment.
But what happens when you are forced to slow down? When you cannot get off the couch because your 2 month old has decided they’ll only settle whilst on your chest but you know you need to get to the shops to make that dinner you had planned. Or when you cannot sit in front of the computer for 30mins to type that important email because you’ve just picked up the kids and they are hungry, need afternoon tea NOW, and need to tell you about a fight they had with a friend? What happens inside that type A mind? Does it accept this new state of incapacity? Of delay? Of imperfection? Or does it run faster? Does it try to do both things at once?
The truth is being a parent sometimes (often) involves doing things well below your maximum brain power. So, it makes sense to do something else at the same time. Doesn’t it? I think about what I need at the shops while acting like I don’t know how to do a 9 piece puzzle with my 4 year old; I think about work and formulate a ‘to-do’ list while putting together a nutritionally balanced, interesting and hopefully palatable lunch box.
I thought this was multitasking and patted myself on the back for proving to the invisible Gods that women can indeed do two things at once. However, as we learnt from last weeks blog, it’s not multitasking at all but instead a horrible state of mind called ‘Continuous Partial Attention’ which forces you into a constant state of adrenal attention and eventual chronic stress and has serious health impacts. For more on this, check out last week’s blog here.
After years of doing this, I started to feel vague and disconnected. Like I wasn’t properly seeing or focusing on things. But more than that, it’s hard to describe…a sort of brain fog, a desensitisation, like an imposter was walking around in my life and they were doing a really bad acting job.
It actually felt awful. Sometimes my days were passing, but I wasn’t noticing or enjoying them. And the odd thing was, I wasn’t being that effective, even though that was the whole point of multitasking in the first place. I’d start five different tasks, but not finish one. I’d think about abizzilion thoughts, but none of them would end anywhere useful or decisive. And all this while I was missing chunks of my day that left me feeling a bit powerless and lost.
Then, I started hearing about the mindfulness movement, about being present, about immersing yourself in the sensations, the feelings and the thoughts of the present moment to achieve a calm and focused mental state.
Yes! I thought. This is me…This is what I’ve been missing. I’ve been mentally somewhere else because I was trying so hard to be everywhere and be everything. I want to feel present all the time, I want to really see my kids when I look at them and hear their little voices. Not be caught up in some other task my brain is wanting to focus on.
But it’s hard to do. The shopping list still needs to be thought about and doing the same 9 piece puzzle every day is mind numbingly easy. So how do we do it?! How do we genuinely engage in our present and not be temped into the easy trap of mentally drifting away?
Well the first is to convince your brain that it’s not worth it. That doing several things at once does not in fact make you any more efficient. This may take some time because you’re brain is pretty stubborn, so you need to be patient, kind to yourself and persevere.
Then, there are some pretty nifty Mindfulness tools you can use to bring your mind back to the moment. Here are some of my favourites:
“One thing at a time.”
When I feel my mind racing off in front of me, I rein it in by repeating “One thing at a time” to myself. It’s a great mantra and immediately forces me to be calm, methodical and see what is in front of me.
Notice the small things.
When my 4 year old is concentrating on a puzzle, she gets an adorable focused look on her face. I can see her brain ticking and her entire body is involved in locating the pieces, fitting them into place with her pudgy little fingers and then she gives herself an adorable clap when she’s done. When I focus on these details my mind is sharper, and alive. I feel happy that I’ve genuinely enjoyed watching this little piece of magic.
Feel sensations on your skin
If you are outside, become aware of the sun on your skin, or a cool breeze. If you are feeling warm and cosy or wearing something soft, take a few seconds to acknowledge the material sitting on your skin. Even better, if you are lucky enough to be holding a little persons hand, notice how soft it is, yet how much power they have to cling tight to you.
Take a belly breath
Breathing a full breath and travelling with the air into your nose, down your throat, into your lungs and through your blood and to your muscles is a great way of becoming aware of your body in the present. It also, floods your system with oxygen which rejuvenates your cells and gives your more energy.
This is a good start. But it’s not an immediate fix. One thing I’ve learnt is that you need to forgive yourself. It’s helpful to treat your mind like you would a 2 year old. Steer it in the right direction, but when it starts playing up, gently, and with good humour, direct it back on task and don’t expect too much of it.
Mindfulness, it’s a journey worth taking. Not one I profess to be much good at yet, but I really have no interest in continuing down the unfulfilling journey of poorly attempting to multitask, and I encourage you to do the same.
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