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From Multi-Tasking to Mindfulness

My Meditation Monday series (now Mindful Monday) has been popular since I began it. This post, How Cancer is Turning a Multi-Tasker into a Mindful Meditator, is one of my favorites. I won't say I'm there yet, but just being aware of mindfulness has been a huge help:

We tend to think of meditation in only one way. But life itself is a meditation. Raul Julia

I'm sure we all remember the days of cancer driven single-mindedness. Cancer was our only thought, our only question, our only focus. I went to bed at night and fought for sleep through a barrage of cancer thoughts. When I awoke, I resisted consciousness because it put cancer front and center again. Cancer, cancer, cancer. It was the sum total of my existence.

There is a big difference between single-minded anxiety and mindfulness. Once the days of cancer diagnosis and treatment waned, my ultimate goal was to return to “normal.” But since cancer, I’ve learned that my “normal” multi-tasking thoughts are no better for my psyche than single-minded anxiety. If I want to reduce stress in my “normal” life, I have to learn to be mindful.

It’s an uphill battle because I love to multi-task. Or maybe I should say I think I love it because I’ve trained myself so well over the years. My work as an attorney started my multi-tasking practice. I moved into hard-core multi-tasking with the birth of my first child. With children in the house, there is no ability to stick to a plan of action because there are always interruptions. I learned to start a project, interrupt it to start another project, and so on and so on. By the end of the day, I was surrounded by unfinished projects. Because they would all eventually get done, I deluded myself into thinking multi-tasking was the path to productivity.

Now my children are older, but I can’t stop multi-tasking. I’m still working on three things at a time, while thinking about the four other things I should be doing. The operative word in that sentence, I just realized, is “should.” It’s the pressure of thinking that productivity proves validity that makes it so hard to just be in the moment. Every "should" that grabs me, stacks on another task that adds to that pressure.

Enter the example of a child. How wonderful it is to watch a child explore the world, so engrossed and focused in the moment! I saw my children apply that exponential degree of attention and wonder to their worlds. I was also that mindful, once. Of course, I also had all my needs provided for by others. While we certainly can't live our adult lives as children, because we have jobs to do and others to nurture, there is a happy medium. It comes to us adults through meditation and breathing.

A few Meditation Mondays ago, I posted about tea meditation. While it's great to take break from work to stop and savor a cup of tea, mindfulness isn't limited to break time. In fact, I think it's just as important, if not more, to be mindful while doing the laundry, writing a post, working with a client, or talking with a friend. I'm learning to stop my multi-tasking "shoulds" by simply taking a long breath. It recenters me and returns me to the moment at hand. I find the more aware I am of my multi-tasking tendencies, the more often I find myself stopping them cold with a deep breath.

Whatever you are doing, if you are wholly present, then that is a meditation, a blessed moment of being. In that moment, your life becomes itself a meditation.

I'd love to hear from my fellow multi-taskers! Has being a cancer survivor affected how you approach your life as a multi-tasker? Has it made you more aware of the stress that multi-tasking puts on you?

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

 

Comments

Barbara's picture

In the last few months, I have been attending two very different meditations sessions a week, one given by a cantor and one, by a minister, who have been making me aware of the concept of mindfulness and living in the moment. (I had never heard of meditation before cancer.)
The minister explained how whenever she has an unpleasant task, she concentrates on her blessings and gratitude. So, when she changes the sheets on her bed, she realizes that her bed is a "sacred spot" for her husband and herself. When she empties her dishwasher, she is grateful that she has enough dishes and food for her family. When she takes out the garbage, she is grateful that she has a home and family.So, instead of thinking about all the unpleasant and/or stressful things she has to do every day, she concentrates on the moment.
I've been consciously trying to use this technique. I don't like food shopping, cooking, cleaning up, but I am so grateful that I have a husband to eat with. I have widowed and divorced and never married friends who eat alone all the time. I don't like waiting in line at the supermarket or other stores, but I remember that I have enough money to pay the bills. I don't enjoy going out these cold mornings to get the newspaper at the bottom of my driveway (while my husband makes coffee), but I am grateful to have a newspaper every morning that I am able to read with a cup of coffee.
So, mindfulness has made me less stressed and more appreciative of the moment and all my blessings.

Debbie's picture

Hi Barbara:

This is such a wonderful technique! I read your comment and just minutes later it came to mind when I had to do something I didn't want to do! Thanks so much for sharing it, I know it will help me be more mindful on a daily basis.

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

Linda's picture

While I've never had cancer (and hope to keep it that way), I had to laugh as I read your post. Childless and single, my life should perfect for mindfulness... but I'm also starting a company (if you can still say "starting" a year later) and my ability to focus has never been worse. I literally lose my train of thought in mid-sentence, find that after reading a page in a book that I have no clue what I just read, and put out fires all day long while still trying to do all the things that a new business requires.  I don't know how to change at this point but perhaps I'll set aside my time for reading Meditation Mondays posts to do some focusing of my own... at least to the point where I concentrate on reading the entire post start to finish!

Thanks Debbie, and happy anniversary!
Linda

Plano & Simple
coach and 'yenta' for entrepreneurs

Paula's picture

You can change your day by just changing your thoughts and how you want your day to go. First thing I would affirm that I'm a good business woman, that all things will be taken care of and I will have good relationships with my co-workers. It is good to speak these things out loud. Then as your day goes on look for these suttle changes and you will see for yourself how it works.

Debbie's picture

Paula:

Affirmations are a great way to keep mindfulness front and center. I think it all gets back to having a positive attitude!

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

Debbie's picture

Linda:

I've found that the brain is like a muscle. All you have to do is practice, practice, practice and you can train it to do anything. Sounds like you've trained it to multi-task to the point of complete distraction. I know because I've done the same thing. Do you remember way back when, when you could actually focus on one thing at a time? I do and I want to be able to do it again. That's why I've become more aware of mindfulness - I'm not good at it, but just being aware of it has given me some relief from multi-tasking mania.

Thanks for the anniversary wishes! Can you believe it?

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

 

 

Chris Bowers's picture

Hi- True, time has passed since your comments on Mindfulness were posted. I simply wanted to say "Great Job Linda!" You said "my ability to focus has never been worse. I literally lose my train of thought in mid-sentence, find that after reading a page in a book that I have no clue what I just read." You did it! You are aware of what is/was missing. That is a huge first step, being aware is key. Mind-full-ness leads to a quality relationship with yourself. Be well.

Paula's picture

Hi, I also like to multi task. I do understand about trying to be present and in the moment while doing one thing or trying to do one thing. I have to be oh so mindful of my thoughts through out the day and keep them positive and up beat. I have a husband who is very news oriented and watches way too much I think. It's hard for me to find a quiet place (only in my bedroom). We have a small apartment and he is home all day long (disabled) with Parkinson's. He is only 60, we don't see eye to eye in a lot of things and so I'm always having to negotiate situations with him so he is happy. I like to keep a some what quiet surroundings in my home, but he is just the opposite. He likes noise all day long. I realized (to late) in 05 how I was not in the moment and was fussing a lot over things that really didn't matter and I made myself sick. I had surgery for breast cancer in October and in the next year went all organic and changed my lifestyle. I worked at a Retirement home and loved working with Seniors. I do remain on call to this very day. But when I do something, I have to complete just that one project before I move on to something else. I grew up on a dairy farm and my dad was a multi tasker also. He always kept me busy doing something. I have learned to slow down and enjoy what moment I'm in. There is no reason to have to hurry through life. We do need to stop and smell the roses and be quiet and know and acknowledge our own being.

Debbie's picture

Paula:

I love that you have comitted to going at your own speed and enjoying your life. Good for you for changing your lifestyle for the better. Keep doing what makes you happy, one project at a time!

Survival > Existence,

Debbie

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