‘Now’ trumps 'Next'
Answer me this: How many things are you trying to do, right this minute? When you clicked on this link to read this blog entry, how many other tabs do you have open? Shopping tabs, article tabs, that great work-out you want to try tab, … How many things are you balancing/juggling right now? By ‘balancing’ I don’t actually mean you are successful in your endeavor. In fact, want to know a secret? Multi-tasking is not actually doing you any favors. When one attempts to multi-task, they are actually less successful at all tasks they are trying to complete at the same time and take longer as they would be if they did the tasks one after another. I know. Floored me too. I am the queen of multi-tasking; how else could I get everything done with the abundance of interruptions I weather every single day.
I get it (and have said it multiple times before): you are busy. We are all busy. You probably feel as though that To Do list is important and every item on it needs to be checked off, preferably today. Fact is, though, just as quickly as you check things off, other things land on the list because that is just how life is. In other words, your list will never be completed, and that it okay. That is just life, my friend, and we’re all in the same boat.
Doing more than one thing at a time -- multi-tasking -- is supposed to be more efficient, using the same amount of time to complete two -- or more! -- tasks at once. Every human wants to be an effective multi-tasker. Unfortunately, the majority of us aren't. In fact, as I said above, the majority of us actually take longer to complete tasks when we multi-task and they will be completed with more errors than if we were to have completed them one at a time in the first place. And, often, because of the strain on our brains, they will take longer to complete, as well. What?! How can that be? The answer is simple: in actuality, humans are not good multi-taskers. Our brains can do more than one activity at a time, but only can do both well if one or both are automatic behaviors such as walking or breathing. Your brain is not actually doing two things at once, but rather rapidly switching between behaviors. Switching back and forth between non-automatic behaviors actually takes longer and will result in an increase in stress levels (both perceived and actual) than if you complete the actions one at a time. Truth be told, the term ‘multi-tasking was not even invented for humans behaviors and actions, but rather for computers. So yes, your inanimate object on the desk is good at multi-tasking but you are not. That thing, though, was designed to be able to completely compartmentalize, and different parts are running through physically different parts of the system; your behaviors, in contrast, run through one main point (your brain), so it actually is completely understandable why it cannot do it all at once.
So what, then, IS good for your brain? And your attitude, stress levels, relationships and self-concept? Being present. Focusing on 'now' not 'what's next?' because being present really helps increase awareness, gratitude and the ability to be calm and focused. It's human nature to dwell on the past or worry about the future. This is actually how we got to be as developed as we are as a species, and lived as long and as successfully – by worrying about the past and preparing for the future. Yes, I am suggesting that you go against human nature and stay in the moment. The future is hope, change and inevitable. The future is for planning, creating, and dreaming. The past? It is for lessons learned. Human nature dictates that these two are important. The present? It's already done, and guaranteed. I’m suggesting, though, that the present is where we are, and it is most worth of noting. The art of being mindful is seeing what is now, and also not to react to it emotionally. It is an art of noting, not an act of reacting. In the art of noting, you can focus on gratitude and appreciation for what is now: your conversation with your child, your time in the kitchen preparing dinner, your drive to work. Focusing on now gives you the chance to realize how much 'now' has to offer, and the strength to handle whatever 'now' throws your way. Being present becomes, then, a way to handle any problem, any distraction, any stressor. It allows everything else to fade away, leaving only you and whatever you are dealing with at this moment. Things will be different in the next moment. Facebook, Twitter, the phone ... they don't matter. Now matters.
It takes patience, effort and tolerance to focus on now. Your mind will want to wander, and focus on what is coming, or what else you have to do. It can take considerable effort to not let your mind leap ... our human minds are, in actuality, amazing and unique for this ability. Having said that, in focusing on now you are strengthening your already exceptionally able brain to see things more clearly: seeing 'now' gives you time to have gratitude and joy for what is; know that what is is very important.
Being mindful does not mean you have to adopt a yogi lifestyle. It does not mean you have to start eating wheat grass and chanting. You do not need to have a mantra or deep breathing. (I mean, you can if you want to; no harm done either way.) Nor do you need to be mindful of every.single.moment.of.every.single.day. Wow, that would be exhausting! It is a gift you can give yourself, a small piece of peace, that helps you to understand that amid all that chaos you have circling around you, and in all the tasks that you have already completed and still need to undertake, in all those that require your attention, you, too, deserve time and you, too, are important. And, probably most importantly, you, too, have so many things to appreciate and savor.
By honoring now for what is it, you win, every time, even when it is a struggle.