Reining In the Distracted Mind
For many of us, feeling stressed out has become a way of life. It is important, however, to realize that feeling overwhelmed, overloaded and over-scheduled isn’t the only option for you. Understanding how your mind works can give you the power to change it. When we’re awake, our minds wander about fifty percent of the time, and for the majority of that time, we’re worrying about fear-based scenarios that may, and often don’t, happen.
Habitual distraction means that our minds are wandering unconsciously, while our physiology is helplessly responding with stress. The good news from disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, and esoteric philosophies like yoga is that we have the power to focus our minds; as a result of such focus, we will feel calmer, more relaxed and happier, while also improving our ability to show up for our daily tasks and enjoyments.
Due to some groundbreaking science that shows “neurons wire together if they fire together” (Siegrid Löwel, Science), we now know that in order to create new, more constructive mental habits, we need to consistently apply our focus in order to lay down alternate pathways for our brain neurons to follow. In the yoga field, we refer to this process as tapas, or “burning enthusiasm.” Tapas means that in order to achieve a cherished outcome, you enforce specific and applied austerity for yourself, such as eating right and exercising to lose those extra pounds. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson tells us, “The longer the neurons [brain cells] fire, the more of them that fire, and the more intensely they fire, the more they’re going to wire that inner strength.”
Technological marvels have made instant communication possible and subsequently have set up expectations for instantaneous response. Distraction is now wired into modern life. How many times have you sat down at your computer for a specific purpose, like writing up a report, only to get distracted by answering texts and emails?
I recently became aware of this type of pattern in myself whenever I sit down to write a newsletter or a blog. With the best of intentions, I will pull up a blank document and quickly bang out the first paragraph before remembering I need to send an email. I tell myself I’ll just take a moment and get back to writing shortly. I switch screens to open my inbox and check all the new emails, temporarily forgetting about the one I needed to send. Several emails get sent before recalling the one I initially intended to knock out, and before I have even noticed it, my writing has been decidedly and definitively monkey-wrenched. I’ve run out of time for writing and am now trapped in a stress cycle because I have to find more time to get back to writing later.
Now that I’m aware of this cascade, and because I have a “burning enthusiasm” to prevent future hijacking of my writing and the subsequent stress this causes, I am applying these steps to great effect:
1) Before I sit down to write, I check in with myself to make sure I’ve sent all the emails that 100% need to go out that day and I either a) send them or b) slot them for later or the following day.
2) I make a decision to focus 100% on my writing for an allotted amount of time undisturbed.
These boil down to two steps I hope will help you when you notice similar patterns of distraction:
1) Set boundaries for specific tasks, i.e. check your email once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
2) Devote your full attention to whatever task you want to accomplish for the time you’ve earmarked for tackling it.
The crucial point here is that when your mind is wandering and worrying, you are less than present for the task at hand. In order to rein in the distracted mind, you must become aware you are distracted. Imagine drawing a team of horses headed in opposite directions into a single, unified direction to effectively move forward. You’ve got the wisdom of the ages behind this truth: “Yoga [mental, physical and spiritual unity] is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception” (Patanjali, Yoga Sutras). You have all the power when it comes to focusing your mind to feel calmer and happier right now!
Want more ways to focus and achieve your desired outcomes?
Stress Busters: how to manage stress with mind-changing awareness
Saturday, November 5 from 1:30-3:30pm at Bhava Yoga Studio Register Here!