Feeling Frazzled, Getting Focused

Blogging recently about Mindfulness has made me looking more carefully at my own process, the unsaid challenge I had set myself, how ‘in the moment’ am I? Well, the last few weeks have certainly given me ample opportunity to test myself. I have a busy life, mostly because I like it that way – I don’t feel like I do sometimes, and yet I am the architect in charge so must take responsibility for its design.woman with mixer

What is more tricky is those unexpected challenges; the spikes which overlay the normal run of things; being eight months into a building project involving our home being reconstructed while we are in it, my partner unexpectedly having to be away all week, for several weeks and then there was my parent’s elderly dog who was clearly struggling and at the end of her life. I felt I needed to step in and call time – it had become clear no one else could, or would, take her to be ‘put down’. My Mother is an Alzheimer’s sufferer; at the vet’s she hung on (literally) to her little canine companion, not wanting to release her to the inevitable. Eventually after fifteen very long minutes, she somehow dug deep and releasing the dog she was cuddling tightly to her chest said, “I know I have to be grown up and let her go”. It was heart breaking to witness.

I share this with you, not because I want to burden you with my life, but rather to pay homage to those of you feeling like an overstretched elastic band; possibly being pulled beyond your natural elasticity, out of shape and about to snap?

Behaving mindfully is certainly an effective way to still the mind and stop yourself feeling overwhelmed and being focused on one task at a time has other benefits too. In today’s technologically bamboozling world electronic messages of all kinds nestle in our palms, pockets and hand-bags waiting for response. This makes it tempting to multi task just that bit too much.indian lady

Having been asked by Faye Bran @rubyslippersdxb if I would like to do an interview about expat book promotion, it felt difficult to fit in, given what I had on and yet I wanted to get it done particularly as she is conducting interesting research. It so happens that you can’t really write and multi task (or at least I can’t) so I had to put aside 1 – 2 hours in which to do it. What I noticed, having completed the interview draft was a sense of satisfaction and achievement, a rare feeling of late.

Feeling buoyed by a sense of achievement, made me reflect on how exhausted I had become trying to do too much at the same time. Allowing myself to be constantly interrupted by incoming texts, phone calls, emails, Twitter or the men working on my house is energy sapping. I’ve been struggling to maintain good boundaries, concentrate and finish what I set out to do.

The analogy of the headless chicken, although not very pretty, is apt. Doing, doing, doing and lacking either focus or direction is neither satisfying nor productive. Allowing yourself a sufficient space to finish tasks is far more effective, I guess we’ve known this for a long while, but given the march of technology the challenge facing us is greater than ever.

Many of us enjoy our enhanced technology and would not want to be without it, some teenagers I know believe they couldn’t live without it … To be aware of the temptation to check-in too often is important, the habit becomes addictive and an excuse to avoid what needs doing. Unfortunately, avoiding just leaves us more stressed – something that will not be lost on the many young people studying at this time of year, as they prepare for important exams.

When I ask my children to put away their phones whilst eating dinner, it leaves their brains free to enjoy their food and the company of their siblings (the latter not guaranteed). Making sure that we grownups are not checking our pc’s, tablets and phones or trying to read a report whilst watching TV is also a good habit that I am still working on. It’s not wrong to do those things individually, just less effective and more stressful if you do them at the same time, not to mention inconsiderate of those trying to share the TV program with you.

CONSIDER THESE BEHAVIOURS:

  • First things first; get on with the most important job of the day when the urge to do so is high – usually first thing in the morning.
  • Do so without interruption.
  • Think short, medium and long term; set aside time to think about strategic activities rather than always doing what is most urgent.
  • Schedule time off for breaks during the day, have lunchtime and enjoy your food.
  • Avoid checking emails before turning off your device at night; it can lead to burnout before bedtime and disturbed sleep.
  • Research shows that taking regular holidays, even adding a couple of days to your weekend every few months, will make you more productive in the long run.

Lastly, I had thought it was the end of an era for my parents with the demise of their little pooch, but God and the universe move in mysterious ways; four days later, I bumped into an old friend and neighbour, he was looking worried and explained his mother-in-law was suddenly having to go into nursing care and adding to their concerns she had an elderly cat who needed re homing. Molly the cat was installed with my parents the next day and for the time being at least, they have a little pet to enjoy, an experience they have shared for over sixty years.

RESOURCES

Video: 10 Powerful Ways To Stay Focused On Your Wok Without Getting Sidetracked (Performance Management) by Chris Diamond

Book: Be Excellent at Anything: Four Changes to Get More Out of Work and Life by Tony Schwartz, Catherine McCarthy and Jean Gomes (4 Aug 2011)

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Mindfulness: Happiness is an inside job

You may have heard the buzz around the practice of ‘mindfulness’? Its use has becomes far reaching, with schools and even governments employing its use. Its origins lie in centuries-old Buddhist meditation practices and breathing exercises.

I was sitting over a latte trying to explain what mindfulness is to a friend and have to say I found it quite difficult to describe, I thought it would help to write about it, so here goes …

Put simply, mindfulness requires us to focus on ourselves, tuning into the here and now; stilling the mind and concentrating on the present reality.

I’ve discovered it is not something just for other people; we can all use it to help us concentrate better and reduce our stress. Life can be so challenging and complex and we all experience suffering in different ways; physically, emotionally or spiritually. This can lead to a sense of disconnecting from ourselves. Mindfulness can help us to tune in and reconnect with our inner space; that might be our own subconscious or simply the ongoing internal dialogue we have.water lily

INVITATION TO PAY ATTENTION IN THE PRESENT MOMENT

I’d like to invite you to stop what you are doing and give what is written here your full attention. For example, you could do this in a multi tasking, half hearted kind of way; whilst checking your phone, eating a sandwich or allowing your mind to wander off, OR you could read this blog mindfully.

If you’d like to try, reading with your full attention might involve:

  •          Pausing from anything else you are doing
  •          Becoming aware of the feeling to be ‘pulled’ to carry on with other activities … notice other thoughts and feelings creeping in and perhaps the need to rush.
  •          There may be something distracting you; a noisy environment perhaps? Allow yourself to observe how your senses are being stimulated and those thoughts and feelings as they crowd in. Try to let them go, think of them as just thoughts and sensations.

‘Mindfulness’ means ‘to remember’ or ‘to recollect’ the present moment. It can be surprisingly difficult to achieve staying in the moment for any length of time, and yet the benefits are well documented.

There is a plethora of information available on how to practice mindfulness; possibly too much to capture and keep your attention in one blog post! So I have compiled some links and book resources to help you decide an appropriate place for you to dive in, should you wish to.

PEACE, SILENCE & SOLITUDE

You might like to try a breathing exercise to help step out of the auto pilot state and reconnect with the present moment. You will need at least ten minutes but can take up to an hour if you wish:

Sit quietly, close your eyes and ‘go inside’. Allow yourself to become more aware of distractions. It is completely natural for your mind to wander, just notice this happening and take your attention back to your breathing.

Focus on the cool air coming in to your nose. You can think of your breathing as a mantra, counting up to six as your breathe in, and eleven as your breathe out (I found this quite difficult at first but learned to do it easily in a few days.)

Remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself; being mindful takes practice and resistance is normal – humans are designed to be constantly thinking!

After a little while of focusing on your breathing you could ask yourself these questions:

  •          What am I thinking?
  •          What am I feeling?
  •          What is happening to my body?
  •          What inner sensations am I aware of?

Try to notice, acknowledge and stay with each answer.

Accept all your experiences, even the unwanted ones. You can have strong feelings but you don’t have to react.

Now gently re focus on your breathing, it is a constant in your life, always there for you, follow the breath all the way in and all the way out.  Do this for a few minutes; take as long as you can.

Notice when your attention wanders and again gently bring it back to your breathing.

Feel your awareness encompass your whole body; expand your awareness so your body feels as though it is breathing.

Allow any sense of discomfort, resistance or tension. Sense the space around you, hold that sense and imagine yourself being soft and opening up (your might find it helps to visualise your favourite flower opening up and blooming).

Did you know …

One of the best ways of developing

mindfulness is to start a regular

meditation practice.

Daniel Siegel

pebblesBy allowing ourselves to be still, anchored to our breathing, we learn to tune into our thoughts and feelings. In this way mindfulness can helps us to deal with negative emotions such as anger, fear & greed. It can therefore impact positively on our relationship with our inner self and others.

Mindfulness can be simply maintaining awareness in the moment, whether you are reading a blog or eating a sandwich (and if you are take notice of the taste, texture, smell and how your sandwich looks!).

I have found mindfulness most useful as a becalming tool, particularly when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it provides a welcome opportunity to stop, rushing, doing, planning etc and generally going too fast. In the stillness I am free to tune in to what is really important and make more considered decisions and that must be a good thing.

RESOURCES

Guardian Articles:

Should we be mindful of mindfulness?

Julie Myerson: how mindfulness based cognitive therapy changed my life

Coping with stress: can mindfulness help?

Books

Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, 2002

For trauma: In an Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine, 2010

Videos

Thich Nhat Hanh – Ten Mindful Movements

Guided meditation: Guided Meditiation with Dan Siegel (Wheel of Awareness)

Quotation Reference

“Happiness is an inside job” ~ William Arthur Ward