Note - the following post was written by Chelsea, our Chief Mindfulness Officer and creator of "ARC: mindfulness for children."
Back in January, we wrote a post called Meditation, your Inbox, and contentment, which compared your mind to a cluttered email inbox. We received a lot of feedback from our readers about how much it resonated - I mean, we all dream about getting to “Inbox zero,” right? Everything neatly delegated, completed, and filed away. Sounds nice.
It sounds even nicer when it comes to de-cluttering our crazy minds. But is there such a thing as “mind zero?” The short answer is no, and part of the long answer is that you wouldn't really want there to be. What we do all want is to feel less stressed, less overwhelmed, and more in control. So, while we can’t hit the “unsubscribe” button on every thought that pops up, we can learn how to manage them and keep them from bogging us down.
The key to this is awareness, and in order to drive this point home, we've decided to stick with the oh-so-applicable computer analogy.
Imagine that you’re working on your computer when you notice it starts to take a little longer to process information, open new programs, and load web pages. It’s noticeably slower than it was this morning, and it definitely isn't performing as efficiently as when it was brand new. So, you decide to do a little basic troubleshooting.
You begin by exiting most of the programs you currently have open, but it doesn't help much. You double-click on Task Manager, and your eyes widen as you notice that there are many, many more applications running in the background than you were aware of. You give the list a once-over and realize that the majority of the programs weren't even initiated by you - they've been set to load automatically when your computer boots up.
You quickly hit “end task” on the biggest offenders, change their settings, do a quick restart, and you’re back in business.
Just like a computer, your mind also has a lot of background activity going on, but the “applications” and “processes” take the form of thoughts and emotions. And, most of this activity goes on automatically without any conscious effort on your part. For every thought or feeling you get and become knowingly engaged in, there is a multitude of their unseen brethren lurking just beyond your plane of awareness. The silent background noise (oxymoron, anyone?) of your subconscious drains your brain power and makes it difficult for you to process information or think clearly.
Goodbye productivity, creativity, and patience.
These unseen thoughts and feelings influence your actions and behaviors in subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways. Irrational fears, “gut” reactions, impulse decisions… these are all examples of your subconscious taking the reigns and imposing itself on your ability to reason. You find yourself unable to concentrate for very long on any one task, and you work harder to get less done in more time. Instead of crafting thoughtful responses to people and situations, you react quickly and impulsively. You might even feel like you aren't completely in control of yourself.
“It is comparable to thinking you are alone in an empty stadium, and then realizing you are actually surrounded by a hundred thousand screaming, oftentimes angry, fans.” —meditationSHIFT
The good news is, you don’t need to abolish or “get rid of” these thoughts or feelings—in fact, you would most likely just increase their numbers and pervasiveness if you tried. Instead, all you need to do is bring awareness to them. Notice them, acknowledge them, be curious about them. Look at them without judgment or analysis, and watch them until they go out the same way they came in (essentially hitting their own “end task” buttons).
Becoming aware of your unchecked thinking helps you zero in on that distracting, dull hum that you didn’t even know was there, effectively shutting it off.
Cultivating awareness equips you with your own personal “Task Manager,” but it takes practice learning how to access and utilize it. Your mind is compulsive, and it will sweep you away in its drama any chance it gets.
Don’t let it.
Learn how to become more aware and mindful by meditating every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. A consistent practice is essential to breaking down the mental constructs that keep your mind from operating at peak performance.
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