“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~Quote, John Muir
Now, good old John Muir didn’t say “the mountains are calling, but I just have to finish this TV marathon of Frasier first.”
He clearly focused his priorities to fulfill his purpose, to do what he needed to follow his joy. He certainly wasn’t going to let any minor distractions clutter up his path!
The Seductive Power of Distraction
I’ve been combating a tendency towards distraction lately, trying to manage my online presence …“Hey people I’m over here!”, while still trying to live a balanced life. A life that lets me walk through the woods, prepare nutritious meals, talk with, hug and snuggle those I love, and get in a bit of work and very important play into every day.
That can be a pretty tall order when confronted with the “terrible twins” of distraction:
1. Mindless Distraction: What about that last half hour you spent obsessively pinning things to Pinterest? Neurotically checking for Facebook notifications? It’s soooo easy to get lost in your devices, to push on past your stopping point for “Just 15 more minutes”... (oh really?)
2. Overcommitted Distraction… Maybe you’ve said yes (and yes and yes) once again to helping out again with that Charity Function, and taking over that field trip, and oh yeah, laboring at home on that office project. Whatever it is, you are petrified of saying no, of disappointing someone, of being seen as a “bad” person… and so you whip up your compromise “meal in a box” for the kids and rush out the door to make your commitment…
However you used it, that collection of seconds, minutes and hours was unique- it was yours to spend, and you will never get it back. Did you use it on things important to you?
Will you look back from your deathbed and see that as “time well spent?”
The Power of Clarification
-What is important to you?
-What do you need to be healthy and happy? (Family time, love, travel, financial security, your dream job, physical health…?)
-How many of your daily activities help support the things most important to you?
-How many move you closer to achieving your goals, to being a happier person?
You say you’ve been too busy to even set goals? hmmmm….. Sounds like a clear case of distraction.
Make a list… and check it twice!
Sit yourself down. No distractions. No leaping up to wash the dishes. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Really take the time you need. Write up a list of your mindless activities and (over)commitments, from checking your Facebook, to always saying ‘yes’ to every charity function and event that comes your way. How many of these activities contribute to your goals and well-being?
Now that you’re clear on your priorities, which activities need a strict cutoff time? Which should be cut completely? BE RUTHLESS.
If you can, consider removing the distraction completely. Take your apps off of cellular data access- you can’t use them except for on wifi. Get rid of the video games, get rid of your cable subscription and substitute your mindless TV watching for reading a good book or playing outside with your kids.
So, next time you find yourself mindlessly hitting the refresh button on that Instagram feed to check how many likes you got this minute, take a deep breath, put down the phone and pick up your list of goals.
Next time someone asks you to commit to something, realize that they are asking you to sacrifice a part of your life to their goal… How important is it to you? Are you willing to pass up chunks of your and your loved ones lives to be a martyr this particular cause?
Want to know one practice that has made a major difference in my life and lowered my stress by half?
Ready for it?
No, not just any kind of breathing, but regular, brief bouts of deep, thoughtful, belly-breathing. The kind of breathing that expands your lower abdomen into a mini-impression of a happy buddha belly, while leaving your overworked chest to take a break from breath production. Your abs take on the work, expanding outward into a deliberate pooch as you slowly suck in massive quantities of much needed oxygen, then gradually tightening and contracting to exhale those last vestiges of CO2…
Health benefits of deep breathing:
Turns out that simply five minutes a day of belly breathing, broken up into one minute segments can be a real miracle! This deep, considered breathing actually resets your nervous system from your typically harried scamper into a parasympathetic (read: relaxed) state. (If you want to go into more detail, I suggest you check out the whole technique and its context over at Steve Barnes’ blog. )
Reset your Stress!
Guess what? Resetting your stress with belly breathing can be vitally important for your health. Among many other things, people under stress tend to:
–be more forgetful about past knowledge, and unable to commit new ideas to memory (feel like working towards early dementia?)
–be more likely choose bad foods, be cranky and make bad decisions due to poor blood brought on by cortisol and insulin spikes. (Junk food noshing, moody, impulsive shopping anyone?)
– use up key nutrients at an alarming rate. If your body thinks a tiger is chasing you, it’s going to put itself into overdrive- it can’t tell that it’s just your reaction to your 3 year old screaming for Flaming Cheetos for the thousandth time.
Under extended or extreme stress your body can use up vital nutrients like magnesium, zinc and B vitamins at an alarming rate- anywhere from 2-300 times your usual expenditure (reference to come.) Yowza! So even if you are eating what you think is a good, nutrient dense diet, you may be worse off than the guy down the street eating McDonalds if you can’t get a handle on runaway stress.
On the plus side, implementing deep breathing is one of the simplest steps you can take to help short circuit this dastardly loop. It may not solve everything, but it’s a great start that can help you get a toehold into choosing other positive behaviors.
How I Fit it in to My Life:
Let’s be honest, if you’re already stressed, you’re not going to remember to stop and breathe in the middle of the last minute deadline dash at work. I set a recurring alarm on my phone spaced out regularly through my day to help remind me.
The alarm goes off and I take that minute to breathe… and this is critical folks-
I do it even if I don’t think I need it!! (We are building a pattern here people!)
Set yourself up for anti-stress success:
Do what you need to keep up your consistent dedication to deep breathing practice. Build it into your life, make it easy for yourself with alarms, notes, visual and location triggers (every time you walk past the water cooler…?) to reap major rewards.
As you form the habit, you will eventually catch yourself unconsciously using your deep breathing more and more throughout the day- without even needing an alarm, resetting your nervous system any time you need it…