Mind Full or Mindful? Creating the Gift of Presence
As the clocks tick towards the end of 2016 and the beginning of the new year, we often find ourselves getting wound up (pardon the pun) when we are trying to wind down. There are so many things on our to-do list and all are competing for the very limited energy we have left at the end of another busy year.
We have developed unconscious habits around attention and communication that ensure we operate in a state of continuous partial distraction. Whilst we are busy doing tasks, our brain is thinking about the past, worrying about the future and we are anywhere but present.
Nothing gets our full attention for very long. When we move out of our usual work environment those habits of partial distraction go with us. For example, we’re at home yet find ourselves reaching for the phone to check emails, visit social media and look up the latest news. The question is – when winding down for the holidays, what impact are these automatic behaviours having on our quality of time – both with ourselves and our loved ones?
Neuroscience experiments have shown that when we slow down the brain can produce more alpha brainwaves and we are able to perform, think and feel better (see diagram in column 2 for more about brainwaves). This alpha activity has been linked to the enhancement of creativity, improved problem solving, feelings of relaxation and reduced stress. Slowing down and being present requires conscious and intentional choice to move away from the automatic behaviours we usually employ.
Insight 1 – When we slow down our brain activity it produces serotonin – one of our happy hormones. Serotonin plays an important part in supporting our immune system and is our body’s natural anti-depressant.
Insight 2 – Slower brainwaves are linked to relaxation. Our blood pressure and heart rate decreases and this then boosts the oxygen levels in our brains and maximises blood flow to our neocortex. This part of the brain is responsible for alertness and attention which means we’ll feel more refreshed, energised and focused.
Insight 3 – Want to look and feel younger and get a better quality sleep? Slowing down produces hormones such as DHEA and melotonin which slow down the ageing process and help us sleep better.
Tip 1 – Build self-awareness for greater choice over where you are focusing your attention and energy, what you are prioritising and how you are showing up for yourself and others.
Senses – get in touch with your senses and get out of the busy brain. Go for a walk. Look around, what can you hear? What are the smells in the air? What can you touch? When we light up our senses we are learning to be fully present. Observe without judging, see and hear without evaluating.
Tune into your thinking. When you find your mind wandering back to work or to troubles – stop and get curious about your thinking. When we think about our thinking (called meta cognition) we dampen down the emotional centre of the brain and activate the rational centre leaving us calmer and more centred.
Did you know that worry is an acronym? It stands for Working On Rubbish and Ruining Yourself! Worry is thinking anxiously about something that hasn’t happened yet and the antidote is taking purposeful action. For more information you can email Clare
Offer your whole self – if you are going to spend time in the company of others aim to be fully present. This means actively listening to what they are saying and how they are saying it, being engaged and active in the conversation, asking meaningful questions and making genuine eye contact. Be there in body, mind and spirit.
Play! – this is the time of year to stop being so serious and have a bit of fun. In this article you can read how beneficial play is for adults and how it improves cognitive function. I remember one Christmas when I was about 10 my brother taught me to play chess. I’ve still never beaten him but it’s a lasting pleasurable memory.
Tip 2 – Master The Third Space
This concept comes from the work of Dr Adam Fraser and invites us to consider practising the 3 R’s when transitioning from one situation or task to another. The 3 R’s stand for Reflect, Rest and Reset.
For example, you have just come from a visit to the grumpiest relatives on the planet and are heading home to see your children. Do you really want to contaminate your happy home with the complaint still ringing in your ears about how commercialised Christmas has become or the price of turkeys going through the roof??
Reflect – find something that was good about your visit
Rest – pause a moment whilst travelling home, take deep breaths and become calm
Reset – press the reset button and ask yourself how you want to show up and be present for your loved ones.
Tip 3 – Aim to read one book from cover to cover and get lost in it. In this article an experiment conducted by the University of Sussex found that, out of reading, listening to music or other relaxation activities, reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68 per cent. Listening to music reduced the levels by 61 per cent, having a cup of tea of coffee lowered them by 54 per cent and taking a walk by 42 per cent.
Tip 4 – Slow down your eating. Often at work we grab our meals and aren’t even aware of the taste and texture of the food. This holiday season try to eat mindfully by savouring each mouthful and being grateful for the bounty on your table. If you’re trying to lose weight this is also an effective strategy and you’ll feel full sooner by eating slowly.
Think about someone you know who is really present when you are in their company. How do you feel? What kind of experience is it to feel truly listened to and respected? That’s the gift you can give to others.
If you are serious about achieving a healthier work/life balance then here is a tool to help you be aware of how you are spending your time called Rescue Time.