The antidote to multitasking is mindfulness

Mindfulness, my own personal word-of-the-decade, is the polar opposite of multitasking, which is not at all what it sounds like. Despite popular opinion, multitasking does not help you to get a whole bunch of different things done all at once. When you multitask, what you actually do is to switch your attention incessantly from one focus to another, giving none your full consideration. To multitask is to invest heavily in attention-switching at the expense of focus and goals. A waste of your precious energy, multitasking frazzles your nerves and reduces your ability to focus. The antidote to multitasking is mindfulness.

Mindfulness can take the form of meditation, massage, prayer, yoga, stretching, walking, knitting, cooking, massage, playing piano, praying, hiking, reading, listening to music, swimming, fishing, camping under the stars, petting the dog, kicking a soccer ball with a child, or watching fish swim in their aquarium. But it could easily be a thousand other options. Its essential character is to apply oneself completely to the task at hand, and to minimize interference from random distracting thoughts. Mindfulness is the self-care that connects you with your inner self. It refocuses your energy to help you understand what your body needs. It’s a key that connects you with yourself. It is foundational to your identity, and to your grounding in the world. It’s your choice.

Mindfulness helps you learn to be comfortable in your own skin. It accepts you. It connects you. It likes your attention.

I once saw a captivating presentation on the subject of context. It started with a man stepping into a cab. Music is playing. Hard, loud, angry music. Every intersection, every movement of every individual on the street, is colored by the music. A random passerby’s raised arms look threatening. A policeman is shouting at someone, a child? Worried, distracted people are hurrying to their destinations. The images fade. Then the scene returns to the very beginning of the tape, and the identical videotape plays once more, but with one significant difference. This time, when the man steps into the cab, the soundtrack plays gentle, melodic music. Now it seems as if the random passerby with raised arms is conducting the music. The policeman is calling a greeting to a child. The pedestrians look focused, but no longer frightened. The difference is remarkable.

The presenter’s point was that “you see the world through how you feel.” It is worth taking a moment to think about that sentence for a minute. It is not frustrating experiences that make the world a more frustrating place. It is your response to those frustrating experiences. Frustration is a given, but your response to frustration is a choice that you make.

Mindfulness is a choice. Mindfulness is the place where “expect respect” and “be the change” intersect. When you give yourself time to rest your mind, even just a few moments, you send yourself a message. “I respect myself.” “I am worth the best I can offer myself.” “I deserve the best of me.” “I am worthy.” And, indeed, you are.

Roxanne Sukol is an internal medicine physician who blogs at Your Health is on Your Plate.

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