Whilst at a recent “awayday” (*shudder*) at work, we had a session on mindfulness, and how to take this concept and apply it to our everyday lives. Mindfulness is having a “bit of a moment”, with everyone from Google to Arianna Huffington to the World Bank getting on board. Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. There’s lots of interesting stuff about it around – including on the NHS pages, and I think it’s well worth a look if you feel like the stresses of life are getting you down and you need a way to calm some of the noise.
Now, I’m normally a bit of a cynic about these things – especially when it seems to be a “movement”, and has been co-opted by big finance companies with a need to show their caring, fluffy side – Google’s mindfulness guru is known as Jolly Good Fellow, fyi, but a few things said at the session really struck a chord – and I started to think about how I could and incorporate some of this into my everyday life.
I also recently came across an article in the New York Times on “mindless accumulation”, which is something I think we all need to be more aware of – I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with having things and liking things (I do love things. I really do.) – but when it crosses over into getting more more more, just for the sake of it, I think we have to question our motives – and our sanity. The article refers specifically to earning wages, and reports an interesting study where subjects were made to listen to white noise in order to receive chocolates as a reward. Despite saying at the beginning of the study how much chocolate they would be able to consume, they carried on listening to the white noise well beyond this point – for the sake of getting more chocolate than they could eat (they couldn’t take any extra away with them).
The impulse seemed less pronounced, even mixed, with the low earners. They earned less chocolate than they predicted they could eat. But the high earners and the low earners listened to about the same amount of obnoxious noise in the five-minute period, which Dr. Hsee said strongly suggested that both groups were driven by the same thing: not by how much they need, but by how much work they could withstand.
How applicable is this to the real world, where people earn money, not chocolate, and can’t predict how long life will last, or whether they will need resources to prepare for a calamity? Hard to say, but the study does show that even when people know clear boundaries — that they absolutely can’t take the candy with them when they go — they still earn more than they can possibly use.
So with all that in mind, I thought I would come up with a few things I could take on board which might make everything a little more peaceful and calm in my life.
1. Turn off my screen at night
This is gonna be hard, man. I am an unconscious (subconscious?) phone checker. I look at it constantly. I take it to bed with me and it’s the last thing I look at before I go to sleep (poor boyfriend) and the first thing I look at when I wake up – unless the cat has climbed on to my chest in the middle of the night and is doing her weird creepy stare-y thing. I don’t even know why I do it half the time, it’s almost a kind of compulsion. So no more looking at my phone while in bed. I’m going to start leaving it charging downstairs and everything. Well, at some point I will do this. Baby steps.
2. Five minutes a day of quiet brain time
Again, I think this is going to be a hard one. I’m not talking full on meditation here. Just five minutes where I’m not looking at my phone, talking on my phone, looking at a computer, reading a book, reading a paper, listening to music, watching TV, making endless to-do lists in my head, berating myself for all that I haven’t yet done… You get the picture. Just five minutes of quietening my brain, thinking about breathing, and just being. That’s all.
3. Do something creative every day
Now I don’t mean creating a masterwork or knitting a sweater in an evening, I just mean making the effort to do something other than work/slobbing out in front of the TV/passively enjoying something. So my choir is included in this, as is writing a blog post – and of course, baking, knitting and sewing are all included.
4. Eat at the table
I haven’t broached this one with my boyfriend yet, so we’ll see how this one turns out. At the moment our dining table is covered in sewing paraphernalia and Stuff (I like stuff, did I mention that), so our dinners are inevitably spent balancing plates on our laps in front of Game of Thrones. But just once a week I am pledging to eat my dinner at the table like a proper grown up. This is inevitably going to be easier during the summer months as we’ve already had as many BBQs as we can cram in, eating outside at the garden table. But we’ll see!
5. Buying once stuff I love
I read a great tip once – only buy it if it makes you do a dance in the dressing room. And that about sums it up. Buy it if I love it, not because it’s on sale or because I think I should get it, or just well it’s ok and it will probably go well with that skirt maybe if I put a belt on. Just be more mindful.
What do you think – could any of these help make a difference? Or do you do any of these already? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Today’s quote is from Mother Theresa.