Life is chaotic. Your clients are pulled in countless directions and take on additional responsibilities each day like toppings on an ice cream sundae.
If they are not rushing to the grocery store, picking up the kids from school or planning for tomorrow’s “make or break” business meeting, they are focused on dozens of other minor tasks that have to get done.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is that your clients miss the experience of day-to-day life when they focus just on the task. They are so caught up in the end result that they have forgotten about the experience of getting there.
Sure, your client’s daughter made an “A” on her science project, but did your client notice how much her daughter smiled while they worked on it together? Once again, your client created a gourmet meal for her family, but did she appreciate the vivid colors of the vegetables or the artistic nature of her culinary masterpiece?
Or, on the commute into work this morning, did your client remember the man’s face that let your client change lanes in front of him? Probably not. It’s not your client’s fault. It’s just how fast paced we’ve become as a society. We’ve made multi-tasking a necessary art form. But, there are consequences.
The Problem of Multi-tasking and How Mindfulness Can Help
In their book, “The Mindful Way through Anxiety,” psychologists Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer note a variety of problems caused by multitasking. They include attention and memory problems, strained relationships, disconnectedness from work and loved ones and confusion and hopelessness.
Multi-tasking also fuels anxiety. Your client is always worrying about the next task. They are concerned over making careless mistakes. The stress of always being on the go is overwhelming. And the question of whether or not your client missed precious moments with his family or friends in the past is always with him.
The practice of mindfulness can help correct this pattern. Mindfulness, put in simple terms, is the practice of focusing your attention on the present. It’s not concerned with the past or the future, only the here and now.
It teaches a person how to be open to new experiences, while avoiding judgment and labeling.
Acceptance is key. Thoughts, feelings, behaviors and physical sensations are nothing more or less than thoughts, feelings, behaviors and physical sensations.
They just exist and are void of meaning. For example, Wesley suffers from panic attacks. A common thought that pops into his head before he has an attack is, “I’m going to lose it and pass out in front of everybody.”
When this thought occurs, he labels himself as being weak and crazy. He notices that his heart rate increases and he starts to sweat. These things make him more nervous as he associates these physical sensations with an impending attack.
He looks for the nearest door and tells himself he better leave to avoid embarrassment. He leaves, his anxiety goes down and he feels ashamed that he let anxiety get the best of him again.
If Wesley used mindfulness in this type of situation, he would simply acknowledge the thought of “losing it” and avoid the negative labels of weak and crazy. He would do the same for his physical sensations as well as acknowledge and deflect his urge to leave.
He would also divert his attention away from his thoughts, feelings and sensations by focusing on his present surroundings. What other people are present? What sounds can he hear? What is the temperature of the room? And so on.
Mindfulness takes focus away from your client’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations and places them on the many details and intricacies of the here and now.
Your clients miss many of life’s small wonders as a result of trying to keep up with the fast paced and hectic schedule of day-to-day life. Mindfulness allows them to slow life down and savor those wonders. But, they have to be open and willing to slow down and approach life from a different perspective. The next time your client’s life seems to be spinning out of control, remind them that:
- Multitasking is useful in today’s society, but you need to slow down and “smell the roses”
- Focusing on the present and not the past and future can help slow things down
- Mindfulness can improve psychological and physical health
- Anxiety cannot exist when a person is completely focused on the present
- Effective use of mindfulness requires practice and patience
*This article was adapted from a portion of Dr. Moore’s book “Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Overcoming Worry, Stress, and Fear.