One of the central aspects of Yoga and meditation, is the ability to develop a state of focused attention, an unwavering mind, and a deep connection to the present moment. This state of being – known as dharana – is the stage that occurs just before slipping into meditation according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. When practicing meditation, we might use the breath, an image, or a mantra to anchor our attention. When we’re able to focus on the chosen object enough, this is known as Eka Grata or ‘one-pointed focus’. Eka Grata and Dharana work together to help us move into what you may have already heard as the ‘flow state’. The flow state is recognised within psychology as being fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment of the moment at hand. You might even call it ‘being in the zone’.
The state of flow is said to enhance overall wellbeing, learning, creativity, and productivity. The thing is however, it’s difficult to enter into the flow state when you have a lot of thoughts or worries whirling around your brain – something the yoga sutras call chitta vrittis, or ‘fluctuations of the mind’. In today’s world, we’re constantly being exposed to more stimuli than we have ever known in our thousands of years of evolution, and the concept of ‘multitasking’ is hailed as the key to getting things done. When you try to multi-task though, do you feel focused and productive? Or scattered and panicked? If your answer is the latter, you can rest assured that multitasking is actually something none of us can really do…
What is multitasking, and why is it so damaging?
‘Multitasking’, is the ability to try to perform two or more tasks simultaneously – think of answering emails whilst listening to a podcast, cooking dinner whilst talking on the phone, or eating a meal whilst watching TV. Whilst these abilities may seem beneficial, they can actually be detrimental to our physical, mental and emotional health, because we cannot multitask, and trying to do so is pretty stressful. Studies on brain function show that when we think we’re multitasking, what we’re actually doing is switching attention from one thing to another in quick succession. When we do this with tasks like conversations, studying, or writing an important email, the brain has to re-focus itself each time we switch our attention, and it can’t re-focus instantly. The more we switch between tasks, the more distracted we become, the more scattered and stressed we’re likely to feel, and as Cal Newport reveals in his book Deep Work, we’re much more likely to feel drained and fatigued after a day of multitasking. Being the habitual humans we are, those of us who are chronic multi-taskers tend to carry this habit into other situations outside of work. If you switch between tabs and websites whilst working, you’re also likely to find it really difficult to calm your mind for meditation. If you can’t stop yourself reaching for your phone every ten minutes, you’re also likely to get distracted and lose focus when in conversation with a loved one. Technology does indeed make it easier for us to do more today, but if we want to feel happier, healthier and more connected to life, what we really need is less. If you’re still reading and haven’t become distracted yet, take a look at the following five ways to stop multitasking and get more done:
De-Clutter Your Home
The yogic text the Bhagavad Gita is rich in symbolism and poetry, and one of the key themes is control of the senses. The text lays out that a lot of the suffering we experience in life is due to falling under the control of our senses. Our minds are pulled around by what we hear and see, which often leads to a sense of desire when we continually want what we don’t have, or want more and more of what we’ve got. Controlling the senses is what the Bhagavad Gita advises when working towards peace and contentment. If your senses feel fatigued from over-stimulation via screens, sounds, or clutter, it’s time to clear your home and make way for a little more minimalism. The more ‘stuff’ we have around us, the more our eyes have to soak up, and the more our brains have to process. Think about how you feel energetically too when you walk into a messy room – it’s not exactly a recipe for getting ‘in the zone’. To start feeling more focused, donate or gift-away items you never use any more, possessions that you hold on to ‘just in case’, and anything that simply doesn’t feel good to you. With more physical space around you, your mind is less likely to be distracted, and you’ll feel more mentally spacious and relaxed.
Do Less (And feel free to say ‘no’)
Yes, we’re easing out of lockdown and events are beginning to pop up, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to all of them. If your calendar is full and the thought of attending all those upcoming events is fatiguing you already, it’s time to listen to your intuition and say ‘no’ to what doesn’t feel like a ‘hell yes’. If a night in with a bath and an Aery Serene Candle feels more inviting than a night out, listen to that feeling and get the bubble bath out. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how the body is giving us signs all the time about what our ‘yes’ and ‘no’ cues are. Check in with yourself to notice physically what a ‘no’ feels like; does your stomach tighten? Does your jaw clench? Then, notice what a ‘yes’ feels like. Do you feel relaxed or excited? Your mind will be able to focus far better on what you actually want to do when it’s not being asked to keep up with so many plans.
If you are one of those people answering emails whilst listening to a podcast, or attempting to work on three different professional projects at once, time-blocking is your new best friend. The productivity ‘hack’ is all about planning your days to the smallest detail, preventing ‘decision fatigue’, and allowing you to give your full attention to everything you do. Use the Daily Greatness Business Planner to block out time for checking emails, time for working on urgent deadlines, time for taking a coffee break, and time for pursuing your passions and hobbies. You can even plan in snack breaks, social media breaks, and time to restore your energy with a few gentle backbends supported by a bolster. The idea is that when you’re working, you’re really working and doing your best, and when you’re resting and playing, you’re really giving yourself that time to unwind and relax.
Where is your phone right now? In all likelihood, it’s somewhere you can seen it, and it might even be close to your body in your pocket. Maybe you’re even reading these words on your phone right now? It’s strange to think that the internet only went mainstream on the mid 1990s, and iPhones weren’t invented until 2007. Fast-forward to today, and the idea of going one day without internet access via a smartphone is now known as a ‘digital detox’… When we’re trying to focus on a work task, a hobby, or meditation practice, there’s nothing more distracting than having your phone next to you. Even if you don’t reach for it, just having your phone next to you is distracting for the mind, which will prevent you from entering into the ‘flow state’. To start focusing more and getting ‘deep work’ done, move your phone into another room whilst you’re working. Trust me, it might feel like you’re missing a limb at first, but after a while, you’ll probably notice you’ve been more productive and ‘in the zone’ than ever.
When we’re in a panicked state of multitasking, our breathing often becomes erratic, and we feel more stressed. The more stressed we feel, the more difficult it is to focus. Stress can prevent us from focusing on work, and stop us enjoying non-work life, but thankfully we already have the very tool we need to remedy this; Breathing. If you’re stuck in a cycle of doing way too much but not getting very much done, begin a regular practice of Coherent Breathing, which is simply breathing in for six seconds, and out for six seconds. This practice helps relax the nervous system, regulates blood pressure, can improve sleep and re-focus the mind. For more ideas on taking breathing breaks and ways of feeling calmer, read Do Breathe: Calm Your Mind. Find Focus. Get Stuff Done. By Michael William Townsend.