How To Meditate Everywhere, All The Time
The Truth About Multi-Tasking
No matter what you’re doing, your mind is only capable of focusing on one single thing at any given time. What many people do, whether intentionally or not, is switch their focus from one thing to another rapidly. This is commonly referred to as multi-tasking, and many chronic multi-taskers are not even aware that they’re doing it.
It’s important to first understand and accept that multi-tasking is a very bad habit. In fact, multi-tasking, as most people define it, is impossible. Your body may be able to perform different tasks simultaneously, but your mind cannot give its focus to more than one. To compensate and prevent mistakes, your brain will cycle between the different tasks you are engaged in, and make sure nothing terrible is about to happen. While driving, you may focus on safely avoiding an obstacle in the road, or not spilling your coffee, but never both. If it’s a piece of debris in the road, your coffee might be worth the risk — if the obstacle is a small child, probably not.
There’s only two tasks involved in that example, but most people are likely to be doing even more than that at once, even while driving. This also extends beyond the “doing” tasks and into the “thinking” tasks, which are at least as distracting as the former. The radio, the clock, the notifications on your phone, the weather, the jerk in front of you going too slow, what your boss is gonna yell about today, what you’re gonna do after work, etc.
We humans are actually really good at this multi-tasking stuff, considering the immense complexity of the tasks we are performing. It is a skill that many of us develop constantly. We practice day in and day out, scrolling through our news feeds and bouncing from app to app while catching up on our favorite TV show, training our brains to be experts at scattering focus. We become master architects of inner chaos. We personally manufacture the chronic afflictions of anxiety and restlessness that we so detest.
Single-Tasking For Health And Happiness
The key to regaining control of your mind and relieving the side effects of chronic multi-tasking and overthinking is this: single-tasking. This form of active meditation isn’t about what you do, it’s about what you don’t do. If you’re driving, just drive. Turn off the radio, silence your phone, engage the cruise control, and don’t think about anything except the present. Absorb every feeling and every sound. Take it all in.
While going about your day, you can wear earbuds and play music to help cut out the distractions, but use music without lyrics and without commercials. I prefer classical, jazz, or repetitive electronic music. The music is there to provide a backdrop for your day, so that you can always focus on what you’re doing, and not what you’re listening to.
Single-tasking is the psychological equivalent of a clean-eating diet. Each thought is sourced simply and responsibly. You maintain awareness of where these thoughts come from, how they are processed, and when they are consumed. You control your cravings for information, and eliminate all unnecessary junk.
Of course, you’ll need to switch tasks throughout the day. Maintaining your meditative state is easy when you switch tasks on purpose, instead of being thrown around like you’re inside a giant pinball machine. When it’s time to respond to messages or calls on your phone, you can do that. Messages shouldn’t get to decide when you respond to them by beeping at you and drawing your attention away — only you can decide where your attention will turn.
Make it your mission to transition between tasks very slowly and purposefully, instead of submitting to the chaos and mayhem that the modern world will drag you into. Just single-task, and keep the extra junk out.
- Absolutely no “feeds” of any kind, on Facebook, Instagram, news media, or other aggregate sources of information.
- Use no more than one app at a time, and allow at least 10 minutes of focus recovery time before using another.
- Disable all notifications, and keep your phone completely silenced except for the call ringer in case of emergency.
- Carry a book with you wherever you go, which will provide you with a single productive task to fill any gaps throughout your day.
- Stop using the TV to keep you company, or to create background noise. Either watch TV or do something else, never both.
- Always hit the mute button during commercials or ads. Upgrade to premium music-streaming services to avoid ad interruptions.
- Finish what you are doing before moving on. If the task is lengthy, decide on a definite stopping point and reach it.
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