Today we ask that you observe the discursive nature of your thoughts.
Life really is not all that complicated. It is complicated only in the mind; in the thoughts.
In reality, you can only do one thing at a time. You eat breakfast. You take a shower. You look at things on the internet. You drive a car. You speak with someone on a phone. You write an email.
Yes, you can attempt to “multitask.” But “multitasking” isn’t really “multitasking,” in the sense that you are doing many things all at once. Rather, you are rapidly shifting your primary attention between several different focal points.
So, if you are talking on the phone and checking email at the same time, really what is happening is that first you pay attention to the conversation, then you pay attention to the email, then you pay attention to the conversation. Of course, this jumping happens very rapidly. Nevertheless, in any given millisecond, your conscious mind is focused on one primary object.
Yes, you can take a shower with your mind racing back and forth, you can drive a car with your mind racing. But even there, your consciousness is rapidly shifting between focal points. Sometimes you must focus on driving. Other times, you are focused on your discursive thought flow, while the driving is left to subconscious, or autonomic processes (you are on “auto-pilot.”)
On the whole, this continual rapid attention-jumping is not particularly productive. Letting the discursive thought process run away with you is not particularly productive, either.
Many of you have had the experience of getting a lot done when you are able to focus your conscious attention on one subject for an extended period of time.
Basically, this is always the case. Multitasking does not get more done, but is actually terribly unproductive.
It really very simple. When the mind is scattered, the will is scattered. The life force itself is scattered.
Imagine what would happen if a champion athlete “multitasked” in the middle of a race. He would lose very quickly! Of course, this does not happen. In order to become a champion athlete, the athlete must learn to focus his mind completely on the task at hand. This concentrates his will, and his life force — thus allowing the athlete to accomplish incredible feats.
There is not one of you out there who cannot benefit from learning to focus in this way.
Here are some very simple techniques:
- When engaged in any task, set a timer. Give your conscious mind a set period in which you will not check email or the internet, or stop and do something else. It need not be a lengthy period. Even ten or fifteen minutes can be enough. A lot can be accomplished in ten minutes of totally focused attention.
- Break large tasks up into small, discrete pieces. Again, this is where a lot can be accomplished even in ten or fifteen minutes. The state of “overwhelm” occurs when one contemplates what seems like a very large task. Paralysis sets in; the task is too large, and therefore impossible. Much easier to wander around on the internet than focus on that impossible mountain. Break it up. You can’t swallow an apple in one big gulp. You must chew it in small pieces.
- Make sure to consciously appreciate yourself when you do finish a small task. It is very common, when setting out to do something healthy, that a critical voice immediately attacks you for not doing enough or starting too late. This voice is 100% predictable. It is like clockwork. If you hear this voice, know that it is actually a sign you are on the right track. Don’t listen to it.
- Cultivate practices that stabilize the consciousness and help you learn not to get carried away by the stream of discursive thought. Meditation is an extremely simple practice that requires you only to set a timer for ten or fifteen or twenty minutes, sit down upright, listen to your breath, and pay attention to your racing mind — not letting it run away, but gently bringing attention back to the breath. Learning how to count the breath is very helpful. Practices like yoga, tai chi, and qigong are very helpful. Any activity that gets you out of your mind and back into your body is helpful.
- Be loving and gentle with yourself. Being punitive with yourself for not accomplishing things sets up a negative feedback loop that makes you even less motivated to do simple tasks. This is why it is essential to actively, consciously appreciate yourself for engaging in any healthy practice, or accomplishing any task, no matter how small and insignificant. Be a good parent to yourself. When a child does something good — when he fingerpaints or solves a puzzle or picks up his socks — the healthy parent applauds and encourages him, setting up a positive feedback loop. You must learn to do this with yourselves, regardless of the ways in which you were parented.
Do these things — learn to focus the mind and stabilize the consciousness, and be kind to yourself — and your experience of life will transform, like the withered garden that springs to life when it is watered and nurtured.