I talk to a lot of stressed out people on a regular basis. I mean, technically we all do, because most people these days would at least occasionally describe themselves as stressed, or at least “busy,” which pretty readily melts into “stressed” before you know it. In particular, the people I’ve been interacting with – mainly through my coaching work – are talking about feeling that specific type of overwhelmed that you feel when you have way more to do that you think you can. Inevitably, we end up coming back to the same subject:
Time management. Really, I think the preferred approach would be simply have more hours in the day, but because none of us seem to be able to manifest that miracle, we take it back to time management.
I’ve written about being overwhelmed before, and different ways to use mindfulness to find your way through that scary space. Although overwhelm is definitely connected to time management, there’s more to it than that. One of the reasons so many of us feel like we can’t do it all is because we’re doing more than we think we are.
It’s about two things: your attention, and distraction.
In this moment in history, your attention is the most valuable thing you possess. Everywhere you go, there are efforts to attract it. That’s been the case since the dawn of the modern consumer era, but these days, it’s always up for grabs. What exactly to you think “clickbait” is trying to bait? Why is news constantly “breaking” and often devolving into broadcasted screaming matches? Why does nearly every app you put on your phone come with a “notifications” feature that has to be actively disabled if you don’t want it?
Your attention is being sold every waking moment of your life. Except, you’re the one who’s paying, and you’re giving it away.
Honestly, I can’t blame you. You know by now that whatever I write here is always as much a message to myself as to you. The world (and your pocket, and your purse) is full of distractions, and most of them are super entertaining. Or at least you think they are, until later on you wonder why you have these feelings of not being able to keep up with everyone else you know, or not having everything you “need,” of wanting to grab for those distractions again to fill the quiet that has become so unusual and uncomfortable.
Mindfulness is ultimately about developing an awareness of where your attention goes, and building the ability to intentionally direct it, rather than have the world do that for you. All the meditation, breathwork, and mindful movement you could ever do is simply a means to practice acting with both intention and full awareness.
Your attention is powerful. Whatever you choose to direct it towards, grows. It is your most valuable asset, so protect it fiercely and use it intentionally in a way that directs as much of that growth as possible to the things most meaningful to you.
The rest? Eh, let someone else pay to stare at all that.
“Far better to live your own path imperfectly than to live another’s life perfectly.” – The Bhagavad Gita (Thanks for the inspiration, Alyce!)
Photo credit: Anthony Tran