Mindfulness: the cure for the ‘checklist life’

Article contributed by guest author Fern Weis

Go here, do that, make the calls, pay the bills, quantify, measure, check it off. Are you living the checklist life?

“Who me? I don’t have time for this!” You may think that a week before school starts is the wrong time to hear this message.  In fact, it’s the perfect time. As you gear up for highly structured days, running your kids here and there, supervising them, meals, homework, your own job, and everything else it takes to run a family and a household, consider how stressful it all is. How can you include some peaceful, mindful time in your day? It’s not optional anymore, not if you want to be more patient, healthy and creative.

I don’t believe we are supposed to be always doing; arranging our calendar so we can fit in just one more thing; attaching a measurement to everything we do. When was the last time you really paid attention to where you are without thinking about the outcome or checking it off your to-do list?

My family has a little vacation home in the Poconos. We don’t come up nearly enough, but I’ll take what I can get. Time seems to stand still here and I embrace spending my days reading, talking, eating meals on the porch. I can’t seem to do that at home without feeling guilty about it, but up here it works.

This morning I took the dog for a walk, and also set my phone app to track time and distance. (It’s one tool I have to motivate me to get the exercise.) Mid-walk I was so tempted to check it. How far had I walked? Had I hit the 30-minute mark yet?

You can’t know (well, maybe you can) the self-control it took to not give in to that impulse. You may consider this a non-issue, but in a world where we’ve come to expect instant information and gratification, it’s a big deal to resist. I consciously shifted my focus to the sounds of the crickets and the wind in the trees, and to noticing my surroundings. It took an effort to make it about the experience, rather than about accomplishing something. I arrived home more relaxed, and with less of the chatter that clutters my brain. Mindfulness works.

The more structure and stress, the more you need these moments. Whether you call it balance, self-care or calm, mindfulness will give you a much-needed break from the checklist life. Here are a few ways to get started:

     1) Meditation. (I can hear the groans. Please, keep reading.) I was resistant to it, too, until someone helped me understand that meditation isn’t something you have to do for an hour, and it isn’t about completely clearing your mind.

Meditation helps me shift my attention away from my thoughts and onto my breath. That mind-chatter can be constant, draining, anxiety-producing. Meditation, even for a minute or two, changes that energy.

Check out The Mindfulness App 1 & 2 to get started. It has guided and silent meditations, from 3 to 30 minutes. You can read about the other features yourself. No pressure, just the gift of a few quiet minutes.

     2) Focus on the task at hand. This is a technique borrowed from Family Recovery Resources. Its original purpose was to help people when they are ‘flooded’ by intense emotions, and it can work just as well for our purposes.

It’s pretty simple. Notice what your hands are doing, and pay attention to the experience. If you are washing the dishes you may notice, “I’m squeezing dish liquid onto the sponge. I’m turning on the water, and putting the sponge under the running water. The water runs over my hand. It is warm and smooth. I rub the plate with the soapy sponge…” and so on.

Take the focus off of just ‘getting through’ the task so you can move on to the next thing. Experience it. Be mindful and in the present moment.  Again, it’s a way to ease the stress of all that fills your day.

     3) Add a couple of minutes to your shower and let your mind wander. Many people report that the lack of distractions and the warm water are not only relaxing, they spark creativity!   (I know this works.)

     4) Pay attention to details and the natural world around you. Look at the brushstrokes in a painting; notice the patterns in wood furniture; be aware of the tastes and textures of your food; or contemplate the clouds. Give yourself a break from the to-do list, just for a few minutes.  You will feel refreshed.

There are many ways to be mindful. If you want to be more peaceful and patient and reduce the mad rush of life, try one of the suggestions above, or do your own search for mindfulness methods. Which one will you try?

I love to hear what you do, or are going to try, to take a break from the checklist life.  Share your best tips below.

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