I have to admit, I have no idea how people with cable television ever get anything done! I took some time away from the family for a writing retreat, but found myself captured the first evening by the Food Network. I know not everyone must watch other people eat and prepare food 24/7, but there are 100s of channels here – there must be something for everyone at any time. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I flipped on over to Say Yes to the Dress when there was a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives repeat.
I have a big writing project due in January, so this morning I realized that I would have to take a cold turkey break all day from TV if I was going to move it along on this trip. I feel like I used to be able to pound out a paper with the TV on and probably the radio too, and three conversations happening in the room, but those days are gone – if they weren’t a figment of my imagination to begin with.
Now I find myself having to concentrate on one thing at a time (well, I did find I could eat Cheetos and flip channels at the same time, but those are using the same brain processes, I think). And I wonder did something change or was I really never all that great at multi-tasking to begin with?
Science will tell me that it is the latter – people really cannot multi-task and when we try, we actually slow ourselves down. Instead of doing two things at once, we are really just going back and forth between the two things, with time needed for our brains to make the switch each time.
So maybe I was “switch-tasking” and not really multi-tasking in my heyday, but I was still good at getting multiple things done. I could have at least written a bog post with the TV on, but alas I just switched the TV off because there was little writing and much zoning on Guy’s Grocery Games happening instead. So is something different and if so, is it a good thing?
I think the answer to both of those questions is an unqualified yes. What is different is that through years of spiritual practice I have learned to bring focus to my work and to my play – and that has made my life better. I am now uneasy when my attention is pulled in too many directions; I would describe it as something being out of alignment. I am not my best self when I do not bring my whole self to a task, even if that task is simply watching a great chef prepare food.
If it is not the right moment to play, then I need to discern what it is the right moment for – writing a children’s curriculum this morning, for example – and put off Food Network or a walk on the beach or even a meal with my in-laws until that is done. This has made my life better, because I now can also enjoy the meals and the walks and even the TV shows, knowing that I am doing them in their proper time as well. As hard as it was to turn down breakfast out with my husband’s parents this morning, we had a more lovely evening dinner because I was not stressing about work. I had made time to finish it and could now relax and talk.
Life does not always hand us the right time for everything. When my mother died, I can remember thinking in one selfish moment – right now, really? How could there ever have been a right time to lose a loved one. And sometimes it is not circumstances that cause problems, it is our own actions. Wouldn’t it be nice to say that you’ve never taken on too much and had too many things that needed “mindfulness” at the same time? It might be nice to say, but for me it would be a lie. I far too often overschedule myself out of time for mindfulness and right into panic. At least I recognize that I am not bringing my best self to any of the tasks in those times.
At my best, I stop the television watching or the breakfast out or whatever over-commitment I have made this week cold turkey. I use the magic word “no” and center myself again in the discernment of what God needs from me right now. And when I fail to turn the power button to off, well, eventually I have to leave the snazzy hotel room and return to my house with distractions that are far less tempting. Nothing throws me into mindful writing more than knowing the alternative is doing the dishes.
So when we finally return home at the end of this week, I’ll be getting our family’s Christmas meal ready – and guess what: we’re having turkey. Do you know what my favorite part of a turkey dinner is? The leftover turkey sandwiches – yum! So there you have it – cold turkey really IS a wonderful thing. I know it makes my life better.
We don’t have a TV at home, so I find myself binge watching in hotels. Do you have a special treat that you only indulge when you’re on vacation or away from home? Do you think the lack of something can make you crave it more? Are there any good sides to that (for example, absence makes the heart grow fonder)? Do you relate more to the “me” I describe as always trying to multi-task and actually being pretty good at it or the “me” who sees better focus and mindfulness as an improvement to life? What do you think about your current work/play balance? Is it about right? Do you ever overschedule yourself into panic? If so, what would it take for you to change that?
Check out Openings: Let the Spirit In if you would like to work on being more focused and mindful in 2018.