I'm not great at focusing, and I have a feeling I'm not the only one.
Twenty-somethings are constantly stimulated, switching tasks and receiving updates.
When we find a moment of quiet, we immediately fill it: text, check Instagram, check Reddit, check Twitter, send a Snapchat and repeat in 15 minutes.
Can you remember the last time you sat quietly? The last time you were still?
It turns out, stillness is a powerful tool. It can help you de-stress, clear your head and appreciate existing.
If you're like me, your head is constantly swirling with a flurry of thoughts, worries, plans, to-do lists and imaginary conversations.
Whether it's while eating, showering or trying to fall asleep, our minds are always busy.
Millennials are supposed to be amazing multitaskers, but I've realized it's kind of a curse.
Just because we can do a million things at once – like shopping online, studying, updating Facebook and watching TV all while trying to have a conversation – doesn't mean we should.
Study upon study has shown this is ineffective and causes us to do a crappier job at all of the things we're trying to do quickly.
When our minds are going a mile a minute, we can become so distracted that we barely realize what we're doing.
Sometimes I'll brush my teeth, walk to work or cook a meal entirely on autopilot because I'm worrying about so many different things.
Instead of living in the moment, I'm living in my head.
And most of the time, those thoughts are completely useless.
Is worrying about that 10 am meeting actually going to help me prepare for it? Is re-living a conversation in my head ever going to change what I said in the past? No, it isn't.
So, how can we try to control the senseless distraction that goes on in our heads?
How do we let go of our thoughts?
A good place to start is by trying to focus more on the present moment.
Concentrate on being mindful of your breathing, on what you're doing and on each step you're taking. It's not easy.
For the first few months, I would get about five minutes in before realizing that my mind had wandered off somewhere.
But, I kept trying.
Here are some simple steps you can take to relax and let go of your thoughts in a variety of situations:
- Pause and be still.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Focus on breathing in and out, on the physical sensation of breathing. Notice which parts of your body move as you breathe.
- Once you're relaxed, look inward and notice how your body is feeling overall. How are you feeling mentally, physically and emotionally at this moment?
- When you notice a feeling, recognize it and allow it to happen, but don't try to control it: I am feeling a pain in my back. I am feeling anxious. I am feeling restless.
- Instead of pushing away a feeling, simply acknowledge it and let it drift away. Turn your attention elsewhere.
- Use the same process when your mind wanders off. If you start thinking about something that's worrying you, don't reject it.
Recognize it. I am thinking about my job because it's important to me. Allow it, and then move on.
I sometimes visualize myself taking this thought and placing it on a shelf out of the way. I can come back to it at a more useful time.
- Try to do this for a few minutes. Don't worry about sitting in a certain position. Don't ask yourself if you're “doing it right.”
Once you're finished, notice how your body and mind feel. Are they relaxed? Are they refreshed?
If the answer is yes, try to carve out a few minutes each day to practice this process.
The idea is not to escape your thoughts; you can achieve that by watching TV or drinking a few glasses of wine.
The point is to recognize your thoughts, to allow them in and to move past them.
You don't have to use meditation to find these quiet moments. This kind of still awareness can be achieved while taking a walk, while eating a meal or while trying to fall asleep.
I try to do this once a day while meditating or while I'm on the subway, struggling to leave the frustrations of the day behind.
Emptying your mind for a few minutes to stop and be still can be incredibly beneficial.
It's made me calmer and less stressed, and contentment comes a little bit more easily.
It's helped me leave my work anxiety at the office. It's made stop worrying about things I can't control and enjoy the few things that matter most.
Usually, that comes down to appreciating the time spent with whomever I'm around.