Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

The Epidemic of Mindlessness

by James Porter September 27, 2010

Ever come to end of your shower and can't remember whether you shampooed your hair or not? That's mindlessness. Mindlessness is what we do constantly and mindfulness is what we do rarely- We drive mindlessly, we eat mindlessly and we shower mindlessly. And multi-tasking is mindlessness times whatever number of things you are trying to do at one time.

Mindlessness runs rampant. We mindlessly listen to people while they talk. We mindlessly cook, we mindlessly exercise, we mindlessly mow the lawn, we mindlessly sew, we mindlessly brush our teeth and we mindlessly do almost any repetitive task. To put it simply, this is how we spend the vast majority of our time. And besides promoting accidents, encouraging mistakes and putting off friends and family, these mindless moments, which as you can see are pervasive, are all moments lost. You thought you were living your life but you weren't even there while you were doing it. Your mind was off somewhere else.

The Epidemic of MindlessnessNow if the places you go in your mind were nice places, maybe this epidemic of mindlessness would hold some value. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the time our mind goes to its default mode of worrying about the future or experiencing regrets about the past. And when it gets there it often dwells on these thoughts and images in a repetitive, almost dysfunctional way.

I think the main reason people bungee jump, ride roller coasters, and take unnecessary risks is to free themselves from this dysfunctional thinking (which often includes self-loathing) that the mind goes to during mindlessness. These high-octane activities force our thinking into the present moment. And in the present moment, we forget about all about our other problems.

However, this form of present-moment awareness comes with a high price tag. And that price tag is the added stress hormones and the increased adrenaline that are released into your bloodstream whenever you engage in one of these activities. Sure it's a rush while it's happening and a great release when it's over. But you get so revved up beforehand that it takes you hours to recover your sense of equilibrium and inner peace afterwards. (And you get addicted to this rush and release cycle requiring even bigger risks and scarier challenges to achieve the same effect in the future.)

The antidote to mindlessness of course is mindfulness. But the form of mindfulness I'm talking about takes place during the simple activities and interactions we usually take for granted: Like taking a deep breath, gazing up at the stars, driving to work, walking through the woods or simply biting into a crisp apple.

Appreciating these simple moments is also known as everyday mindfulness practice. You can begin to do this by focusing more and more on the information coming in through your five senses and less and less on information stream coming out of your thinking mind. Here are five practical suggestions for how you can accomplish this:

  1. When you are in the shower, think about how great the hot water feels running down your back.

  2. When you're driving, turn off the radio and really look at the road and the scenery ahead of you.

  3. When you're in the company of another person, put down the cell phone or the memo you are working on and really LISTEN to the conversation.

  4. When you are lying in bed awake at night, put aide your anxious thoughts of tomorrow and focus on how warm the bed is, how great your body feels between the sheets and notice each breath coming in and out of your lungs.

  5. When you eat a meal, sit down, eat slowly, notice every bite and be sure your mouth is empty before you take the next bite.

There is a turf war going on inside your head and the mindless bad guys are winning. Take each battle one moment at a time, and eventually you will win the war. Step by step, and moment by moment, you will begin to mindfully reclaim your life. And notice, that the more time you spend focused on what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting, the more you will start to reclaim these long lost moments for yourself: You will own them. And as a result, you'll appreciate life more, simply because you're here, right now, really living it.

James Porter
James Porter