I have been feeling unusually restless lately; it started about a week ago, and I haven’t been able to shake it. There’s a deep-seated energy permeating all of my daily activities making it hard to focus on any one topic without my mind wandering off on something else. Think of it like a web browser with too many pages open, that’s what my brain felt like, constantly bouncing from one to the other looking for something in particular without ever finding it. Perhaps it’s time to start planning my next grad adventure. But perhaps there’s more to it. I’ve been anxious without being able to put my finger on why. I’m stressing myself out over my illusive to-do list that just keeps growing. I have been taking things that I love and making them chores. I’ve turned everything into a personal challenge (I tend to get a bit competitive with myself). I’ve been driving myself insane, even going so far as to google whether adults can suddenly become ADD. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what.
So last night I decided to do something that I haven’t done in months; I fished my journal out of my desk drawer, curled up in a cozy spot and started writing. I forgot how liberating it felt to let the words flow without direction or expectation. As I started spilling out my thoughts, I realized what a jumbled mess I have been the past few weeks. I’ve ignored it, pushed it to the back of my mind, and hoped that it would all just go away. Because I didn’t think I had time. How could I possibly take the time to sit and journal, or even just think deeply about my life when I have so many things to do for my future? I forgot that there is more to life than the time you spend on the clock working towards your goals.
I realized that the writing block I have been struggling to toss off of my shoulders this past week has been self-induced. It hasn’t been your traditional writer’s block: I have ideas to work with, a mountain of them in fact, but I haven’t been able to get those words to translate onto the page. I’ve started and stopped a dozen different articles for this page, and I’ve picked up my Urban Fantasy project only to put it back down in frustration a half hour later. I’ve also been restless with my reading, the one outlet that I have always enjoyed. I haven’t been able to read more than a few pages before flipping forward to see how much farther I have to go to finish the chapter. I skim articles without reading much of the content because I can’t seem to let the words soak in. I’ve been living life in the fast lane, but I have been losing control.
Last night I figured out what I needed to do, and the answer was unbelievably simple: I need to slow down and take some time to cultivate myself. You see, I have always been one for self-reflection. I love the ways of the zen teachings, I think that mindfulness is probably the most overlooked benefit to our society. Years ago I would journal frequently, work out (I especially loved yoga, though I have never been all that good at it), I even tried my hand at meditation. There is something deeply satisfying about taking the time to listen to your own mind and body. I haven’t been doing enough of that lately; it’s no wonder I have been running myself ragged, feeling frayed at the edges. I have been so caught up in accomplishing everything on my to-do list, planning all of the spare moments of my day, that I forgot to live right here in the present.
There are a myriad of health benefits when you turn your attention to cultivating mindfulness. Meditation has been proven to increase telomerase (the ‘caps’ at the end of our genes), which in turn can reduce cell damage and lengthen our lives. It bolsters the immune system by reducing stress. It can help improve concentration and, if done correctly, can help decrease negative thinking that contributes to our high stress levels. Mentally speaking, it helps you live in the moment, to fully enjoy what you are doing, whether it is as simple as taking a bite of your lunch, or focusing on a problem that a co-worker is explaining. Your interpersonal relationships usually start to flourish because the goal is to fully immerse yourself and pay attention to what is going on, including being more attentive to those around you.
I haven’t given my brain time to process my own life outside of the to-do list. But now that I have had my eureka moment, it’s time to fix the problem. Luckily, this isn’t my first rodeo, so to speak. In the past I have worked on this very issues, in fact, it is one of the keys that helped me climb out of the pits of depression years ago. I know how to do it, I just haven’t followed through it with. I didn’t even realize that I had changed the way that I looked at my life until right now.
So it’s time to clear all of the cluttered moments of my day. I need to focus on one thing at a time. Less multi-tasking and more full immersion in whatever I am actively working on. After all, what is more important: the number of books I have read in the past year, or the lessons I was able to take away from those books? Does reading fifteen articles really matter if I didn’t absorb anything that they actually said? In the long run, its a waste of time to do these things if they aren’t going to sink in, if I’m not going to be paying full attention to them. So I will take a step back and work on quality over quantity.
In the mornings I will wake up and do my stretches or a short work out. I wont be trying to read or watch a show or anything while I am doing that. I will be focusing on my breathing. When I am working on one project, I will turn off everything else so that I can focus on just that one project. If I find my mind wandering when I an reading an article, I will step away for a minute and come back when my mind is ready, instead of skimming through the rest of it. No more counting how many books I have finished in the past week, month or year. It doesn’t matter if I’m not enjoying them anymore. I will remember to walk the dog every night and leave my phone at home or give it to my fiancé so that I wont be tempted to look at it when it buzzes. While summer is still here I will opt to grab a notebook instead of my laptop and go sit outside while I work. I will take twenty minutes every night to write in my old journal.
I am going to take the time to rediscover myself and why I am doing the things that I am doing. I am going to remind myself why I loved these activities to begin with. I am going to slow down and remember what makes me happy. Because I can’t keep functioning like this, with my mind wandering in a dozen different directions, unable to focus on the things that I love. I got caught in that loop, and it’s time to break the cycle. I am only glad that I noticed it before I fell any farther down the rabbit hole.