Slowing Down

As a life coach I am always trying to study and learn more about human behavior and then provide this information as a tool that will help  facilitate positive changes in the lives of my clients. One thing that has become more and more apparent to me is how much time we spend keeping busy in our work and personal life. The more we take on in life the greater the stress and the implications for our health and longevity. I frequently hear – ” where has my day, week, month and year gone”.

The busier we get the more distorted this reality seems. Well, I am here to explain how we can not only slow down time but also learn to quiet our minds and greatly reduce our stress and improve our health and well-being.  The key lies in our minds and learning to find time to do nothing or simply quiet our overstimulated brains.

If you are always doing something, there’s in fact, no way to actually absorb new information and expand your mind. Victoria Sweet , MD believes that ” there’s no way to reach new conclusions” – if your mind is always busy. Our society rewards busyness and hard work, thus, we are always encouraged to be “on”. The reality is we spend so little time just thinking or even relaxing. We often worry about what we have have done in the past or concern ourselves about the future. The only thing we can control is the present moment. And what we do in the moment is completely under our control.

Busyness exhausts our nervous system. In fact, it activates the sympathetic nervous system which if constantly stimulated turns off the para-sympathetic  system – which calms our minds and bodies. Neuroscientists believe that this over stimulation is destroying our ability to be productive and creative and can lead to unmanaged stress levels that lead to illness, disease and aging.

Empty time is actually productive time. Taking mental breaks throughout the day is extremely beneficial and shifting out of multitasking is even more crucial. The reality is our brains can only do one task at a time. Multitasking is a very unproductive and harmful activity.

Unstructured time stimulates what neuroscientists call the ” default -mode network” in the brain, where problem solving and creative thinking take place. When we are performing a task, whether it’s sitting in front of a computer or driving a car, we are using our executive-control network ( deductive reasoning ). When are relaxing and letting our minds rest and wander the brain’s default-mode network kick in. This process is called “incubation” – new ideas become innovations. In other words, a certain amount of inactivity is essential to creativity. Furthermore, it leads to a higher level of health and well-being

Studies have shown that over working the mind actually has profound negative effects. The more people work beyond 40 hours a week the worse they feel, the more stress they report, the less they are engaged  and the more ill effects they experience. Idleness stimulates the para-sympathetic system, leading to a plethora of positive health outcomes, including better cardiovascular and digestive function and improved energy and moods.  Andrew Deutscher of the Energy Project states ” doing nothing gives your brain a chance to work out things that are not urgent. Otherwise, we’re just skimming the surface of our lives”.

Our society is addicted to busyness  and activity – in our always-busy culture, doing nothing carries a stigma. Success is often defined by doing more and taking on greater responsibility. Frank Lipman, MD believes ” most people seem  to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.” He continues: ” In some cases, people just don’t feel comfortable stopping and feeling their feelings. In other cases, they feel uncomfortable because they perceive it as being lazy.”

Deutscher says there is a difference between quieting the mind and enjoying leisure time. Watching TV or taking a weekend trip with your friends is leisure time and but your brain is still very active and busy. It is more about sitting quietly and emptying your mind – you have to aware of your intention about going into the empty time.

Quiet time really yields real benefits: replenishing glucose and oxygen levels, your brain can actually file and archive information and you will feel more rested and clear- headed. Additionally, if you are stuck resolving a problem taking a break actually yields greater and more obvious solutions ( think ” big aha moment”)

Simple Strategies:

Minimize time stealers- ex : constantly checking email and social media feeds or playing games on your phone. 

When performing repetitive chores or while working out allow your mind to wander. Shut out the noise and empty the mind. 

While at work – take a few minutes several times a day to break from your focused activities and relax the mind.

At the end of the day – shut off the electronic devices and just sit quietly and allow your thoughts and feelings to unfold. 

Doing nothing or practicing idleness is a learned skill and  takes practice.