It’s been nearly four years since I started the journey of understanding how my attention & focus work. Along the way I’ve learned several things that have been key factors in developing tools to modify my behaviors to perform better.
Most importantly any tools/habits you use or create are ephemeral. The tool may or may not work for you. Maybe the tool works for you for a couple months but then it becomes a hinderance. Possibly even the tool feels like it has always worked but something lets you understand it never really did help. The key thing to realize is your toolbox will and should continually change with you over time. No matter what people say you’re a continually changing person – even old dogs learn new tricks. It’s okay to throw things out and to try new things.
Don’t try to change too much too quickly. This is probably just as important as the first key but it’s not very obvious until you start trying new things. If you try to change too many things or switch a habit drastically it’s much easier to abandon when you don’t feel immediate successes. Instead try to incrementally change towards something longer term.
I’ve always wanted to have a meditation practice and make it part of my daily regimen. I felt it was the one missing piece to my daily routine with exercise that could help curb some of the ADHD symptoms. The problem was I didn’t know where to get started and was really afraid of being a failure. I’ve always had a very open heart and mind when it comes to spirituality – if I couldn’t “get” meditation then that would make me question a lot of things. I realized that my biggest fear was based upon my perception of how meditation can work and look.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the many ways you can practice meditation. Specifically it focuses your mind on being present in the moment – to be aware of what you’re doing but not getting overwhelmed or misdirected by emotions, memories, and other inputs. My husband started meditating with the Calm iOS app to help with his challenges with anxiety. I learned that meditation doesn’t require hours of effort every day and having an app on my phone made the barrier to entry super low. It also helped that he broke the ice by starting the practice and the two of us support each other with motivation to try to get a session in every day.
Today marks the 122nd day that I’ve done a mindfulness meditation – either with the Calm app or on my own. I usually find streak analysis to be demotivating when life gets in the way and you miss a single day. I found after about 30 days of use of the app I started incorporating small moments of mindfulness meditation when I felt my attention slip. On the few days where I forgot to do a formal session with the app I logged a few minutes of time where I knew I was being mindful.
Mindfulness will slip into parts of your day where you don’t expect it. When giving one-on-one reviews with my team I frequently find myself popping into a moment of reflection before the video chat starts. Being mindful upfront brings the memories and feelings of that specific teammate into focus so our conversations are relevant and scoped to the purpose of a one-on-one. In the past those calls frequently were disconnected from the past because I got caught up in the actions of the operational nature of the call rather than the true nature of what they should accomplish.
It only takes a couple of minutes out of your day. Pick a time that is quiet and consistent throughout the week including the weekends. For me lately that’s been in the morning after the dogs get fed and before I have a cup of coffee. On average I’ll do a 10-minute session but try starting with a shorter amount. Calm uses a subscription model but they do offer a seven day cycle for free as well as several other options. There are plenty of other apps out there as well but I would suggest to start with one that provided some guidance narration.
Being mindful isn’t just about listening to yourself. Developing a mindfulness practice will help you realize when your own emotions and memories are preventing you from seeing things external. Think of it like wearing a pair of sunglasses that have been cloudy from smeared sunscreen for years. Laziness stopped you from cleaning the lenses and over time you stopped even noticing the reduced clarity. Mindfulness lets you recognize the cloudiness, without judgement, and lets you understand what you’re seeing differently because of the smudges. You can then choose to clean the lenses and see how the world looks with more clarity.