It starts with turning to Mental Minimalism Instead
There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve heard the term minimalism.
But, what about mental minimalism?
Mental minimalism is slowing down our minds to think and act upon what we want to say or do one thing at a time. It’s keeping the relevant and throwing out the head trash.
The first step to becoming a mental minimalist is to stop the notion of multitasking.
I am a recovering “multi-tasker.” I used to think I could do many things effectively at one time, but that’s a myth. When people say they aren’t very good multi-taskers, I want to tell them that’s because there is no such thing. We can only effectively do one thing at a time that requires thought. We can switch from one thing to the next, but it takes time to go back and forth. It’s exhausting in and of itself.
If someone says that they multitask, it’s a myth.
“Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth.” — Dr. John Medina (author of Brain Rules)
But, but, but.
But how about pairing physical activities with a thinking activities?
I’ve gone for a walk and listened to a podcast. Even though I don’t have to think about walking, I do have to make sure that I’m keeping safe. When I get ready to cross a street, I can honestly say that I have no idea what is being said on the podcast. My mental muscle has switched from listening to what is being said to surveying both directions of the street so I can safely cross.
Multitasking is a myth.
Sometimes I will ride the elliptical or walk on the treadmill at the gym while I’m listening to a podcast. Again, you would think that would be okay, because I don’t have to think about crossing a street.
But, again, you would be wrong, my friend.
When I’m on the elliptical or treadmill, it would appear as if I’m just going along listening to the words. However, I’m also scanning back to the screen to see how fast I’m going, what distance I’ve covered, and how much time I have left in my workout. I’m constantly going back and forth between the screen and then back to concentrating on the topic I’m listening to.
Once again, multitasking is a myth.
Here’s the Reality.
Face up to the reality that multitasking is a myth.
“Multi-tasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.” — Gary W. Keller (author of The One Thing)
No, you can’t listen and give your full attention at a meeting while sending an email on your laptop. You’re not going to hear important information or you’re going to make mistakes on the email. Or both.
No, you can’t cook a meal while helping your child with homework. You’re going to make a mistake on the recipe, burn yourself on the stove, or get frustrated with your child because you don’t understand the question he/she is asking you. Or all three.
No, you can’t scroll through social media while having coffee with a friend. You won’t be completely present with either one, and more than likely your friend is going to get frustrated. I don’t blame him/her.
Being a mental minimalist is all about making choices. You are either going to do this OR that. Pick one, it’s that simple.
If you’re in a meeting, be present at the meeting. Don’t even pull out your laptop.
Prioritize. If you want to help your child with homework but you need to make supper, look at what needs to come first. If it’s near meal time, make supper and then help your child with homework after it’s over.
And if you’re meeting a friend for coffee, keep the phone in your car if you feel like you will be tempted to pull it out. At the very least, if you have an emergency that could crop up, let your friend know that you have your phone with you and that’s the only reason you will pick it up.
How to Become a Mental Minimalist.
Begin your journey to becoming a mental minimalist by doing these three things:
- Be present. Nothing changes your perspective on being present than becoming a grandparent. I always thought I was present with my own kids as they grew up, but then I became a grandma and now I really know what being present means. When I’m hanging out with my one-year-old grandson, nothing else matters. I’m completely focused on him. I get to witness so many milestones with him, because my time isn’t split.
Figure out what is important to you, and put everything into that person, activity, or event.
- Prioritize. I once heard Joshua Field Millburn (one of the dynamic duo, The Minimalists) say that you can’t have priorities (plural). We can only focus on one thing at a time, so we have one priority. We might have several things that are important to us, but we can only focus on one thing at a time.
What is the most important thing you need to work on right now? Is it because of a looming deadline? Is it because of its necessity? Pick that one thing that needs to be done now and do it. Don’t let outside stimuli derail you.
“The secret to multitasking is that it isn’t actually multitasking. It’s just extreme focus and organization.” — Joss Whedon (film director)
- Make a choice. Every day we make choices. We decide to do this or that. I choose to sit outside to drink a cup of coffee on our deck in the morning or I get to work on a piece of writing. I choose to go for a walk or I do a yoga session. Whatever I choose to do, I stay with that choice and remain in the moment with it until it’s done.
Think about the choices you’re making today. Don’t be wishy washy. Pick one and go with it. No guilt. No regret.
And That’s a Wrap.
The journey to mental minimalism is worth the effort, but it isn’t easy. There are twists and turns. There bumps. There are detours. However, if you remember to focus on being present, making a priority, and focus on the choice, you will be much happier with the end result.
This article originally appeared in my Medium publication Everyday Life Uncluttered.