ID-10088148Ask anyone how they are and you are likely to be given the answer “Busy!”, accompanied by a tired, sigh! Life is face paced and we are juggling many demands that seem to be urgent and important. But are they really? Few of us take the time to really interrogate and question what we are doing with our time and whether our priorities are being reflected in how we spend our days. More likely we are rushing through our to-do lists on autopilot!

This is for the most part the result of the chronic activation of the stress response, brought on by our fast paced way of living. When the stress response is chronically activated, the part of the brain responsible for stepping back and getting a broach perspective, as well as evaluating priorities, shuts down and we become reactive, feeling more and more our of control. When we are juggling multiple demands and feeling overwhelmed, the best possible thing to do is step away and do something to lower your level of arousal, which allows your frontal lobes to come back online. This could include a few minutes of breath awareness, exercise, listening to music, anything which brings you back to a more relaxed state. Many people respond to this saying “I don’t have time!”. This feeling of urgency is in part the result of the stress response and by slowing down, more possibilities emerge, and things that felt urgent may be re-evaluated as not.

Psychiatrist Edward Hallowell in Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform, describes what he has labelled Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) which “Like the traffic jam, ADT is an artifact of modern life. It is brought on by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades. As our minds fill with noise—feckless synaptic events signifying nothing—the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and thoroughly to anything.”

As Elisha Goldstein, author of The Now Effect supplies a practice of awareness to combat this trait:

“The good news is that we can learn to get better and better and noticing this illusion of urgency and stepping into that space between stimulus and response where perspective and choice lie. In this space of choice you can even ask yourself, “Do I want to pay attention to this right now? On a scale of 1 to 10, how urgent is this really? What affect does this have on my daily stress? Are there more important things I’d rather be paying attention to?” The way I see it, gaining this freedom from false urgency is the most important practice of our time, or so we’ll come to understand in the years to come.”

I often recommend that people start their days with a few minutes of quiet where they can plan they priorities and goals before the day starts. Having a clear focus in mind can often mitigate the automatic pilot that can ensue. During the day, they can then check in and see where they are in terms of priorities. These could include the to do list, but also other activities such as spending time being present with children or partner and animals.