Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 May

The Scattered Mind: Finding Focus in a World of Distractions

frustrationScenario time. You’re in the grocery store picking up the last couple of things for dinner. Pushing your cart through the small throng who also stopped on their way home from work, you weave your way through with the obligatory, alternating “excuse me” and “pardon me.” You fumble through your pocket for the list you’d scribbled last minute on a post-it. Hmmm… good sale on chicken thighs. The familiar ding of a text notification goes off with your partner’s reminder of one more thing needed from the store – spinach. You reach over and grab the onion you were looking for and go in search of the garlic. Annoying music over the speakers. Better check work email one more time. “Ooops. Sorry about that,” you remark after bumping someone’s cart. The person grimaces at you with a passive aggressive nod. Thanks. There’s the email response you were waiting for. Great, another meeting on the same issue. You’ll have to gather materials to email tomorrow for everyone. What else was on the list? Don’t forget to wash the whites tonight. There’s the garlic. Why is it necessary to waste more time on that project? Tonight is the night to fix the shutters. After dinner. No, after the kids are in bed. Man, that was a mother of a wind storm last week. It would be nice to have a free night for once. That Netflix movie has been sitting there for how many weeks? Maybe just cancel the service. Why bother? Checkout. Long line. Geez, that person has how many bags of Cheetos? Any good magazines while I stand here? Celebrity baby bumps – who cares? Next in line finally. Hmmm… didn’t know she was pregnant. Wait, the d–n spinach! Groan.

Anyone here identify? Hands? Yes, these days it’s hard to find anyone who’s not busy. Whether we’re young or old, single or married, parents or not, there’s plenty to juggle. Modern life, for all its many “conveniences,” has done little to alter the bottom line on the day’s schedule. Nonetheless, there’s a decided difference between the person who’s occupied with a task and one who’s chronically preoccupied in the midst of their obligations. Two peoples’ calendars might look the same, but their respective experiences can differ as much as night and day.

How many of us go through the day scattered, easily distracted by the extraneous details of our settings, overwrought by the mental chatter playing in our minds. In the immediate moment, we compromise job or relationship performance. We forget things. We make mistakes and have to take more time redoing whatever it is we messed up (like the shopping list). Our kids, partner, or friends clearly see we’re not “all there.” (So much for affirming those connections today.) We’re left, finally, with that burned out, fried, hollowed out, jangly feeling – you know the one.

Recently, experts discovered the “filter” in the prefrontal cortex that helps us block out those extraneous stimuli (and, yes, there’s a lot of that in our modern world). It’s the filter that helps us hone in on the person talking to us in a crowded room, that allows us to focus on our task in the midst of a hectic work site, that helps us remain directed on a quick shopping trip instead of getting sucked into every sale display.

As we age, this filter, well, falters. The busier an environment, for example, the harder it is for the brain to resist absorbing the peripheral stuff. We’re, technically speaking, more prone to distraction. Age requires more patience and effort to focus in the midst of mayhem.

There’s an apparent upside to this age-related shift in distractibility, however. One study found that older adults – because of their typical declining pattern in attentional focus – were able to “hyperbind” information – unconsciously integrate “seemingly extraneous co-occurrences” and then consciously find patterns in this information later. As the study leaders noted, this ability can have a substantial – and rich – impact on “real world decision-making.” Because they encode this additional information, older adults have more to go on when making related decisions.

It makes sense, I think. In the “primitive” context, young adults were the doers, the generative group who did the majority of hard physical labor involved in hunting, gathering, building, etc. Focus makes sense in these activities. Older members of the tribe offered leadership and advisory perspective. Wisdom and creativity are honed by seeing the bigger, broader picture, by perceiving and bringing together both the obviously pertinent and, oftentimes, less expected but illuminating aspects of an issue.

Whether we embrace the “silver lining” or not, there’s plenty we can do to fine tune our filters in every life stage. As is nearly always the case, common age related patterns needn’t be absolute destiny. Biology presents the basic content and components behind our abilities, but intention – cultivated – largely determines the precision of their use. The more we challenge the many dimensions of our cognition throughout our lifetime, the more complex – and resilient – it will be. Study authors say the often recommended activities like learning a new language or playing an instrument hones our overall brain function.

Meditation, however, may offer an even more efficient means for “attentional training.” A small study showed that participants who practiced mindful meditation for eight weeks showed more control over their alpha waves, a particular frequency associated with the processing of sensory stimuli – what we feel, see and hear. Other research has confirmed the benefits of meditation for concentration, “executive functioning” like prioritizing and goals setting, and memory performance.

What’s more? Meditation can help the brain de-clutter itself and find clear space again. Given the chance to step back from the frenzy, people plagued by scatteredness realize it’s not really about the tasks themselves (which probably aren’t that different than other people’s to-do lists). Beyond the bustle of the occasional harried day, a scattered mind suggests a deeper disintegration.

Maybe it all started sometime ago in the midst of an overwhelming stretch – the birth of newborn, an insane time at work, the circus of hosting a big holiday. We worked ourselves into a flurry, darting from task to task, letting our thoughts go hog wild jostling for our constant attention. Somewhere along the line we got used to it in a dysfunctional kind of way. It was like it had to be this way. Except it doesn’t.

Meditation can offer the space for a reintegration, a psychic culling of the superfluous and gravitation toward what’s essential. If a scattered mind suggests a random, desperate piecing out of one’s attention, meditation’s core principle – centering – is about reassembling the far-flung parts and ordering them once again.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what your mother always told you: focus on what you’re doing. Shut down the self-talk. Commit to the activity at hand. Beat back the compulsion to check your email yet again. In more meditative terms, observe and let go of each distraction. When you’re out in a busy environment, let yourself hone in by letting the rest dissolve into the peripheral pool. Focus, centeredness – whatever you want to call it – is something to cultivate throughout our lives and something that, in turn, cultivates us.

It’s the state that allows for flow. Sure, not every moment of focus will bring on the rewards of flow, but the simple peace that comes from a slower, more deliberate pace is nothing to shake a stick at either. When the whirling stops and the frenzy dies down, there’s a lot more to appreciate in the moment than we may have noticed before.

Thanks for stopping by today. Let me know your thoughts on living in the “unscattered” moment. Have a great week, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Knitting.

    shannon wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • Agreed.

      FoCo Girl wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • and jigsaw puzzles

        Jen wrote on May 3rd, 2011
        • And reading and listening to Mozart (or any classical music).

          Just Joan wrote on May 3rd, 2011
        • Couldn’t agree more on the jigsaw puzzle, a good 2000 piece takes a while and is great before bed, and you can frame them afterwards for free wall art!

          Nutritionator wrote on May 3rd, 2011
        • MARK!

          You need to create a grok jigsaw puzzle! That was one of the challenges in the team challenge!

          Do it Mark. Who is with me?

          Primal Toad wrote on May 4th, 2011
    • Double-agree. Knitting is wonderful.

      Newt wrote on May 4th, 2011
  2. Wow Mark, really? Did you really just post this? I posted my “11 Challenges for May” post just 9 minutes ago.

    One of them is to meditate throughout each day in order to get my focus back. Most of us do live a rushed life. I am guilty of this as anyone else. But, I am ready to make a change. I believe full well that meditation is going to be the #1 key to this. It will be exciting to see where I am on June 1.

    I have also been thinking of doing both of these:

    “Study authors say the often recommended activities like learning a new language or playing an instrument hones our overall brain function.”

    Tim Ferris is fluent in 6 languages is it? That would be such a thrill.

    Primal Toad wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • One of these eleven challenges should probably be moving out of your parent’s house.

      Geoff's #1 Fan wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • I love you Geoff. I really do. At first I hated you. Today, you make me laugh.

        I have plans to move out on June 1. Moving out does not qualify as a “challenge” since its a one time deal and since its happening on June 1 which is less than 1 month.

        Where am I going next once my 6 month lease is up? Florida. I was thinking California but now I am thinking Florida. I think the winters will be perfect there!

        Emily,

        Yes he is a tool. He is simply jealous of me. His new name is “Geoff’s #1 Fan.” This must mean he is his #1 fan. If he wanted some help I would give it a try but as long as he keeps being a tool then I will just let it be.

        Grok on everyone!

        Primal Toad wrote on May 4th, 2011
      • Ah Emily… You have joined the Geoff crowd. Sorry to hear that. I hope all is well with you.

        Primal Toad wrote on May 4th, 2011
  3. You know what’s so interesting. I can’t read this article on the screen – something about the formatting? – and have to print it out to see what you’ve said. Otherwise my brain just slides right over it.

    Hayden Tompkins wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • That’s funny because I usually have to highlight on screen using my mouse to be able to fully focus on reading this… once Mark said something about checking emails, I really had to force myself to not check my email. I have been working on this also!

      Megan wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • I also drag my mouse across the text to read the articles in full.

        Mark – Your paragraphs are quite large for me and possibly a few others. Just my 2 cents. The first one in this article is outrageous!

        Primal Toad wrote on May 3rd, 2011
        • Agreed. re. that first paragraph.

          Alison Golden wrote on May 3rd, 2011
        • I for one appreciate the large paragraphs. He’s writng essays, not journalistic sound bites. You just need to train yourself to tune in and read carefully–which is, after all, the point of the post!

          Uncephalized wrote on May 4th, 2011
  4. This is why I waffle between primal concepts like taking it easy, vs. GTD (Getting Things Done) task management approaches. “But there’s so much to do! … but I’m stressing out about it!”

    I have to hit some kind of happy medium where I can get the _key_ things done without biting off too much. Gotta allow for relaxation. Somehow.

    Jenny wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • Personally, I don’t find a difference between the two. GTD is about freeing the mind from the chaos to focus on the task – the next action – at hand without distraction. It is very freeing and relaxing to know the chaos is organized and all those other things are accounted and planned for. Implemented fully and consistently, GTD is quite calming, centering, and increases focused and effective productivity and helps manage a balanced and fulfilling life. It isn’t the opposite at all. It is very freeing.

      Primal Renewal wrote on May 5th, 2011
      • Funny. At first I had no fondness for blogs. I was initially turned on GTD and eventually started following the ZTD blog (Leo’s Zen Habits), which eventually pointed me to this blog. Now after over 3 years I get a nudge back to GTD again (Yup, fell off the bandwagon bigtime)

        johnnyboy wrote on May 5th, 2011
    • Jenny that’s exactly apt for the dynamic I’m trying to manage in my life, would be interested to hear more on how you balance it.

      Good discussion in general here

      Matt Scofield wrote on December 2nd, 2011
  5. The greatest obsession that we suffer is of ‘that which should be’.

    We should have no concern with that which should be. Our whole concern should be the immediate, that which is. And what is really surprising is that when one enters into the immediate, One will find the ultimate in.

    When one moves in the present moment, the whole eternity is in one’s hands.

    Great post Mark..!!

    Resurgent wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  6. Instead of setting aside specific time for meditation, I’ve found it useful to just focus on the mundane stuff while I’m doing it. So if I’m brushing my teeth and catch myself thinking about something else, I make myself concentrate on brushing my teeth again.

    It’s amazing how often our minds are not on what we’re doing at the moment.

    Adrian Betts wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • Really? Brushing your teeth?

      I have always found that there are some things in life that are totally uninteresting and turning the focus off of them is perfectly ok. I’m not saying you’re wrong but I can’t see myself feeling content this way.

      I am a thinker in general and would not have much time for developing thoughts and working out new ideas if I were focusing on brushing my teeth.

      It seems to me that there are some actions which require very little attention – the subconscious is quite equipped to take over.

      Now, if I’m writing an article or taking a walk through a beautiful place, I should fully focus my attention on that.

      Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • I agree with you Peggy. If there is one focus for me this month it is to, well, focus!

        I will be meditating daily but also will consciously focus on what I am doing at any given time with a few exceptions.

        I think one of those exceptions is brushing my teeth.

        Although I have heard of fantastic benefits of brushing with your OPPOSITE hand as far as your brain goes. It stimulates it in in someway. Also, try putting in your opposite leg first in your pant or short. Open your car door or house door with your other hand.

        If you do this you will have to focus on what you are doing and you will stimulate your brain in a positive way.

        Primal Toad wrote on May 4th, 2011
        • I keep trying to develop my “other” handedness. I have to say I’m not doing too well… I have to brush my teeth with my right hand after doing it with my left hand, so uncoordinated.

          bbuddha wrote on May 4th, 2011
      • “Observe the space between your thoughts, then observe the observer.” – Hamilton Boudreaux

        Always be mindful and live in the present moment, whether meditating, doing the dishes, working, exercising, or even skydiving!

        Being mindful of the the present moment and focusing awareness on your current experience does not mean that you can’t think anymore, or that you won’t have time to develop thoughts. Actually, quite the contrary!

        Through mindfulness, you will actually notice your mind works more efficiently and effectively. By not constantly being distracted by thought, you can step back and live in the gap in-between where one thought ends, and the next one begins. Thought will stop dominating your life, and you will recognize your brain as a tool, not as a lens for viewing the world.

        By hopping off the never ending “thought train”, you clear out the mental clutter and silence the chatter of the mind to create space from where thoughts can grow and incubate – and you will be able to notice your thoughts much easier, because you won’t constantly be distracted by the never-ending stream of mental chatter. When a good idea comes, it will strike light inspirational lightning and you will actually be able to notice it, since there isn’t any competition. It’s much easier to hear a person talk alone in a room, rather than trying to single out that person’s voice out amongst a screaming crowd!

        In this day and age, most people live the majority of their lives in their heads: judging, thinking, planning, comparing, evaluating, remembering, wishing – instead of awakening to the experience of life that is right in front of their faces. Most people just leapfrog from one thought or emotion to the next, without any gap or space in-between – constantly living in illusion is a tiring, unfulfilling way of living.

        By practicing mindfulness, even in the most mundane of tasks, you operate with a “mind like water”.

        @Peggy Yes, even be mindful while brushing your teeth! Especially while you’re brushing your teeth! The actions that require the least attention are the perfect place to practice mindfulness, because that is the easiest place for us to become distracted and lose our awareness.

        While walking, be the walking. While washing the dishes, be the washing of the dishes. While brushing your teeth, be the brushing of the teeth.

        My new blog “The Mindful Effect” is about this very subject. Mindfulness not only greatly improves your quality and experience of life, it also skyrockets your effectiveness to accomplish your true goals! Check it out if you’re interested @ mindfuleffect.com, or click my name below for the link.

        Jason Martin wrote on May 5th, 2011
    • great idea =) i’m trying to do this, too

      Ika wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  7. It’s amazing how something so simple (basically sitting and breathing) can be so hard at the same time. It’s like we’re so accustomed to hectically rushing about that we’re almost unable to sit still and just focus on the present moment. It’s definitely something I’m working on myself.

    The Primalist wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  8. Great topic, as focus is something I’m not doing so well at these days. And not to be nit-picky, but, like Hayden, I had trouble reading this on the screen, as your links, although very pertinent and interesting, caused me to lose focus. I kept clicking and going elsewhere:)

    crunchycon wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  9. There’s a difference between being busy and getting things done.

    “Multitaskers” only think they’re doing a lot. Mainly they’re flitting from email to Twitter to text message to phone to co-worker, never actually completing anything substantial. But they sure do look busy!

    J. Stanton wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • Have you ever heard of A.J. Jacobs? He’s the guy who wrote The Year of Living Biblically, if that rings a bell (a year long experiment of living the “ultimate biblical life” if it doesn’t!).

      Another book by him is My Life as an Experiment, where one of the experiments is 30 days of being a Unitasker; from taking a shower without the radio on; all the way to absolutely no conversation, eating and savoring the food only, over dinner with his wife. He even went as far as to tie himself to his desk chair with an extension cord at one point to help him with focusing on his writing! That section, and the entire book, it a pretty good read.

      ElleHad wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  10. I found myself feeling frenzied just reading your description of frenzied thoughts. I try not to succumb to that jittery state of mind, soonce I recognized it, I had to stop and re-focus myself. Just a brief moment or three with my eyes shut and a few cleansing breaths. Then I finished reading the article about meditation!

    Jenn wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  11. Great post. It reminds me of information in Gavin de Becker’s book for Protectors, “Just 2 Seconds”. He talks of how Protectors (protective detail agents) need to be “pre-sent” in the Now, rather than distracted by the myriad details that flow through our minds:

    “With the mind at bay, your attention can move from Now to Now, releasing each moment almost instantaneously so the the next can be perceived. In protective work (and in life), the rewards come when each past moment is allowed to expire gracefully, without resistance, so the current moment can live fully. Remaining in the Now means, in effect, that you lose your mind and come to your senses. Then you can perceive what is going on around you. Our thoughts sometimes become scattered all over the mental field, and to direct them toward a single goal, we must collect them.”

    I’ve found it helpful to think of being present in the moment as being “pre-sent”, in other words, focused on a specific goal and experiencing life as it flows towards me as “now this, now this”. Try letting the thoughts and experiences flow on by, rather than focusing on what has passed and deliberating on meanings and alternate outcomes.

    Great stuff, thanks for the post.

    Steve M. wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • I suspect part of the problem is that we’re used to commercials while watching TV. This builds the expectation that every ~8 minutes, we need to turn away from what we’re doing and do something else. i.e. shorter attention spans.

      Same happens when we try to multitask, and of course, we acclimate to this kind of thing and get used to flying from one task to another, so our ability to focus drops.

      But maybe this ability of ours to follow one topic onto another and so forth is a very human thing, and can be very useful (or detrimental if uncontrolled) because it allows us to ask “What if?”

      After all, isn’t that what we’re doing when we’re dreaming? Even day-dreaming?

      Going through various scenarios, or the same one, over and over, in our heads counts as practice.

      This was probably an extremely useful adaptation vs other mammals, for when mammoth turns to charge you after you’ve speared it, or for when that tiger jumps out at you from behind the shrub.

      In our modern environment we don’t have to worry about mammoths or tigers (as much?) but we do need to worry about other situations, so we go over them in our heads.

      Sure, sometimes those scenarios are a complete waste of attention, and more importantly energy, making our poor neurons overstressed.

      But keep in mind, there is a reason we have this ability, just keep it focused on the important things, and you’ll find yourself solving hard problems in your sleep.

      RayDawg wrote on May 5th, 2011
  12. I found that I lost much of my attention span while I was raising my children – there was always so much going on… and we didn’t even do all of the extras that so many people cope with. Now that I spend much of my time at home, learning small-scale farming, my life is so peaceful. Sure, there are stresses with the animals – I’m continually checking on them, observing, and doing all I can to keep them healthy and happy. But I find that when I am caring for them, it’s such a joy to be “in the moment”. For me, this works better than meditation.
    Also, lately, I’ve really made an effort to spend time reading books – concentrating for a period of time. I’ve always been a reader, but it’s taken some real discipline to make myself just sit and read, and not hop up and do small tasks around the place. Sometimes it helps me to make a detailed “to do” list and include some more sedentary activities, like “Read for 1 hour.”
    By the way, thanks for such a great variety of posts. I look forward to reading them each day since they help me to think a little more deeply about my life and examine whether I’m living the way that I want to.

    Sarah wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  13. Great stuff!!! We are too busy and WAY to distracted!

    Have you ever noticed that we are so busy that when we are stopped at stop lights and the light is red, we nudge forward. We can’t go anywhere… the light is clearly red! What are we thinking!?!?

    Fast food is thriving on our “busy” lives and advertising about it… Anyone else every notice that!

    Thanks again for the great post!

    Lindsey wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  14. Years ago, I took a two-week vacation in a remote place where there wasn’t much to do. It was the longest vacation I ever had. For the first several days my mind couldn’t settle down. I was restless without the constant barrage of information I have grown accustomed to since birth.

    But somewhere in the middle of the second week, something funny happened. The relentless cacophony of mental alarms fell silent. No longer was my mind obsessively planning the minutes, hours, and days ahead. My soul was at peace, fulfilled in the moment.

    It seemed that must have been the usual condition in the pre-technological world. It lasted only long enough to leave the impression that life could be very different than the egocentric pandemonium that once seemed normal.

    I hope someday to return to that exalted realm, before being sent to my final resting place by traffic lights and infotainment.

    Timothy wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • May I ask where that remote place was exactly? I would LOVE to do something like this… this year.

      Primal Toad wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • Toad, I was very lucky and won a vacation in Tahiti. But I think anywhere tropical without cell phone service would do just as well. There’s something about those sunnier latitudes that makes it easy to slip into a primal state of mind. Just make sure you allow enough downtime for the mental decompression to kick in.

        Timothy wrote on May 3rd, 2011
        • I also visited Tahiti and will remember it as the most wonderful vacation I’ve ever had. BUT I also think you can get the same decompression in any climate just by turning off the cell phone, the computer, and the television. Around here we sometimes take a beach vacation in the winter because the rates are so much lower – it’s just as relaxing even when it’s not hot!

          Even so, next time you go to Tahiti, call me!

          Gingersnapper wrote on May 4th, 2011
  15. Sometimes I stop to realize how LITTLE is actually required of me. If I am really worn down I stop and think, “Is everyone fed?” “Does everyone have something to wear?” “Have I missed a bill I must pay today?”

    If those are taken care of, then we are in pretty good shape. From there, I can add back in an item or two as I have the mental capacity to handle it. :)

    Crunchy Pickle wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  16. A bit piece of my stress management has been to get distractions under control. I use the Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen. It’s a HUGE help. Using his method helps my subconsience believe that everything is under control so it doesn’t contantly bug me. It’s a way of keeping track of everything in a trusted system like Outlook or Evernote so your subconscience can let go of it.

    Jen wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  17. I don’t have an iPhone or a Droid (not even sure what that is) or anything like that. I have a cell phone for emergencies.

    Can’t imagine anything worse that always being on call.

    Alison Golden wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  18. This is great. I think you described me perfectly in the grocery store except I don’t go as far as to make a list, I print out a bunch of recipes and try and scramble finding the missing ingredients that I may or may not have at home. Yikes! I’m a mess! I think meditation would be a very healthy thing for me at this point in my life. I have A LOT going on and hardly any free nights. It may help to relax and for once stop running the to-do lists through my head for 10 minutes. Thanks for the inspiration. One love~

    Meg wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  19. Another great post Mark!! When started my own business, I became easy distracted because there is always something to do. i began my meditations to calm my mind and gain focus and it helped tremendously. What helped even more is not making it a ritual but just doing it. at any point in time, I love the ability to bring awareness to my breathing and the present moment. Many times I put my tongue at fire point and it grounds me. People have to find their base or what works for them to gain focus and clarity and it could be different for everyone. However once a person finds what works for them, they notice that there IS so much more to life than the tasks we set for ourselves.

    Thanks again for the post Mark and all the best wishes to you and yours.

    Paul wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  20. Funny…being unrushed and calm seem to be my best attributes. My family passes it off as being uncaring and blase but, in reality, I am simply uninterested in drama. It is not in me to be mentally/technologically stimulated 24/7 – I can relax, read, jog, walk the dogs, whatever, without worrying if I’ve missed a text or an email. Meditation I’ve never tried, but sounds glorious!

    Kathy wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • Me too! My former boss initially thought I didn’t have everything under control because I was “too calm” when there was a crisis. She eventually came to trust me, though! ;)

      Renee wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  21. Great post! I know I’ve been a bit too scattered at times, but usually when I feel that way I just make a list and go on with it. Keeps me focused.

    Heather @ Get Healthy with Heather wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  22. Oh, yes. I have been taking the time to meditate again lately and it makes a world of difference. I don’t get as irritated with others and I feel less stressed out when I am consistent with my meditation. Very good for getting Cortisol in line.

    Classic wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  23. I’m just reading Alan Watts Tao: The Watercourse Way (1975) … three quotes really struck me and link with today’s post:

    Thirty spokes unite at the wheel’s hub;
    It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
    Shape clay into a vessel;
    It is the space within that makes it useful.
    Cut out doors and windows for a room;
    It is the holes which make it useful.
    Therefore profit comes from what is there;
    Usefulness from what is not there.
    Lao-tzu

    And

    (As I) sit quietly, doing nothing,
    Spring comes and grass grows of itself. A Zen saying – Ch’an Ling Chu Chi

    And finally, and I think this is the essence of truly ‘getting’ Primal living … from the author

    Because of the mutual interdependence of all beings, they will harmonize if left alone and not forced into conformity and some arbitrary, artificial and abstract notion of order, and this harmony will emerge (tzu-jan), of itself, without external compulsion. No organisation, in the political and commercial sense of the word, is organic. Organisations, in this sense, are based on the following of linear rules and laws imposed from above – that is, of strung-out, serial, one-thing-at-a-time sequences of words and signs which can never grasp the complexity of nature, although nature is only ‘complex’ in relation to the impossible task of translating it into these linear signs. Outside the human world, the order of nature goes along without consulting books – but our human fear is that the Tao which cannot be described, the order which cannot be put into books, is chaos.

    Kelda wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  24. I’m to the point where I HAVE to meditate at least an hour every day. You don’t want to see me on the rare occasion I don’t get my meditation done first thing in the morning!

    Meditation is what has kept me sane when my life gets truly crazy. Even when it isn’t, that’s the one thing that doesn’t change in my life. I get up in the morning and go meditate. Then the rest of my day can start.

    Kethry wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  25. Sorry, can’t stay focused long enough to finish the article.

    RDunn wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  26. Timely, my 7 yr old is having trouble in school, they are suggesting ADD and meds. We are going through evaluations now. My issue is we do not have these problems at home.
    She is an active, cheerful, bright child..who has always been easily distracted. She is now in a class with 30 kids and it sounds like a circus. No kidding she is not focused. We have a very mellow, easygoing, yet structured homelife..this has worked for her. Clear expectations and direction.
    3 hr psychological evaluation tomorrow.Yay.

    juliemama wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • Homeschool, if you can. It’s great.

      Ulla Lauridsen wrote on May 4th, 2011
    • Google “gut and psychology syndrome” this may help your child. I personally would never give my child meds for an issue that most likely originates from an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. A

      AdamOfBondi wrote on May 4th, 2011
    • I agree with Ulla. Your home-lifestyle sounds great for homeschooling (and it’s easy if you let it be) AND don’t let your little girl become a victim of the psycho system!

      Cecilia wrote on May 7th, 2011
  27. It’s always great to be reminded to calm down, focus, and be mindful. No matter who we are, modern life sometimes gets complicated and fast, and the next thing we know we’ve gotten picked up in the wave of distractions and excitement.

    I was in a serious mountain biking accident about 6 months ago and suffered a pretty bad head injury. Recovery was slow and scary but eventually I made it through with all my memories in tact. But I found that in many ways I was different in the coming months. I was irritable and scattered. You never know when things will change and it is a good idea to have some solid source of grounding in your life. I started doing yoga about 3 or 4 times a week in addition to the long quiet walks that I had been always done and it helped me get my focus and mindfulness back on track.

    Peggy wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  28. #1 way to get more free time, reduce stress, and increase focus: overthrow your rights-violating, energy and money-sucking government and establish a rights-protecting government in it’s place.

    Grant wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • I’m sure all those people in the middle east are stress free now.

      Jenny wrote on May 3rd, 2011
      • If they ever managed the second part of Grant’s recommendation, perhaps they would be. I wouldn’t hold my breath, for them or for us.

        But if Americans ever reclaimed their health by embracing primal methods, perhaps they’d reconsider other aspects of conventional wisdom as well.

        Baby steps…

        Timothy wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  29. I could not have read this at a more perfect time. My schedule has been becoming more and more packed, and my mind is becoming more and more cluttered. I barely have time to stand for more than five minutes in the shower (or so it seems). I can’t even talk to people without having several different trains of thought going through my mind at the same time.

    I’ve never done meditation, but I feel like it’s definitely something that I want to integrate into my life. Does anyone have any tips on getting started? I’d love to know!

    Robyn wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  30. Logan over at wildmovement.com just wrote an article very similar.

    Exercise, meditation, and simplification!

    Dennis wrote on May 3rd, 2011
  31. I refuse to get an iPhone or equivalent. All my friends that have these devices are constantly glued to them. I have an old cell phone that I keep on silent most of the day.

    Pookie wrote on May 3rd, 2011
    • TOTALLY agree. I have friends who are constantly on their iPhones at dinner, at the movies, even just during conversation. It is highly irritating.

      Emily wrote on May 4th, 2011
    • I have what I call a Dumb Phone. All it does is make phone calls. I love it.

      shannon wrote on May 4th, 2011
  32. Mark,

    Excellent post. I’ve never been a big fan of multi-tasking. I find that when I focus 100% on one task, I am more productive. I also really value my down-time where I’m doing nothing at all and just relaxing. It’s important to have a good balance between these two states.

    Alykhan

    Alykhan wrote on May 4th, 2011
  33. I was like that until I read David Allens book Getting Things Done. It’s great. You don’t actually have to do the whole system as long as you make sure every commitment, as he says, is on an appropriate list so you just know you don’t have to remember it.

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on May 4th, 2011
    • I like GTD too. I use a software called Things to organize my lists. It’s easy to see when you have too many projects and thus you can get rid of some of them.

      shannon wrote on May 4th, 2011
  34. I’ve read The Year of Living Biblically too, good book! I’ll check out the Experiment next!

    I definately feel the frazzle of modern life. I have to conciously remind myself to slow down. I find that spending time with my kids helps with this, because they grow up so fast. They help me to be in the moment, because I want to truly be there with them … while they still want a parent around! :)

    Mark Anderson wrote on May 4th, 2011
  35. Busy minds – great subject!

    I first noticed my mental multi-tasking problem when my kids were born. I literally could not think anytime my children would cry or loudly fuss. It’s like my brain would shut down and I could hear nothing else but the crying and everyone else was on mute. Their lips were moving at me but no sound was coming out until I settled my kid.

    Now it’s the same with most background noise. Don’t try and have a meaningful conversation with me while the tv or radio is on,…and noisy crowds,…forget it,…i shut down

    My son is autistic, and maybe now I have some of those similar traits myself. I never had social issues or anything growing up, but I sure do have sensory issues now

    thankfully my husband has learned to adapt for me :-)

    AB Smith wrote on May 4th, 2011
  36. Great article Mark! I use a similar example of the “grocery list” in my Tai Chi classes. All the students in class laugh when I talk about it because they can all relate to it. Be in the moment!

    Ben wrote on May 4th, 2011
  37. Great post! I have noticed that when I “single task,” I am much more productive, happier, less stressed, and generally the end product is better. Single tasking is not always possible, but I try. I am a big fan of the Zen Habits blog and it’s got great articles about single tasking, focus, getting things done, and more. (Incidentally Zen Habits is how I found MDA through a guest post by Mark at one time).

    Dawn wrote on May 4th, 2011
  38. I just started meditating, although not every day yet. Any quiet time is good. Reading, taking cold baths for the health benefits and the fact that it can help take your mind off of many a distractions..I need to put my phone down and not check it so much :-)

    Jeremiah wrote on May 4th, 2011
  39. I live in North Alabama, which was just thoroughly pummeled by a series of horrible tornadoes. I (and my loved ones) am fine, as is my property. But I went without power for 6 days.

    And pretty much loved every minute of it.

    I didn’t really venture out much the whole time. I stayed home and did work around my house (which was a fixer-upper when I bought it, so it needed it). I grilled or ate canned food. I actually met my neighbors for real, and we all chatted and shared provisions.

    I’m glad to be able to work again (my computer is my source of income), but I really enjoyed being removed from all the hectic frustration of modern life for a while (although I still had running water the whole time, and that really was much appreciated). I think I may continue to model the “lights out” experience I just had.

    One of the most interesting things is that it reset my internal clock. I keep falling asleep soon after dark (without those pesky electrical distractions), and I wake up soon after sunrise. I’ve never felt more refreshed.

    Of course, I was extremely lucky to be only without power. Many people lost everything, including lives.

    Newt wrote on May 4th, 2011
    • I like falling asleep right around dark too.

      shannon wrote on May 4th, 2011
  40. Yoga is my meditation. If you are able to find a legit yoga class you will find that the practice is an excellent physical workout and also incredible for your mental and emotional health. Yoga is the practice of breath, sensation, and being present. As soon as you start class the to do list gets put aside and you are able to listen and pay attention to your body rather than letting your mind take over. Some classes even incorporate meditation.
    However you do it. I think it is crucial to take time, daily, to focus on feeling, breathing, listening, and stilling the mind in order to maintain sanity and good health. The mind DOES affect the wellbeing of your body.

    Alex wrote on May 4th, 2011

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