I’ve always wondered what a snapshot of my mind would look like on a standard morning before work. I know the image would be much more scientific than a brain-shaped icon with little labels written in puffy comic sans saying things like “add xy and . z to the my checklist for the day!” “did I reply to that group email thread yet?” “check my Halloween costume order on Amazon”, “let me research a writing prompt for my kiddos real quick”, “oh I really like this song that just came on so i’m going to add it to my workout playlist” and so on and so forth. At any rate, there’s one thing for sure: more often than not, with the range of professional and personal life demands and notifications and reminders and memory-apps and sophisticated calendaring systems, we have become masters of the multitask. But sometimes (many times) our minds and our bodies need us to switch gears and instead try out mastery of the single task.
This might not be a new metaphor for you, but I like it because it’s so spot-on (and relatable)— to think of our minds in multitasking mode as laptops with too many tabs on. We’ve likely had the experience of having so many tabs open on our internet browser that we forget for a moment what we were even researching. It’s not all that different when we’re multitasking in real life — we attempt to take on so much at one time– all the time– that the strain we put on our brain turns out to be kind of a big deal. What’s more is that when we deprive ourselves of truly focusing on just one element or doing one thing or one experience, we cast our net far too wide to enjoy any of the scraps that we’re attempting to capture.
I haven’t yet made meditation in the traditional sense a part of my daily or weekly routine (I’m at the meditation equivalent of signing up for the gym but not actually going yet), but I have discovered an amazing slowing-down tool, if used in a certain way: the podcast
Some people listen to podcasts while they work out (myself included), or while falling asleep, or during a commute, doing the dishes, etc. For using a podcast as a slowing down tool, in this case the focus has to be on just you, your earbuds (if applicable) and the podcast. You can be sitting or standing anywhere, but for this exercise it shouldn’t be used as background noise and there shouldn’t be a competing activity at the same time.
I first realized that podcasts can be used as a slowing-down tool when I was passively listening to one of my favorite podcasts on the elliptical. I was listening to the podcast, thinking about what to get at the grocery store for dinner (as one obviously does when they are at the gym), TEXTING (a gym no-no, I’m afraid), and trying to follow the meaning of the podcast at the same time. Unsurprisingly, that last task fell flat on its face. So I did the fifteen second rewind, and briefly caught up…several minutes go by and, you guessed it, my brain is multitasking away from the podcast content again. So I hit the fifteen second rewind, again. On my walk back home, it struck me how packing my brain full of different distractables totally pulled me away from accomplishing what I’d set out to do at the gym: catch up on one of my favorite podcasts. It occurred to me then that if I deliberately nudged myself to listen to every single word of the podcast (at a place other than the gym), and take in the meaning of each word within that podcast, I would be way more focused on the present moment than in my otherwise multitasking state.
DIY Tip: Use a podcast as a slowing down/meditative tool
When: Choose a moment when you’re on your own, and you have an extra ten or twenty minutes
Cost: Zero dollars. One of the best things about podcasts is that they are free, free, freeeeee, and the number of different topics and hosts seems infinite to me
What do I do? Choose a podcast that you haven’t listened to before. (If you need a starting point, navigate to the “Favorite podcasts” section of my blog. Begin the podcast with a commitment to listen to every single word and take in the full meaning or content of the podcast. Every time you feel your mind wandering, hit the fifteen second rewind button to get back on track with complete and total listening.
Party on, Wayne: A bonus of actively listening in a dedicated manner to your selected podcast? The contents of podcasts make great conversation starters to whip out at parties, reunions, conferences, you name it…
Here are my “usuals”: