You know how it is: it’s the start of the week, you have a hundred things to do before Thursday and you’re only on the first one on the list. Plus you have to combine all of those things with kids, work and shopping. You want to speed up right? You think that accelerating in first gear, hunched with intent over the steering wheel will get you up the hill quicker? Well it won’t. What you actually need to do is slow down to become more productive. You’re more efficient if you change your relationship to time and make moments longer by being present in them.
‘Slow down?’ I hear you say; ‘..but that’s counter-intuitive!’
It may sound ridiculous but when you slow yourself down, you buy more time and you can then manage to achieve more in a shorter timescale.
By contrast, when we are stressed out we are in our sympathetic nervous systems. We are not in tune with ourselves and we can become inefficient and unproductive. We consume energy thinking back to the past or forwards to the future. If we slow ourselves down by focusing on slowing our breathing and to what is happening in the present moment, we reverse that constricted state of being.
When you are present with what you have to do, you can more easily enter into a state of flow. In the flow state things happen more effortlessly and we can then conserve energy. That is, it is a more efficient state to be in. It’s not always possible when faced with demands right, left and centre: this can send us into fight or flight quite quickly. The key is to slow yourself down during the day as much as possible by focusing on the breath, feeling your feet on the ground and by being truly present in accomplishing each task. You may have to remind yourself to do this.
Your attitude to your own productivity is important. It is necessary to be kind and gentle in the way you go about achieving things rather than driving yourself to do more than what is necessary as this will tip you into being out of flow. Make sure you prioritise or delegate if faced with demands from others.
If you are present you can notice more around you, gather control of yourself and your environment and accomplish more: not by striving or efforting but just by allowing yourself to do what you need. Presence or flow is more of a listening and receptive state. This is not how we are taught to be in society: most of us are doing, striving, reacting or efforting on an almost constant basis throughout the day. No wonder we finish up shouting our colleagues or screaming at the kids. Our poor bodies and minds are under constant strain and it’s not necessarily our fault. It is how we have become conditioned to be.
Most of us are driven to accomplish things and achieve goals. We want to make the most out of working days. That is understandable. However, being driven can put us in a more ‘doing’ state. It is difficult to be less driven in this desensitising, pressurised, goal-orientated world. Instead, it is more about having an intention to achieve something and working towards it. That might sound like the same thing but it’s not such an attached or controlled way of being. It’s more relaxed and therefore, more helpful to our general wellbeing.
So how do you get out of ‘driven’ and into flow? Well, it’s good to have short periods of practising to be more present or mindful as you go through the day. It is also a question of being more ‘allowing’ towards yourself. Allow your body to move where it needs to. Allow your attention to be drawn where to where it needs to go. Allow in the part of you that lives underneath your conscious mind to come to the fore. This is a scary process for most people as this part of ourselves, the ‘just being’ part is not valued in our society. Instead our society values efforting, thinking and planning: we live in our conscious minds and in the future most of the time.
The future can wait. It will arrive in its own time if you’re being present. Once you practice, you will feel more in control and you will know that everything will work out at the right time. You won’t sweat the small stuff so much as you know it is unimportant and that there are always ways to be creative and rescue a situation.
The more you let go and surrender any thoughts or expectations about what your day, week or life should be like or what you should be doing, the more present you can be and the more you can accept what arises. When you connect with yourself in this way that is when you can start living properly. You can notice more in the way of sounds, noises and other subtleties. You can tune into your body more and appreciate what does and doesn’t feel right. You are more empowered and connected.
The more present you are, the more time you have to rest in each moment because your thoughts are not racing back to the past or forwards to the future. You may worry and stress from time to time (as everyone does) but each time you notice yourself doing that just bring yourself back to your breath and the feelings of your body and hey presto, you will be present again. More unfolding and allowing will bring you what you need. Let go of the controller, the worrier and the micro-planner. Have plans by all means but also have the flexibility to change them if you need to. Nothing is ever set in stone.
Also, be open. Creativity is available in every moment. Many of us don’t like change for fear of what it will bring and because we attach and identify to so much in our lifestyles for our sense of security – to the routine of work or school, the house, the community we live in and so on. The reality is, whilst our stability is often a good grounding from which we can create our lives, it can be a bit of an illusion because life is constantly changing. Our bodies change, our families change (from childhood to adulthood) and our likes and dislikes change. Sometimes change can be forced upon us by circumstance, for example, by a divorce or illness. The key is to acknowledge the gifts that come with transition – for example, a different but better experience or a newer wiser perspective. The less you fear change and uncertainty, the more receptive you can become to being in a state of presence and flow. Life will become much easier, less stressful and will feel less like a struggle when you appreciate that each moment is an opportunity to start again.
Here are five tips for being more present and in flow:
- Bring meditation and mindfulness into your daily life. This could be by sitting down and observing your breath. The more frequent it is the better. There are some things that may bring you into the present naturally, for example, running or walking the dog. Try being present and mindful when doing your everyday activities so that you don’t have to treat meditation as yet another thing to put on your ‘to do’ list.
- Buy yourself time as often as you can. It is a precious commodity. We may be under pressure from friends, relatives and our own selves to do things immediately. This is a call to set some boundaries and prioritise what is urgent and what is not. Be patient! Use each moment as more of a cue to ‘wait in presence’.
- Bring yourself back into your body as often as you can with movement. You don’t have to go to the gym. You can do some yoga stretches at your desk or have a walk round the block. You don’t have to be competitive or pump iron. It is good to have some mind body connection when you’re doing it. You can even do some mindful walking from the office to the kitchen, paying attention to your breath or footsteps as you’re doing it.
- Connect with nature. There is nothing as inspiring and wakeful as a walk in nature. If this is not possible you may just consider looking at a plant in the office whilst taking a few breaths (yes, really!). Be mindful about it: what do its leaves feel like; what does it smell like, how does it make you feel?
- Do something repetitive or mind-numbing. That unfinished washing up can actually help to encourage a state of flow!