Experts predict a second wave of mental health issues will arise due to the ongoing stress of the Corona Virus Pandemic. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking poll from July, 53 percent of U.S. adults reported that their mental health was negatively affected by worry and stress over the pandemic—up from 32 percent reported in March. Moreover, civil unrest, a decline in America’s economy and political divisions caused many people to become distracted on external stressors. The importance of reducing distractions cannot be overstated. In fact, a distracted and wondering mind is an unhappy one, according to research conducted by Mathew Killingsworth, Ph.D. His findings outline a large fraction of our thoughts – almost half – are not related to what we are doing. The same study shows we are happier when we are thinking about what we are doing in the moment – not fantasizing about our next vacation or the business goals we set for ourselves. There is a simple solution that reduces distractions, mind wandering and mental distress. The solution is integrating awareness training into your daily routine.
What is Awareness Training?
Awareness training is a contemplative practice used in both contemporary and traditional terms – increasing your attentiveness to your environment, body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Contemporary awareness-based practices involve mindfulness components such as increasing your present-moment awareness, attention training, body-mind training, emotional balance & self-compassion. You probably heard of several traditional contemplative practices such as breath counting (Zen), centering prayer (Christin), body awareness practices (Zen / Tibetan), Hatha Yoga, and Tai Chi Chuan (body awareness). Both methods of approach – contemporary or traditional – allow you to self-regulate your attention towards meaningful pursuits, goal-oriented behavior, and supportive interactions with other humans, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Awareness training simply supports your ability to focus and self-regulate your attention and emotions when you become distracted, triggered, and disengaged from life.
What Happens When You Do Not Use Awareness Training?
You probably fell into the “distracted or disengaged” category more than once in your life. We all have. The first step is to recognize when distractions and wandering cause you to become less productive and disengaged in your daily routine. You will know when this occurs, because distractions fix your mindset into a narrow & hollow view of your environment. You become too focused on people or things outside of our control – negatively impacting your overall mindset and productivity. For instance, if you are too distracted – your emotional profile will change. You may become more irritable with people you care about, intolerant towards external stressors and forceful towards your personal goals and pursuits. Your attention becomes stuck on past annoyances and non-serving beliefs towards your circumstances. Finally, distractions might cause you to experience a loss of working memory, according to a randomized controlled study of college students. If you are experiencing any of those occurrences, that is okay. You are simply misusing your gift of focus & imagination. We all do it. This is a world-wide issue. Millions of humans are getting lost in rhetoric and nonsense. There is a path to creating a more balanced and aware state of being. Humans used some form of awareness training for thousands of years. That is why I want to share a training method that works. Below is a simple morning technique that will help you become more aware, productive, and balanced.
Step 1: Create Your Environment & Monitor Your Physical Profile
Check in with yourself every morning by reviewing your current physical profile. When is the last time you sat down and checked in with yourself? We check in with our kids, coworkers, and family members, but we forget about the most important person – ourselves. Do this for yourself in the mornings. During this morning process, create an environment where you can become more self-aware. Creating your personal environment is the center of gravity to this approach. You must not overlook this step. Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable – away from loud noises, technology or people needing your attention. Once you find a quiet and comfortable environment – sit still, close your eyes, and shift your focus to your body. As you sit still, breathe normally, and focus your attention on your feet and slowly scan to your hips. While you are scanning, do your best to pay attention to body sensations without judgements. If random thoughts pop into your mind, simply let them float away and redirect your attention on your breath or body. Do this until you get to the top of your head. This should take between one and a half to two minutes to complete. Do not rush this process. If it takes longer than a few minutes, that is fine. You are simply feeling your presence and becoming relaxed as you scan your body. Once you scanned your body and felt your unique presence, grab a pen and paper. Write out any aches or pains you experienced during your scan. Also write out any pleasant feelings you encountered. This mind-body awareness technique brings your attention to the present moment and prepares you to monitor your emotional profile.
Step 2: Top of Mind Awareness to Your Emotional Profile
The goal in step 2 is to connect with your emotional profile to better understand where your energy sits most often. You are essentially collecting data on yourself. Collecting data on yourself will allow you to regulate emotional and mental states more simply. To collect your emotional data, use this framework below to see the imbalance of energy you may be experiencing. The following 10 energy traits must be in balance to avoid distractions and create a more balanced approach to life’s stressors. I broke them down into two categories – separated between numbers 1-5 & 6 -10. Monitor your emotions as you read each word and write a yes or no next to each one.
- Flow or Creativity
- Valor (courage)
Review your findings by analyzing where you wrote no next to each trait. For instance, if you wrote no next to the word patience, think of a time when you lost your patience. Then write out the emotions and body sensations that arise when you become intolerant. You just practiced awareness towards the physiological and emotional responses to becoming impatient. Becoming aware of those responses allows you to create a mechanism to rebalance yourself on the fly – especially when you feel the emotions of impatience settling into your thoughts and behaviors. This acts as a self-regulating practice of awareness for when you need it the most – in your daily activities. Do this for four days and track where your energy sits most often. This exercise will highlight areas where you need to balance being more patient and less assertive. You will also notice where you need to be more action oriented and less introspective. Maybe you are the opposite. All of us need to balance each of these traits, but you will never know what is out of balance until you check in with yourself daily. An imbalanced mind equals a distracted mind.
What are Your Distractions Telling You?
The dominate mood you carry directly corresponds to the energy imbalance within each of those categories. It is important for you to look at your mental and emotional well-being as a simple balancing point. Imagine what would happen if your daily distractions turned into a signal telling you to become more aware? How much happier and productive would you be if you turned your distractions into an awareness tool to get back on track? It is my sincerest hope that you find any contemplative practice that works for you. This is not a one size fits all approach. You are unique. You are special and worthy of increased awareness to the distractions that are stopping you from living a balanced life.