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issue of "Dr. T's Timely Tips" by Dr. Tony Alessandra. Please send your feedback
Be Mindful, Not Mindless
When you were
very young, literally everything you did was a learning experience. Every time
you tried to say a new word or to take another step, you were opening new
pathways and creating new connections in your brain. But as you get older,
instead of creating new routes you tend to stay in the ones that are already
well worn. What used to be new pathways have now turned into ruts. And if
there's one thing that's not good for keeping your brain in shape, it's keeping
it in a rut.
To see what can be done about this, I want to introduce a very useful and
important word. The word is mindfulness -- and it means being fully aware of
what you're doing in the moment that you're doing it. When you were a child and
it was time to brush your teeth in the morning, you were mindfully aware of that
action. You focused on putting the toothpaste on the brush, because you had to
focus in order to do it correctly. Brushing your teeth was a novel experience
for the simple reason that you hadn't been doing it very long.
Well, contrast that with the act of brushing your teeth at this point in your
life -- or with any action that you've done ten thousand times over the years.
It's not likely that your attention is fully engaged when you put the toothpaste
on the brush. In fact, the chances are your thoughts are a thousand miles away.
Or here's an even more disturbing possibility. Maybe you're not having any
thoughts at all. There are lots of problems with this, and one of them is the
way you can get used to that level of functioning. If your day is filled with a
series of routines that can happen on autopilot, you're going to sail along on
autopilot unless you make a conscious decision to do something else. And unless
you do make that conscious decision, you'll eventually find that the auto pilot
is not very easy to turn off.
Mindfulness is the antidote to this, and mindfulness can be created in a few
different ways. The first way is by introducing new experiences and endeavors
into your daily life -- things that you actually can't do on autopilot.
Unfortunately, it's not really possible to be doing new things all the time --
which suggests another form of mindfulness. This is a matter of becoming more
fully engaged with even the routine tasks that you do every day. I'm not saying
you can get excited about brushing your teeth, but you can make a bit of an
effort not to zone out quite so easily. Just focus your attention a little more
consciously. Just have a bit more awareness of what you're doing, even if it
doesn't seem like that awareness is necessary.
So becoming more mindful is the first thing you can do starting right now to
benefit your brain. Once you get started with this, you'll be amazed at the
difference it can make in your everyday life. Once you become mindful of where
you put your keys, for instance, you won't lose your keys so often. As a result,
you won't have to waste a lot of time looking for your keys. You also won't have
to deal with the unpleasant suspicion that your brainpower is diminishing
because you're losing things all the time.
As a way of getting started with this, try making a list of six or seven
mindless actions that you do everyday. Putting down your keys could certainly be
one of them. Making the morning coffee might be another. Maybe you watch the
same TV news show every evening, or read the sections of the newspaper in
exactly the same order. What I'm suggesting now is not that you should change
those things. On the contrary, continue to do them, but do them with more
conscious awareness. Do them mindfully instead of mindlessly.
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