The blog is back up and running after a lengthy hiatus and a personal transition. This time last year I was in London, working with the Arsenal Women’s football team. After spending three great years with Arsenal, I decided to come back to Ireland, and took on the role of Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Tipperary Hurling Team. Now, I find myself living in the Tipperary countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of London, and we are looking forward to kicking off the Munster Hurling Championship this weekend against Cork in Pairc Uí Chaoimh.
The change in environment presented a perfect opportunity for me to take stock and to recalibrate the system. Taking a step back to reflect, I could see that I have been caught up in a hyper-active and hyper-connected form of living over the past number of years. I felt constantly busy yet never on top of things, often overwhelmed and exhausted. I was speeding up to try and get to the end-point where I could finally relax. The true cost of this scramble being a lack of appreciation for the present moment and in the relationships with the important people in my life.
Frank Forencich perfectly summed up this vicious cycle in Beautiful Practice, describing what he calls a sense of temporal poverty:
‘We constantly talk about being ‘behind’ as if life is nothing but a race…We place ourselves at the mercy of the flow of events. We become increasingly reactive and soon we’re scrambling to catch up with everything around us. We get swept up in the contagion of other people’s activity. Our attention becomes scattered and fragmented. We’re late for meetings, we’re late for our friends, we’re late for our lives.’Frank Forencich, Beautiful Practice
A daily meditation practice helped me to slow down a bit, but 15 minutes of calm a day is no match for the chaos of modern culture as most of us live it. Work no longer confined to the workplace, rather it comes home with us, in our pockets. We are always switched on, at the beck and call of whoever demands our attention with a ping of a notification. We are addicted to the draw of our phones, to the infinite scrolling and Like button of social media networks.
A low-grade, imperceptible, form of stress, unknowingly permeates our being. It is imperceptible, however, only because we are not paying attention. We are surrounded by so much noise that we can’t hear the warning signals of our bodies. As Gabor Maté points out in his book, When The Body Says No, ‘people usually describe stress as the feeling of nervous agitation they experience under excessive demands…but sensations of nervous tension do not define stress – nor, strictly speaking are they always perceived when people are stressed.’
Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, spurred me into action at the beginning of the year to wrestle back control of my time and attention from the technology titans. I went down kicking and screaming, and still find ways to use the internet as a distraction, but deleting the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram apps off my phone got me moving in the right direction.
With the move to the countryside, I became increasingly aware of how I was spending my time, constantly consuming in one form or another. I was chain-smoking podcasts and audiobooks, under the banner of learning and self-improvement. In reality, I craved external stimulus to the point where silence became unbearably boring. I also realised the need to re-evaluate my daily expectations of how much I could get done, and to adopt a less is more approach to my to-do list.
And thus, I set the intention of consuming less stuff into my brain, giving it more time to process, and applying my brain power more towards producing and creating. Shifting the dial in my brain from passive and often mindless forms of functioning, to active and more mindful activities. I began going for a daily walk without having my phone on me. Doing my morning stretches without Spotify or a podcast playing. Resisting the urge to whip out my phone when standing in the queue in Lidl. The Bullet Journal has been a valuable companion in organising my day, prioritising and scheduling my tasks.
A couple of months in, and the benefits of slowing down and decluttering are clear. Carving out more headspace has allowed me to process my thoughts and emotions, I am less prone to distraction, forgetfulness, or feeling frantic. It has aided my problem-solving and creative thinking and ability to recall the details of conversations I have with people. I am more sensitive to my surroundings and notice new things that I hadn’t noticed before. Indeed, the virtues of mindfulness are nothing new. While reading about mindfulness was one thing (a practice well-suited to my inclination towards consuming useful information), practicing it has been an altogether different challenge.
The rhythm of the countryside has helped, more in tune as it is with our own nature. Every morning the countryside comes to life, the tractors motor along, the cows are milked and fed, the people say hello when you pass them on the road. As I type this out the back of the house, a few cows are grazing in the field before me. They are half-curious, and come over for a look. We nod, and after a while they go back to eating grass. They certainly aren’t in a rush, and neither is their attention divided.
Two lessons to keep reminding myself off:
- Our attention is our most valuable commodity, and an awareness of how we spend it is the first step in harnessing it more effectively. There are more distractions than ever before demanding our attention. In particular, if we don’t make the effort to control how we use social media, social media will control us.
- When it comes to productivity, we will get more done by aiming to do less. The only way to really catch up is to slow down. It is in slowing down do we realise that we are already where we need to be, there is no hurry.