Ever come across a metaphor that gives you instant clarity? I love those. They thrill me.
I found one of these spot-on explanations in Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, my chosen resource for Mindfulness 101. It goes like this.
Imagine a computer. It runs well with just a couple of programs open. There is plenty of memory to go around. Open more windows, though, and what happens? The system begins to slow down. Keep opening them and the computer may even freeze or crash.
What do you do then? You certainly don’t open another program to solve your problem. You step back and look at what’s running. You evaluate the issue from a more distant perspective.
Your mind is like a computer in some key ways. Your attention is the computer’s memory. With every thought that’s vying for your attention, your mind works less efficiently. Open too many thought windows and you start to feel frazzled.
Your first instinct is probably to think your way out of what’s on your mind. If you can just solve a few problems, you’ll feel better. Right?
But that’s not always the case. How difficult is it to wrap your mind around one problem when dozens more are nagging you? How often have you felt too spent to even think straight?
See, thinking is like opening yet another window on the computer. And if you’re fried enough — if your attention, the main memory, is spread too thin — it just might be the program that crashes the system.
How, then, do you take that step back? How do you gain some perspective?
See where I’m going with this?
Mindfulness. That is the key. It lets you see all the programs that are running, from the most noticeable ones to the ones quietly humming away in the background. You can shut them down, focus on one thing at a time.
I’ll admit — when you’re staring at all the stuff spinning around in your mind, it’s overwhelming. I’m still very new to facing it myself. But all it takes to begin is spending a few moments just focusing on your breathing. Practice this when the system slows down, and the rest will start to fall away.
It will come back, of course. But you’ll be ready for it.
And when you get swept away again, eventually you’ll remember to breathe. The cycle will repeat, but you’ll remember the key to breaking it more and more often.
And it will make a huge difference.
What do you do when you start to get frazzled?