Everywhere we turn, we’re saturated with advertising messages trying to get our attention.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a public place, your office or your own home. There’s virtually no avoiding it. I remember almost twenty years ago now, learning that the average consumer was exposed to about 2,500 messages per week. Today the average consumer may see almost 5000 ads and brand exposures per day.
We live in an era of information obesity.
We're multi-tasking more.
Our minds are in a constant state of 'partial attention'. Which means our mind flips back and forth between tasks and we're achieving less because of it.
We're getting distracted more.
Our minds are thinking about things other than what it is we're actually doing (like eating a whole bag of chips without even realizing).
And let's not forget, stress and mental health issues continue to increase.
It's no wonder we're seeking ways to relax our minds and bodies and find space and calm in our hyper connected, speedy lives.
It’s also not surprising (and somewhat ironic) that so many of the ads and messages pulling at our attention today are about relaxation, finding Zen and stress relief.
What I get curious about and find fascinating are the kinds of images and words that are used on bus shelter ads, billboards and magazines to convey ‘relaxation’, 'meditation' and ‘happiness’ (I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to a brand’s visual communication).
Here’s what I see:
I see a stereotypical attractive woman, with a beautiful smiling face, looking peaceful, happy and relaxed.
She’s sitting on a beach, with a far off dreamy look on her face.
She’s in a spa, lying on a massage table, with a face mask and cucumbers on her eyes, still smiling.
She’s in a beautiful sunlit room, with floor to ceiling windows, looking out at a gorgeous landscape of some kind.
Or she’s meditating, with a look on her face that makes you think she hasn’t got a care in the world and she’s achieved some kind of perfect, utopian state or enlightenment.
All quite beautiful to look at, but you kind of get the feeling they aren’t capturing real world reality, right?
It's definitely not mine.
My reality includes running around, sometimes on over-drive, working intensive flexible hours. Taking a client call, emptying the cat litter, heading off to a meeting. Jumping on the treadmill, writing an article, putting another bandaid on my son’s latest cut, checking Facebook, taking another client call, making dinner - you get the picture.
What if I told you that the secret to finding stress relief and calm was to stop trying to get calm or relaxed?
Yes, that’s right.
It’s not necessary to achieve some kind of perfect peace, like the images we see in magazines.
I'm not saying that lying on a beach, taking a vacation or going to the spa are the wrong things to do. They have a place in our life and are important. In fact, Dr Daniel Siegel talks about how these things fit into our lives in his ‘healthy mind platter’.
But when it comes to finding ways to relax and ways to calm down, the last thing you want to do is say to yourself: “Man I’m feeling stressed. It feels like my mind is spinning. I have to find a way to clear my head.”
One of the biggest myths about meditation is the belief that you have to somehow empty your head of thoughts, and achieve a kind of 'uber-focus', like a zen monk.
Mindfulness meditation isn’t about calming your mind.
It’s not about trying to sit still and keep 100% focused on your breath, body or thoughts, for as long as you possibly can.
It's essentially about being an unbiased observer of our own thoughts, feelings and body sensations, which gives us the ability to see more clearly.
Here's what I want you to do:
#1 When you become distracted just notice it.
#2 Return your attention to whatever you're doing.
#3 Then repeat. That's it!
Put another way, we could in fact spend our time simply observing our own busy minds, without interfering or judging ourselves - and this would be a mindful practice.
Want to try the steps above for yourself?
Click the button below to download my Free 10 Steps To Mindfulness Cheatsheet and learn:
- The exact steps to practice this meditation.
- My top two tips to keep this practice going.
When we're not present, we have less concentration, clarity and focus and the chances are you're not going to do your best work or be as happy.
As long as we’re aware when we get distracted and come back to whatever we're doing, we're present.
And as long as we're present, our minds will ultimately begin to settle on their own, without our having to make it happen.
And that my friends, is the secret to finding calm.