Monday, January 22, 2018

Why Sitting Still Doing Nothing is More Productive Than You Think

Why Sitting Still Doing Nothing is More Productive Than You Think

Have you ever felt anxious when you needed to complete a task or project on a deadline?

I know I have.

Sometimes it seems that no matter how hard you work, you barely make any progress.

Well, believe it or not, if you sit still and do nothing you'll be able to complete a lot more.

But there is no time to waste!

I know, sitting still doing nothing sounds like the most unproductive thing to do, especially when you have a never-ending to-do list that seems to keep growing and growing.

There is always so much to do, and in a society that values "hard work," (instead of smart work) sitting still doing nothing is just for lazy bums.

We need to always be busy, working, working, working. There is no time to waste.

But with that mindset of "there is too much work and so little time," guess what happens when we sit down to do the work that we need to do?

We simply can't. There is so much tension in our mind and body that we just can't focus on the task that we have at hand.

On top of that, when we look at the work that lies ahead of us, we can't avoid feeling more anxious, knowing that we still need to complete our work on time.

So we feel unproductive because it takes us longer and longer to complete any tasks, especially when there is some creative thinking that needs to be done.

And the more unproductive or inefficient we feel, the more anxious and stressed we become. The more anxious and stressed we feel, the more unproductive we become.

It's a never-ending vicious circle.

Why can't I focus?

Have you ever noticed that whenever you are too excited or anxious about something you need to keep pacing around, from one side of the room to the other?

Or perhaps you feel you can't stop fidgeting, or shaking your leg while sitting down.

This happens because when we are anxious and stressed our "fight or flight" response is activated by our sympathetic nervous system.

The blood flow in our limbs increases and the blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with concentration, memory, decision making and creative thinking, decreases.

As Bruce Lipton explains in his book, The Biology of Belief, Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles:

"Adrenal stress hormones constrict the blood vessels in the forebrain reducing its ability to function. Additionally, the hormones repress activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex, the center of conscious volitional action.

In an emergency, the vascular flow and hormones serve to activate the hindbrain, the source of life-sustaining reflexes that most effectively control fight or flight behavior.

While it is necessary that stress signals repress the slower processing conscious mind to enhance survival, it comes at a cost ... diminished conscious awareness and reduced intelligence."

Mentally and physically we enter into a protective or self-defense mode, ready to run away from danger or ready tackle any threats.

That's why you feel the urge to keep pacing.

At that moment we can't concentrate and think creatively simply because in an emergency, when we are in this "fight or flight" state, we need to react instinctively.

We might not be in a life-threatening situation, but our biology always interprets our stress and anxiety, which is created simply by our perception of our environment, as an emergency.

This is the same reason why you forgot the answers at your finals, even though you might have known the whole subject by heart.

If you got anxious that you might not have enough time to complete the test, or if you were worried that you might fail, then unconsciously you entered this fight or flight state.

You were not able to think clearly and remember what you had learned no matter how hard you tried.

To be honest this has actually never happened to me. I guess because I never gave so much importance to my studies.

No wonder why it took me two extra years to finish Uni. Lol.

Even excitement can be harmful

But there are other situations when I do struggle with this.

One of them is actually blogging.

I love to share my yoga journey on my blog. I feel really passionate about it, and I always have many stories that I want to write and share with my audience.

The problem is that sometimes my passion turns into too much excitement.

I can't wait to finish whatever article I'm writing at any moment. I want to see the final product out there, on the web, and I want to start working on what's coming next.

Although this might sound like a good thing it is quite the opposite.

Been overexcited is a form of stress for the body. It might motivate us to do what we want to do, but in the end it actually becomes an obstacle as it also robs us of all clarity and focus by activating that stress response.

This means that when I'm writing this excitement doesn't allow my words to flow freely.

I become inefficient. I take too long to complete any article. The faster I want to write the longer it takes me. I get stuck in the same paragraph forever.

This reminds me of the words of Swami Vivekananda

"The less passion there is, the better we work. The calmer we are, the better for us, and the more the amount of work we can do.

When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work. 
The energy which ought to have gone out as work is spent as mere feeling, which counts for nothing.

It is only when the mind is very calm and collected that the whole of its energy is spent in doing good work." Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda; Kindle Edition.

By using the word "passion," Swami Vivekananda is not referring to love for what we do but rather overexcitement.

We can do our work with love but at the same time, we should feel calm and balanced within.

How to feel calm even while we work hard

How can we overcome our stress and anxiety so that we can truly focus on the work that we need to do? How can we become more productive and work with efficiency?

The answer is to simply sit still and do nothing.

To be able to concentrate first we need to be in a relaxed state of mind. And to be able to be in a relaxed state of mind we just need to sit still and do nothing.

Well, although externally it might appear that we are doing nothing, internally it's another story.

While we are sitting still we bring our awareness to our breath.

When we observe the breath attentively we allow our breath to relax. When our breath relaxes our body relaxes and our mind follows.

When we do this for about ten minutes or so, we can overcome the effects of the stress response and activate what is known as the relaxation response, which has the opposite effect on the body.

At that moment there is no more tension or agitation. Instead, we can feel completely calm and clear, ready to do any form of work with complete concentration and clarity.

It is that simple, and that effective.

How to sit still and do nothing

So step by step this is how to do it.

  • Right before doing the work that you need to do sit comfortably on a chair.
  • You can allow your back to rest on the chair but try to sit with your back straight and upright. Don't sit on a sofa but on a firm and straight chair.
  • Keep the eyes gently closed
  • Feel your feet resting on the ground. Feel the weight of your body pressing on the chair. Feel your back resting on the chair.
  • Now bring your awareness towards your breath. Notice how your abdomen expands when you inhale and how it contracts when you exhale.
  • Make sure there is no movement in the shoulders or in the chest. Keep them relaxed and still.
  • Without trying to modify your breath simply allow it to slow down. Allow each exhalation and each inhalation to lengthen.
  • Follow each exhalation and each inhalation from beginning till end, without creating any pauses or brakes.
  • Continue doing this for about ten minutes.

That's it!

Try not to think of this as a meditation or concentration exercise. No need to force anything. This is a very simple practice. You are simply actively watching your breath but in a very relaxed way.

It doesn't matter if your mind is distracted while you are doing this practice. You can continue observing your breath regardless of how many thoughts you have in your mind.

However, you might find it helpful to add a mental repetition to help you stay focused on your breath.

On the inhalation mentally repeat "in." On the exhalation mentally repeat "out." Or any other word or phrase that you might find more natural to you.

One last but important step

The previous exercise helps us to enter a deeply relaxed state of being, but there is one additional step that will guarantee us success in the work that we need to do.

  • After doing the previous exercise for about ten minutes, mentally see yourself doing the work that you need to do.
  • See yourself working with a focused and relaxed state of mind. Try to feel that mental state right now.
  • See yourself doing the motions that you would actually do while doing your work.
  • See yourself completing whatever tasks you need to complete, ticking those items in your to-do list while having at the same time a sense of achievement, joy, and gratitude for being able to complete your work with ease and on time.
  • Focus on those emotions.
  • Slowly open your eyes.

One of the most important aspects in this form of visualization is to focus not so much on the image but rather on the emotions and on the physical sensations.

When you do this visualization make sure you visualize a goal that might be challenging but at the same time realistic for you.

Don't try to visualize writing a whole novel in just a day! Unless you really think you can.

This is what I do

This is exactly what I do before starting any new article for my blog.

First I sit still and watch my breath for about ten minutes to make sure I get rid of any tension or anxiety from my system. Then I continue with a two minutes visualization.

I see myself writing the article that I want to write about. I see my fingers moving on the keyboard. I see the words and paragraphs taking shape and filling up the screen.

I see myself doing all the technical and related actions I need to do to publish my blog.

Most importantly, I see myself completing the work that I want to complete or making the progress I want to make.

I see myself working with a focused and clear mind, completely relaxed, and enjoying the work that I'm doing.

Believe me, this really works and sometimes it feels like magic.

So many times I'm surprised when I actually see myself completing the work that I wanted to complete, or making the progress that I wanted to make, just as I had pictured it in my mind before.

Not only that but sometimes, since this breath awareness and visualization prepares my mind to stay focused on what I need to do, I enter a state of flow.

After I finish doing the writing that I was planning to do, all of a sudden I feel a sense of joy and exhilaration that feels to come from nowhere.

That's on top of that feeling of achievement and success for being able to do what I love to do, with efficiency.

This experience is actually what motivated me to write this blog post. I had to share this with you.

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When can I use this?

It doesn't matter if your work requires you to be artistic, creative, logical or mechanical. You can try this for everything and anything.

You can do this before trying to solve a complex problem at work, or before writing the next chapter on your new book.

You can even try this before you sit down to study for your finals, or simply before reading the books that you need to read.

What if I have no time to sit still?

If you feel that you really have no time to sit still for even ten minutes, and if you feel the urge to start working right away, then I'm sorry to tell you this but... you are already stressed.

With even more reason, I think you should definitely try this.

I can assure that if you sit still and do nothing for just ten minutes, you will take less time to do the work that you need to do, and you will also enjoy your work even more since you'll be working with a focused and clear mind.

By investing this ten minutes on yourself not only you'll be able to increase your productivity but you'll also experience a sense of peace and achievement that you might have never experienced before.

I know you might still be suspicious that something as simple as this might work, or that it might make any difference, but there is only one way to find out.

Experience is the best teacher.

Sit still and do nothing and let me know in the comment section below how it goes. And if you think somebody else might benefit from this then please feel free to share this blog post with them.

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