Monday, May 14, 2012

A Mindfulness Reminder

Ever hear someone being described as someone who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time? It’s often used as a punch line or to describe someone who simply cannot do two things at once. For some reason, this is considered problematic to many. After all, multitasking is not just useful; these days, it is necessary, right?

Perhaps not!

There are more and more studies coming out telling us that multitasking just means we are doing multiple tasks less well than if we paid attention to any one of them fully. We like to think we can seamlessly jump from one task to another, from facebook to email to twitter and back again. The truth, however, is that no matter how adept we think we are at it, our brains simply do not function that way.

Ironically, the more we multitask, the more difficult it actually becomes to jump between tasks. It is only when we learn to truly quiet the mind that our brains learn to use the quiet between tasks to stop and refocus. The more practiced we are at quiet, the quicker we can jump back and forth. But then, the more we jump back and forth, the more difficult it becomes to quiet the mind.

See a cycle? It’s a perfect example of the yoga bucket -- the ability to use practice from the past for a little while before it becomes depleted and we need to refill. But no matter how full or empty the yoga bucket, attempting to do too many tasks at once eventually catches up with us. 

Friday I got that wake-up call.

Last Monday, my office moved. We moved from the 19th story in a downtown building to the 3rd floor of a building closer to the court where we usually work. This meant two things: 1) less time wasted driving back and forth to court, and 2) I could take the stairs instead of an elevator. I was ecstatic about both.

These past few weeks have been incredibly busy, and last week was no exception especially with the added stressors of the move. By the time Friday rolled around, I was tired. I was slightly overwhelmed. I was running to court, down the stairs I could now use, and I was checking my email on my cell phone. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

And it did.

In all my rushing and attempting to do so many things at once, I tripped on the last stair, and I rolled my ankle badly enough to sprain it. Luckily, I work with some amazing people who took immaculate care of me, and I work with other lawyers who shared their sympathies (and then told me to come up with a better story).

People were supportive, but the lesson was there: Slow down, pay attentions, be mindful!

We all get our wake-up calls different ways. Generally speaking, they come as physical injuries doing routine activities (like mine), dis-eases, hopefully something like a cold or the flu, but sometimes much worse, and even life events that shake us to our core. But the message is always the same – we need to be more mindful of our daily lives and our personal wellbeing.

As I sit here (ok, lie here with my foot elevated) with my second sprained ankle in less than two years (the other one ironically happening during the Mindful Lawyer Conference), I’m wondering what it will take for all of us to get this message. I know I am not the only person trying to walk and check my email. Some people add eating and talking on the phone to that list as well. We live in a world where being "able" to multitask is a resume booster. We live in a world where time walking is wasted, so we better use it to do some work.

I feel that this post is my public service message. So often on this blog, I have suggested just stopping and taking a conscious breath. But this time, I am going to suggest you do that at the least opportune moment you think you have. At that moment when you are doing 4 different things at once, stop and ask yourself which one is the most important and focus on that. And yes, the most important thing at that moment might be walking or driving.

And if you cannot decide which is the most important, stop and take another breath. When all of the external world seems so overwhelming that choosing between options feels impossible, that is the sign that the breath is vital. It will slow us down, bring us back to the present, and remind us that if we are going to have any hope of actually finishing what we want to finish, sometimes stopping for a moment is the only way to get there. Maybe these reminders will be an opportunity to be grateful for the people who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Rather than a punch line, they should be our teachers.

What do you notice yourself trying to do all at the same time? Has it landed you with any disasters?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.


  1. I've always been a hopeless multi-tasker... maybe I should turn to yoga? ;-)

    1. Michael, multitasking plagues our profession. If my injury can inspire people to slow down and take notice, it will be worth every moment of pain and slow walking.

  2. Rebecca,

    I hope your ankle is doing better. Thanks for the reminder to STOP once in a while. I know that I multi-task much too much, and lately, I see my production being affected, except when I truly pay attention to just the one thing I am working on.

    1. Thanks. And it is nice to hear you notice a difference when you pay attention to one task at a time. I think we would all benefit from giving it a shot and seeing what a difference is made.

  3. Yoga is good.
    I’m sick with back problems and aching joints for 3 years, thanks God recently I have discovered a proven systematic set of techniques that will allow us to enjoy the richest whole body benefits of yoga... from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes.

    1. Lawrence, that is wonderful. I am so glad to hear you have found something that works for you.

  4. Yoga is good. I love Yoga.
    I was sick with back problems and aching joints for 3 years, thanks God recently I have discovered a proven systematic set of techniques that will allow us to enjoy the richest whole body benefits of yoga... from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes.

  5. It's really difficult to quiet the mind. But the good news is that when we need to slow down and quite our minds, there is always a signal that suggests what we should do. And I believe Yoga is the best way to learn how to slow down, pay attentions, be mindful.

    1. Well said. I really think that is exactly the purpose yoga serves in our lives!

    2. Hi Rebecca,
      As an Yoga instructor working In Costa Rica I have been following some Yoga blogs regularly. I found yours one is helpful and active.Thanks for your well written articles.

    3. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.