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Decrease Doings

The phrase ‘less is more’ is a great one to keep a hold of. Being calm is a trait we’d all love to possess. It’s possible only when we slow down. We live in an age of always being on call. This has fostered a mental health crisis. We need to take more time for the self.

Contentment isn’t found if we make ours an ever-expanding, faster-doing world. It comes when we slow down and appreciate what we already have. The modern world has already given us far more than we actually need. It’s time to appreciate what we have.

Greed breeds consumption. We end up doing more and being busier in an attempt to satiate our greed, ultimately an impossible task because greed never gives up. It is the opposite of empathy. Try overcoming it and finding comfort in what you already have. See if that unlocks a sense of wellbeing that wasn’t there before. Contrary to the way most of us try to find happiness in modern life, going slow/pausing/doing less is actually the secret!

So try doing a little less. Say no a little more. Take time to do nothing but being still and appreciating what you have. Breathe more deeply. Notice your muscles, all of them, every part of your body. If there’s tension try to allow it to relax. See how all of that makes you feel. I’d be willing to bet a lot that you’ll feel so much better.

Now think how much less impact on the planet there is when lots of us all take time to do less. Less being busy, less travelling, less consuming, less encouraging others to do so much. It’s not to say do nothing always and be a hermit, but we all do too much in the modern world. If we can press pause more often we’ll find ourselves and the world around us to be in happier places.

How to succeed in doing less? Try the following:

1. Give yourself time for rejuvenation, every day, between every task.

Mind-wandering / daydreaming boosts mood, promotes good decision-making and makes you more creative, so do more of it!

One of the best things you can do on a busy day is to take breaks, offering up a wealth of benefits for body, mind and creativity. Let your mind deliberately wonder. Stare out of the window. Daydream. Get outside.

Research has shown that breaks give you more focus, allow you to be more productive, reduce stress and boost creativity. When you’re working take three breaks per day for ten minutes each. But be careful as to what you consider to be a break. Getting off one screen (e.g. work computer) and on to another (e.g. phone/tv/social media) is not taking a break. Try to allow yourself to be properly still and not actively taking on any new information.

Research from the US shows workers who take short regular breaks produce more accurate work and have a lower heart rate, which suggests breaks have a calming affect. Research has also shown short breaks to reduce joint pain! You can also improve the health of your eyes by regularly taking them from a screen and looking in to the distance.

It might seem counter productive, that things will take longer if you take breaks, but research has shown that those who take breaks get tasks done in shorter time.

2. Breathe Better

Modern life has stopped us breathing properly. We are breathing too shallow. Because of the way our civilisation has evolved we are no longer subject to certain extremes which would have naturally made us breathe more deeply. There are fewer threats and so we keep ourselves in a comfort zone e.g. We’re not subjected to extreme cold or heat.

He’s a household name now with scientifically backed up methods for breathing better so why not try Wim Hof’s gradual cold exposure. Use breathwork to be able to cope with that cold, which itself brings big benefits. Take time to notice your breath and take it deeper – fuller breaths in and out – notice the difference your body feels.

3. Be Mindful

Taking ten minutes for mindful meditation can improve sleep and memory, reduce pain & stress and boost mood. Research has shown that regular meditation can counteract age-related decline in the brain.

Try to focus on your breathe and check in on body. This is a well researched field with more than 8000 studies involving mindfulness meditation. After just eight weeks of meditation there are significant increases in grey matter density in regions of the brain that regulate emotions, learning and memory. Mindfulness meditation has also shown improvements in insomnia, fatigue and depression and a reduction anxiety and stress which could have positive knock on effects on your immune system.

Mindfulness = the presence moment awareness of experience in an open, curious, non-judgemental way. You can be mindful anytime and anywhere.
Meditation = Formal way of training the mind, choosing one object to focus on.
Mindfulness Meditation = Pick something like your breath and pay attention to it in an open, curious and non-judgemental way.

The more you do it the more benefit you’re likely to get. You can also try walking meditation: Walk slowly, pay attention to how your legs feel as they hit the ground. Use the sounds and feelings of steps to refocus your attention.

If you’ve never given it a go before why not start by giving this daily meditation in three minutes a go?

4. Use Your Phone Less

UK adults spend three hours a day buried in their phone. This interferes with sleep, mood and productivity. Going phone free for short periods of the day can improve mood & cognition, enhancing social life and boosting happiness. Introducing no phone zones as part of your day could reduce stress, boost attention and improve posture.

Limiting your social media use to 30 mins a day can also promote wellbeing and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Try having your phone in another room, out of sight when working if possible. Studies have shown that doing so leads to reductions in loneliness, depression and anxiety.

Research also shows:

  • Sending fewer texts is linked to lower levels of neck and upper back pain.
  • Poor posture and worse breathing is linked with more time on phone.
  • Lower levels of phone use show a boost to mental health.
  • Even if you’re not using a phone but have it on your person or in your environment it has cognitive strain on you! Subconsciously you are half-wondering who or what might be contacting, reacting or trying to get your attention in any way via the phone. We have a limited cognitive capacity and having your phone around is taking up some of that capacity. Just the process of resisting the urge to use the phone when it’s in your environment is using up part of your cognitive capacity. In the same way as trying to do something and have someone keep calling your name, you feel an urge to react. That is what the presence of a smartphone can have. In an evolutionary sense we’re attracted to social connection, to learning new things, to responding to emotions such as outrage. All of these and more are all within that one small device and amplified in a way never seen before.
  • Even though we may be aware that we are using our phones we don’t value the negative impact that has on other things we may want/try to be doing at the same time. We feel we can do two things at once. The research shows that this is a myth and we’re actually constantly switching between the two, unable to focus on one whilst on the other, increasing our stress levels as we do so.
  • Just the sight of your phone can impact your brain power!

I personally don’t have a phone, but I do use a tablet. Not having a phone started by accident – I broke mine in 2013 but very quickly noticed the benefit of not having an attention seeking device attached to me all of the time. The more time went (and goes) on the more I’m determined to never get one. I still use my tablet to keep in touch with people but I use the following techniques to limit my time on it:

  • I have notifications turned off for all apps. Therefore it’s only when I choose to check a specific app (e.g. my messaging app) that I see if I have a message from someone.
  • I have it set to black and white mode. The extremely unnatural and vibrant colours used in phone screens have been made that way on purpose, using colour psychology specifically to keep us addicted to the screen.
  • I have a set screen time limit. If I reach my daily limit then that’s the tablet use over for that day. It’s fine: I grew up in an era without phones. I remember we all coped fine and now that I don’t use one (or only limited via a tablet) I also still cope just fine!

Further Resources:

Morgan Blair’s ‘Overdoing is a common cause of poor mental health and doing less ultimately leads to greater well-being.

The NHS says, ‘Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.

The charity Mind share hints and tips for mindfulness practice which ‘helps many people manage their day-to-day wellbeing.’

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4 thoughts on “Decrease Doings

  1. Wonderful, sound advice Sam. So good that you can use your own experience regarding a phone. Research has shown that when two people meet, having the phone on the table, even if it is switched off, results in less empathetic exchanges, Sherry Turkle US researcher.

    1. It’s crazy the effect they have, isn’t it?! That study related to empathy doesn’t surprise me. If the mind is wandering on to something else rather than truly engaging with what’s in front of it in the real world then it makes sense that the connection forged will not be as ‘true’.

  2. Re: ‘Decreasing Doings’,
    I actually LIKE being a hermit! I found a wonderful sense of peace and contentment during the Covid lockdown periods and was very reluctant to ‘resume normal activities’ when the lockdowns and restrictions were lifted.
    Re: adapting to cold, Dr. Richard Bach, of Flower Remedies fame, advocated washing in cold water to awaken and refresh your cells, and that does help to get rid of the ‘fug’ of modern life.

    1. I think a lot of people felt like that during the lockdowns, Cynthia. Without going in to all of the obvious horrors and suffering felt by so many, one of the small silver linings many people found was the peace at being able to go at their own natural pace, rather than having to be thrust around at the ever quickening pace of modern life.

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