Mindfully Breaking The Overload Habit

We are constantly being required to fit more and more into our days with seemingly endless demands on time, energy and attention. We can have so much occupying our minds that we can feel we are out of control with no real way to change the situation.

When we think of being too busy or overloaded we can tend to put the blame on external factors such as too much work or demands from family and friends, when in reality we may be contributing to our own overload by inefficient multi-tasking and failing to fully engage with what is in front of us at each moment of the day.

We can also add to our mental load from within our own minds by generating negative thoughts about others, concerns and rumination about past situations and fears about future issues that may never happen. So one side of the stress coin is what we are being required to do and the other can be what we may be doing to ourselves.

By jumping from issue to issue we can fall victim to what has been termed attention deficit trait. This is caused by living our lives in what researchers call a hyperkinetic environment. In this state our brains are filled with huge amounts of small events that ultimately amount to ‘noise’ that overloads our limited mental processing capacity, resulting in a chronic lack of focus.

This situation creeps up on us, impacting on our effectiveness and motivation for what we do, whether at home or at work.

So what can you do about this?

Think about what happens when you get some down time at your morning or afternoon break or lunch time. If you go into your break with your mind full of issues and unresolved problems and then add more things, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to actually have a break. And no one is doing this to you but yourself.

Ask yourself when was the last time you actually noticed what a biscuit or sandwich looked, smelt, felt and tasted like? If you are in hyperkinetic overload you may have devoured your morning tea or lunch and then proceeded to access your mobile device, emails or social media – possibly even simultaneously. Your brain is in hyperactive overdrive – holding three conversations (including one to yourself), eating, checking email and worrying about a meeting later in the day. No break, no respite, simply stimulus overload before resuming more of your busy and challenging role.

So for your next break try something that requires no effort, will power or additional time. Simply engage your senses (sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing) as you have your break.

Take a mindful minute to:

Look around at what you can see (5 things)

Notice what you can hear (4 sounds)

Connect with what you can feel (3 sensations)

Identify what you smell (2 smells)

Observe what you can taste (1 taste)

(Its OK if you can’t get the exact number specified)

Why do this? If you use your breaks as a trigger to actually slow down and live in the moment, you can short circuit your stress habit. Also, when you engage the parts of the brain that are responsible for processing your sensory experiences – your direct experience circuit – you disengage your internal narrative – that is the part of your brain responsible for ruminating about the past and creating issues about what may happen in the future.

The good news is that this simple practice can have an immediate effect on how you approach your day from that point forward, and can also have a cumulative positive effect if you make it part of your daily routine.

Give it a try and make this simple practice a new and effective habit.

Author: Graeme ByeNovember 1, 2017


Graeme Bye is an organisational psychologist with a background in corporate organisations in HR and Leadership Development.

He coaches individuals and teams and includes mindfulness practices and techniques to improve effectiveness, manage stress and achieve focus.