‘Busy is drug that a lot of people are addicted to’ — Rob Bell
Many of us resonate with the saying ‘my brain has too many tabs open’ — aka the overwhelming state of having a ridiculous number of simultaneous thoughts and ideas, and an ever-growing to-do list floating around in your head! The mental equivalent of having multiple browser windows open on your computer screen.
It’s the new busy. It’s addictive and deceivingly easy to achieve, but extremely difficult to sustain. And it can be a daunting, draining and, for some of us, debilitating state of being — especially when all you want to do is focus on the task at hand or simply close a few tabs so you can get some shut-eye at the end of the day!
Are you nodding? Do I hear a ‘oh yeah, I know the feeling’?
Then, allow me to be the Pikachu to your Caterpie, and share my tips on how to keep your brain in balance and beat the addiction to being busy.
Five Strategies For When Your Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open
Consciously stop and take a deep breath. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth (make a big hefty sigh!). Do it again. Now focus on breathing in and out solely through your nose — breathe in for four (literally count 1–2–3–4) and breathe out for four. Do it again, and again. Resume normal breathing and reap the benefits!
Deep breathing has a multitude of health benefits but, when it comes to the brain, consciously taking a breathe simply allows time to pause. And when you purposefully pause you create an opportunity to clear your mind and direct your concentration.
Easier said than done, I know! According to my yoga teacher, ‘sitting silent and still is an advanced pose’. And for many us, this is the time we feel the affects of too many tabs open the most!
Try a 1 minute meditation. Inspired by the book The One-Moment Master: Stillness for People on the Goby Martin Boroson, this is a tool I love and a technique I used regularly with my Year 9 students when I was a classroom teacher (hey, if 15 year olds can can master it, so can you!).
Boroson introduces the concept of the Basic Minute — aka a moment with a handle on either side. Set the timer and sit still, and in silence, for a full 60 seconds (my tip: breathing helps pass the time!). With 1440 minutes in a day — your brain deserves at least 1 minute!
If you’re looking for more than a minute of zen check out the app Smiling Mind (they are an awesome not-for-profit with a vision to make mindfulness meditation accessible to all!)
Visualise Olivia Newton-John in the music video clip for ‘Physical’. Hopefully this will make you giggle… and congratulations you’re already moving!
Seriously though, we all know the health benefits being physically active can have on our bodies. And these translate equally to the brain. I’m no sportswoman, but I know there is power in getting physical. You don’t need to don the lycra, just move in some way — e.g. stand up from your desk and stretch, walk outside (maybe try a 1 meditation in the fresh air!), or plan to exercise in whatever way excites you (run, bike, yoga, pilates, crossfit etc).
Movement distracts you from over thinking and gives your brain the energy to deal with the tabs.
4. Remember the blink
The ‘attentional blink’ is a strategy I learnt from my sister, Melissa. She writes about it at length in her post about mindfulness. The concept is simple, in essence your mind ‘blinks’. Like an eye! And in those few fractions of a second your mind can skip absorbing information in front of you. Whether you’re trying to multitask (hello too many tabs open!) or concentrating too hard on one thing to see the next, the attentional blink is responsible for the missing links.
Simply being aware that while we might feel like we are taking in the whole picture there are often things we don’t see — aka our perception is not always our reality. I find it really helpful to remind myself of the blink when my stress levels are high and there is too much going on in my brain. It prompts me to stop and breathe, or meditate, or move, just to see if I can catch a glimpse of whatever it is I might be missing!
5. Make friends with the tabs
Consider the tabs your frenemies. There is scope for a friendship (even though a fundamental dislike exists) and the key to maintaining this friendship is self-care. First and foremost you need make friends with yourself!
Take Bieber’s advice “Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself” and send some self-love and kindness in your direction.
Some don’ts: avoid opening more tabs (you don’t need them); try not to let your stomach control your brain (hangry is real people!); and say no to the naughty stuff (it’s tempting to pop a sleeping pill or down a bottle of wine in one sitting in an attempt to distract yourself from the tabs, but, ultimately, these are not good self-care options).
My final friendship strategy: the digital detox.
In today’s modern world we are constantly faced with a barrage of information via multiple devices, and our communication habits don’t often have an off switch. Remember, technology is where the saying ‘my brain has too many tabs open’ came from in the first place! Now, I am pro-tech (my to-do list and calendar, aka my entire life, is stylishly managed via my iPhone) but I am also a big fan of the digital detox, that is, no TV, no laptop, no mobile phone etc.
When it comes to too many tabs, pressing the escape button is my #1 tip! Try to ‘switch off’ (for at least a few hours at a time). The detox will allow you some white space to process the flurry of content in your brain, and hopefully lessen the addiction to being busy.