We explore how the concept and ethos behind Unplugged can help us to focus on being mindless at times, something that can be used in conjunction with mindfulness to reach an optimum state of ‘switched off reflection’.
So, we’ve all heard about mindfulness and have slowly educated ourselves on the place this has in our lives over the last few years. But what about mindlessness? Surely, practicing the opposite of mindfulness is counterproductive, and will only lead to a fall-out from the brilliant progression we’ve witnessed over the last decade in learning about and practicing mindfulness. It turns out, though, that’s where we’d be wrong. In fact, practicing mindlessness alongside mindfulness could be the most optimum level of presence, fulfillment, and calm we could offer our state of wellbeing. Let’s delve into it some more.
What exactly is mindfulness? A study by Psychology Research states that mindfulness is ‘the simple process of actively noticing new things. It doesn’t matter how smart or relevant the new distinctions are; just that they are novel for the person at the time. By actively drawing novel distinctions, people become situated in the present, sensitive to context and perspective, and they come to understand that although they can follow rules and routines, those rules and routines should guide, not govern, their behavior. It is not difficult to understand the advantages to being in the present. When in the present, people can take advantage of new opportunities and avert the danger not yet arisen.’
However, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, being mindless can take away the pressure. Think about simple actions such as brushing your teeth or combing your hair. These are both things we’ve learned to do autonomously, without thought, and, in some cases, they’ve become almost ritualistic in their calmness and mundanity. Finding the balance between not overthinking and being present could be the way forward for finding our ultimate calm amongst the chaos. In fact, some experts believe that if you can make being mindful a mindless task, something that you don’t have to think about and something that you’ve made into a habit, then you can make mindful and mindless sit together at the perfect intersection.
This study in Positive Psychology sums it up: ‘Being constantly mindful simply requires too much cognitive processing power to allow us to do all the things we need to do to function in daily life. We need the mental shortcuts of mindless thinking otherwise we’d never get anything done. Contrary to our instincts, unconscious thinking processes are better at handling and analysing large amounts of complex data, so believing that mindful analysis is always preferable may lead to less effective choices. So, mindlessness is good and necessary, sometimes.’ It is this idea that we need to harness the power of mindlessness, something we spend 50% of our time being, to reach the optimum state of ‘switched off reflection’ and calm, that is so important. Mindlessness allows us to use our gut instinct and protect our minds from the chaotic and, sometimes stressful, nature of 21st century living.
‘Being constantly mindful simply requires too much cognitive processing power to allow us to do all the things we need to do to function in daily life. We need the mental shortcuts of mindless thinking otherwise we’d never get anything done'
Interestingly, an article about mindlessness in The Scientific American noted the following: ‘Expertise research has also revealed that paying too much attention to what you’re doing can have damaging effects, particularly when you perform well-practiced skills. In fact, this is one reason why some experts appear to “choke under pressure”: they think too much about the mechanics of the task at hand. In a classic study, cognitive scientist Sian Beilock and her colleagues had skilled golfers attempt to sink putts under different experimental conditions. In one scenario, the golfers were simply instructed to pay attention to the swing of their club and say “stop” when they finished their swing. In another condition, they were instructed to listen for a target sound while ignoring other noises and say the word “tone” when they heard the target sound. Counterintuitively, the skilled golfers performed substantially worse when they focused on their swing than when they paid attention to irrelevant sounds. The effect of paying attention to their swing was so damaging that the golfers actually did better when they were warming up before the experiment began.’
All of this isn’t to say that mindfulness doesn’t have its place. It certainly does, and we’re huge advocates for it over here. It’s just, like everything, about balance, and finding the perfect crossroads between being mindful and present, and being distant and calm. When unplugging, you have the choice, time and calm surroundings to be able to find this balance - you can actively practice being both mindless, at times, and mindful altogether. Embrace those moments making coffee, the everyday rituals you don’t have to overthink, but combine them with punctuated moments of meditation to really discover the sweet spot.