F! feeling scattered, let’s practice mindful participation!
As we come up on the holiday season, where our lives get hectic, but we tend to take time off work to spend with our families, I’d like to focus on the basic purpose of mindfulness—being present.
In that spirit, this mindful Monday, I’m encouraging you to practice being fully present in mindful participation with another person for one activity a day for the next week. If you balked, cringed, or felt nauseous just considering social activities, please continue to read below the conditions of the activity AND check out F! Feeling Bad starting January 8th by registering for a free consultation or, if you’re already a client, signing up here.
There are three conditions for practicing mindful participation:
- Focus only on what you are doing:
- NO MULITTASKING
- Set your phone on it’s charger in the other room—which should be it’s default home and where it goes EVERY time you are in a social situation—including watching television with others.
- it’s not time in between other tasks, like waiting for a cooking timer or killing time while laundry dries so you can fold it. Those things wait.
- ALSO There is no such thing as multitasking—all you’re really doing is switching your focus between a bunch of tasks that you’re now going to do poorly compared to if you did them one at a time.
- Focus on what you are doing with others:
- Playing a game
- Watching all those stupid videos your kids want you to watch that kills your brain cells but makes them happy and helps them feel validated as a human being
- NO MULITTASKING
- Shift your focus back to your goal:
- If your goal is to have fun, you participate with that in mind, even though the urge to win the game is so overwhelming and they just need to roll the damn dice already…
- Do what is needed without forcing or withholding—be in the moment.
- Join in with enthusiasm appropriate to the situation
- Don’t force the dancing into a spasm of explosions that alienate others, but, also, don’t take yourself so seriously that you’re against the wall barely bobbing your head like a stoner at a dead concert, either.
I promise you that mindful participation increases quality time and improves relationships. Parents, you’ll notice that spending time like this with your children will eventually lead to fewer interruptions from your important adult tasks. More importantly, your children will be more confident, empowered, and emotionally developed adults. Your friends will feel valued. And you will bring more joy into your life.
Social Anxiety in Modern Times
There seems to be an overwhelming number of people claiming to be introverts and/or feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or disgusted by social interactions. Since research has shown that only 11% of human beings are introverted and engaging in social interactions is an established important component for emotional well-being, there must be some other reason people are avoiding people.
Aside from so many other variables that hold merit and are beyond your individual scope of control, such as an intolerant society focused on differences instead of similarities, there are personal factors that can be adjusted to decrease the stress and increase joy from social interactions. We, as a society, lack the specific social skills necessary for comfortable social interactions. Intentional technology, building agency, and healthy boundaries are three necessary skills you can work on building.
We can all agree that technology has limited our face-to-face interactions, thereby reducing our social skills due to lack of practice, right? But, have you considered the importance of boredom and learning through modeling? Our brains are designed to take in data to feed systems that build schemas to operate mindlessly by activating patterns of behavior that are socially acceptable and appropriate for nearly every situation…and having our faces in our phones interferes with that process.
Our brains light up whenever we watch others engage in a task due to mirror neurons. They are responsible for our ability to empathize with others and learn tasks by watching others. When you are bored you observe the world around you and how people interact with each other, how they ask questions, respond to behaviors, etc. Your brain is a sponge for taking in what it deems important or necessary in your environment. The wonderful, almost obsessive, distraction of the computer in your pocket limits what your brain takes in.
The patterns of behavior modeled for you are stored for comparison as desired or undesired actions you will take in certain situations based the outcomes of what you witnessed from others and in your experience. These experiences inform the schemas, or models for what to do in a situation should this or this or this happen. For example, we know to face the door and not look at other people on an elevator, but few were actually told to do this. With distractions and less observation of the world around you, your brain has less data and is less sure of what to do or how to act in the world given a variety of situations. Therefore, you move through the world with less agency.
Intentional technology refers to the healthy practice of technology use. By limiting notifications on your phone, you reduce the discomfort of unchecked alerts and limit access to your down time, from work, friends, and family. Having a routine of when you carry your phone versus when you are separated from it creates a safe space for you to engage in self-care practices that enhance your life and the quality of the times you are engaged with others.
Agency is confidence in your ability to have an impact on your situation or environment. The opposite of agency is anxiety, because we are anxious about situations in which we feel helpless. With less data in your brain about how other people handle the situation you are in, there is less confidence in how to proceed. Less data also means less available options for asserting your needs or wants in the situation, which feels helpless and results in anxiety.
Technology is not the only enemy for agency. Some of us were taught that we are responsible for how others feel, or that asserting our needs was being unkind. Maybe you had a parent that invalidated your wants, needs, or decisions. For others, past experiences, both trauma and crisis situations, lead to feelings of helplessness in social situations.
Skewed perspectives about what is expected of you and your accountability also get in the way of social skills. The ability to say, “No,” is an important skill. Letting go of feeling responsible if your kind truth causes another person pain, is another necessary skill. We live in a society that not only pressures you to say, “yes,” but doesn’t ask consent to push emotional buttons. When you recognize that you are not responsible for rescuing someone from the discomfort they feel when you deny them a request or call them out for breaching a boundary, social engagements will be more tolerable.
Mindful participation is just one way to begin improving your social interactions with others. Remaining present in social activities is a great way to get data to your brain and build agency. If you struggle with any of these skills, I created F! Feeling Bad specifically for alleviating emotional discomfort by building these and other skills.
Disclaimer: This content is intended for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for mental health or medical treatment. It is important for those with clinical and medical diagnoses to receive the appropriate treatment from trusted and trained practitioners
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