The average person has thousands of thoughts and internal conversations spinning around inside their head every day. You're probably aware of very little of this mental chatter, until you stop and pay attention. But it's this very lack of noticing it that trips you up. Because when mental chatter goes unchallenged, fears and mindsets find it easy to tighten their grip.
Your brain is not naturally inclined to be awake and mindful. It maintains a watching brief on your surroundings, but it spends the majority of its time absorbed in your tasks and testing incoming information against existing patterns. Its job is to produce a map for you to follow. It will encourage you to follow the map that requires the least effort, usually the one that's the most well-worn. It's not until you start waking up to your surroundings, that you realize just how much information your brain filters out. Stop right now and notice how many sounds there really are around you. Your brain has been filtering out anything that's not particularly threatening, and focusing instead on playing with all the ideas that have been triggered by the words on this page.
In the same way that we all experience varying degrees of mindfulness throughout a day, we are also bound to experience varying degrees of mindlessness. Forgetting someone's name the moment after meeting them; tripping over the bag you put out in the hallway five minutes ago; nodding through your partner's story then being caught out when they ask, "Did you hear anything I just said?" and being angry about something at work and taking it out on your children when you get home. Mindlessness takes over when you are lost in your thoughts and not paying attention.
Let's consider the most simple case of mindlessness in action. You are waiting at a pedestrian crossing, thinking about your last meeting and wondering why your boss cannot just give you the go-ahead on your proposal. Your mind is playing with all the possible reasons: He is not been honest with you; he wants to take the idea and use it himself; someone else has got to him. The people in front of you start crossing the road, so you step out too. Then suddenly, a horn sounds loudly and you pull back, head up, looking quickly towards the horn. You realize the light had not changed, the other people had just done a quick dash between cars. Your adrenaline is pumping, all thought of the meeting has vanished, and you are hyper aware of your surroundings. You've just been snapped out of mindlessness in a split second. In your mindless state, your brain took its signals from the other people crossing the road, and it kicked in with the pattern that says, "Now it's time to cross." It was unable to notice any other important information, because you were utilizing its precious resources dwelling on your meeting. Only the threat to your safety made your brain suddenly turn all its resources to where they should have been in the first place: your surroundings, and making conscious and intentional choices about your actions. We see "near miss" incidents like this all the time. People jogging with headphones on or texting while walking down the street, workers becoming complacent about their daily tasks and thinking about holidays instead. Mindlessness is spreading and it's time to wake up!
It's easy to blame the "busy-ness" of your life for your state of mindlessness. There is no doubt that the barrage of information, the pressure to multitask, and the number of worries we seem to have in the modern world, all make it so much easier to slip into mindlessness. But let's be honest, mindlessness is a choice too, just like grabbing fast food instead of a healthy option. It is the biggest hurdle you face, if you truly want to get wired for life. Slipping into the comfort zone, operating on autopilot, and being complacent are all easy patterns for your mind to adopt. But it's like falling asleep at the wheel. Every time you forget that you are a mind gardener and do not choose to cultivate your mind, autopilot is your choice and your existing maps are your direction. Don't wait for an event in your surroundings to wake you up. Make every moment a mindful moment and you will reap the rewards.
Excerpt taken from the author's book Wired for Life: Retrain Your Brain and Thrive.