Stopping time seems like a hefty claim. Filmmaker, Qi Gong Master, and Eastern spiritual leader Dr. Pedram Shojai authored a mindfulness guide to do just that, called The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People.
In his interview on this episode of Bulletproof Radio, Shojai talks about how doing little things like chatting with a neighbor or taking breaks to stretch add time to your day, rather than take away from it. Consider them brief mindfulness exercises that enhance your day.
If extra time sounds appealing and maybe a little unattainable, keep reading to find out how to ease more minutes into your day and, believe it or not, feel less overwhelmed.
The benefits of mindfulness exercises
People think of time as something that doesn’t change. Time as a constant doesn’t explain why some days just zoom by and other days drag on, even when the clock moves at the same pace. Chances are, you’ve experienced minutes that feel like seconds, and seconds that feel like hours.
So, what is it that changes your perception of time? Awareness.
You may say you don’t have time to get in a workout or take a class. Even though this feels true, chances are, you (like all of us) waste a few minutes here and there that add up to an hour, or maybe even more. Without an awareness of what you’re doing, time evaporates.
When you’re intentional about life, you waste less of it. With your priorities in order, you know how to make the most of your active time and free time. More importantly, you know what to do with what Pedram calls “gifted time,” those small clusters of time most people consider to be delays.
Examples of gifted time include time in the dentist’s waiting room or waiting for a restaurant table. Instead of feeling annoyed, you can choose gratitude for the gift of such a scarce resource, and you use what you’re given with intention. Use that spare few minutes to pop in your earbuds for a short meditation, do a couple of squats, or send a quick note to a loved one.
How mindfulness adds time to your day
It’s easy to fall into the pattern of coming and going without acknowledging, or frankly, even noticing your neighbors. If you have to chit-chat for a few minutes every time you try to leave your house, do you save time?
Maybe not in the short term. But a short conversation does slow down time as Pedram describes it. Greeting your neighbors adds value to your day by:
- Creating a sense of community
- Pulling you out of the robotic state of retrieving the mail or getting into your car
- Developing the habit of looking around and noticing things (and people!) around you as you go about your day
- Opening you up to the many health benefits of social interaction
A quick greeting could spark a beautiful friendship and strengthen your local community. Just as importantly, it teaches mindfulness, which increases your awareness.
Noticing your surroundings, people included, develops your mindfulness practice. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you notice people and things without trying. Shifting out of autopilot helps you notice when you’re using time and when you’re wasting time. So yes, a few minutes to chat adds time to your day in a roundabout way. You have to be patient, but it happens.
Prioritize the time you do have
When you say “yes” to something, you’re effectively saying “no” to something else. The inverse is also true.
Pedram says, “there’s no amount of Qi Gong, energy work, yoga standing on your head that I can teach you that’s going to help you if you have terrible boundaries with time, and you say yes to everything.” You bump the important things down the priority list with every seemingly innocuous “yes.”
You need to be painfully honest with yourself about what matters to you. Do not give front-row seating to the shoulds. Prioritize what has real meaning in your life. When your goals get first dibs on your time and attention, you move forward.
Make the most of your down time
The outdated factory model of the workday frowns upon breaks. It made sense when mass production ran that way, because time on the assembly line directly correlated with the number of widgets a worker produced.
It doesn’t work that way anymore. If your job involves any amount of thinking, creativity, or analysis, you need to take breaks. Your brain’s output varies over the time period you spend on an activity, and even over the course of a day. Stepping away every now and then reduces fatigue and increases productivity.
A half hour for lunch in the middle of your work day isn’t enough. Over the course of his own day, Pedram sets a timer every 25 minutes to take a walk, to stretch, to swing across a few monkey bars.
Taking 10 minutes to click idly through a gossip website won’t do as much for you as spending your break with intention will.
Mindfulness enemy no. 1: Multitasking
Multitasking is a terrible idea, and you can make a good argument that it makes more work for you. Pedram illustrates why multitasking doesn’t work:
“You miss one point on the email, and now there’s three emails in a chain trying to clarify what the heck you were trying to say. You were thinking about the three other open windows you had while you were supposed to be working on the one thing you were supposed to be working on.
“And so you’re not here, you’re not present, you’re not focused, you’re not engaged, and because of that you are not optimizing your experience of life in time right here and right now.”
By focusing fully on what you’re doing, less will slip through the cracks, and that creates more time.
Moreover, total attention creates a more meaningful result. Shutting in to draft your presentation gets you into the flow state faster and helps you visualize all the moving parts of an amazing experience for your audience. Leaving your phone inside to toss a ball with your kids creates a stronger connection, and makes memories that are there for you whenever you need a lift in your mood.
When you do something, go all in.
Wind down with a mindful evening routine
Establishing an evening routine or ritual will help you wind down, get quality sleep, and feel amazing for the next day. Choose a practice that goes with your natural biorhythms and gently eases you away from the day’s stresses.
Choose a routine that’s manageable and realistic so that you can sustain it for the long haul. Pedram recommends the pioneer-like practice of using only candlelight after a certain time in the evening. Dimming the lights, reading quietly, or soaking the day away in the tub can all signal to your brain that it’s almost time for sleep.
An evening routine is just as useful for kids. Small children do not always recognize that they feel sleepy. Sometimes they will surrender to sleep, and other times tiredness comes out as hyperactivity. Adding rhythm to a child’s evening adds that bit of certainty that x, y, and z happen, and then it’s time to sleep.
Starting a mindfulness practice seems intimidating, until you realize that mindfulness can be small moments here and there that add up throughout the day. For more tips on getting the most out of your day, listen to the entire Bulletproof Radio episode with Pedram Shojai.