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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

July 2013


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month


Are you making stupid mistakes? Try Mindfulness!

Lately I’ve been very concerned that with almost every task I undertake, I’ve done something “stupid”, a word I habitually use to castigate myself. “Stupid, stupid” I say.
But I seem to be saying this more and more often as I realise I’ve left out a vital detail in an email on instructions to someone or sent the message to the wrong address or not copied someone who should be in the know.

Perhaps these mistakes are an inevitable result of ageing, the effects of ageing are more often on my mind now that I am in my advancing years. In this state of alarm I noticed an article in the New York Times International edition recently about the results of a study proving that those people who multitasked were less likely to achieve an optimum outcome than those did not.  That’s me. That’s the problem I thought. Doing too many things at once.

The solution, the study concluded, was to practice mindfulness between each task.  What is mindfulness?  I first became aware of this practice from Ruby Wax, the comedian, writer, performer and now mental health campaigner.  Ruby suffered bouts of depression throughout her life, a story she told in her very funny way in her show, "Existence – The Pros and Cons.”  I had been to see the play and in a question and answer session afterwards she mentioned she was in the process of taking her Masters in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy at Oxford.  So I thought this had to do with depression. 

Mindfulness, I know now, having searched the Internet, is indeed a technique to tame the mind from incapacitating stress on the brain, but is now making its way into the mainstream, to improve productivity. This meditative practice, with its roots in Buddhism and backed by science, is being adapted around the world in classrooms, governmental bodies and corporate suites.

The practice of mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way, on purpose and in the present, often through breathing techniques. There are practices that are as short as three minutes. Others may take twenty to thirty minutes depending on your needs. There is a rash of books available now and also information on the internet on how to learn mindfulness.  One of the most popular is MINDFULNESS a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. 

It is recommended by the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence not only for helping with depression, but is precisely focussed to help ordinary people boost their happiness and confidence levels while also reducing anxiety, stress and irritability. The authors have included a variety of case studies. Here is Alex:

One evening, Alex trudged slowly up the stairs to his bedroom.  He was still mulling over his day’s work as he undressed and put on his night clothes. His thoughts hopped from subject to subject.  Soon, they latched on to a job he needed to do out of town the following afternoon, before dithering over the best way to get there by car to avoid the roadworks.  The car! He remembered that his car insurance was due for renewal.  He’d use his credit card tomorrow.  The card! Had he remembered to pay his credit-card bill? He thought so.  He remembered the printed bill with items reserving hotel rooms for next July’s big event.  Before he’d even realised it, he was thinking of his daughter’s upcoming wedding.
‘Alex,’ shouted his wife.  ‘Are you ready yet? We’re all waiting and it’s time to go.’
With a start, Alex realised he’d gone upstairs to change for a party, not for bed.”

Alex isn’t suffering from dementia.  His mind has been hijacked by his current concerns and there’s too much information sloshing around in his mind. 

I now realise that this was what was happening to me, continually “making stupid mistakes.”  When writing that email I was thinking about the next task, a piece I had to write for a newsletter, plus what to cook for dinner and when to shop for it, and fit in a stop at the card store to get a birthday card due the next day. 

I will start to practice mindfulness.  One of the three-minute meditations to begin!

Resources:    MINDFULNESS, a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. By Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Includes free CD of guided meditations. Published by Piatkus.   

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