Make Presence Your Gift

Make Presence Your Gift

Make Presence Your Gift

As the Winter holidays approach, face it: if you’re like most of us, you’re going to feel busy. Overwhelmed. Scattered. Like you can’t keep up with it all.

And when you swipe through Instagram, Facebook, or any other social network, you’re going to feel like everybody else is having a perfect, twinkle-lit hashtag holiday while you’re simply trying to keep up.

How did this happen? Wind back the years and maybe you’ll feel nostalgia for the slower pace of time gone by…the fragrant smells, jingling sounds, and warm connections of what the holidays were once meant to be…and wonder why it all feels so frenzied to you.

If so, take a moment. And a deep breath. Pause, and relax. You’re not alone in getting swept up in the “more more more” that this season has somehow unintentionally become.

And I’m not alone in attributing that frenzy to the rise of social media and our dependence on our mobile devices as a primary point of connection. In the years since mobile phones found their way into nearly 5.5 billion hands worldwide, we’ve become more distracted, stressed, and, heartbreakingly, depressed than we were only a decade ago. Warnings about the “disconnection” our mobile devices (despite their promise to “connect” us) have risen over these years, It’s a topic I first explored on the TEDx stage in 2016, and it’s only become more concerning with time.

Close your eyes and imagine the holiday season you’d most like to have. It’s likely pretty different than the one nagging at you from your calendar (or your holiday-planning app).

What to do? Well, it may feel like you simply have to go with the holiday flow – yet the good news is you actually don’t. We’ve all gotten swept up unwittingly in the frenzy. Yet there’s a way to step back. My recommendation? “Make presence your gift” – and here are three science-backed ways you can make that happen.

1. Slow things down. You know all those shortcuts we’re taking to try to get more done in less time? They may not actually be helping.

See, the brain does some lovely stuff when we slow down. The Default Mode Network (DMN) – a special cognitive pattern that kicks in when the “busy” modes shift gears – helps us come up with new ideas and even new perspectives on ourselves. By integrating cognitive modes that otherwise work independently, the DMN helps the brain form new connections between recent thoughts and experiences and ones we’ve had before. That’s an important process that can’t happen when we’re rushing around.

When we slow down, veg out, and do habitual, repetitive tasks, it’s an invitation for the DMN to activate in ways that can help us gain new insights, update our narratives about what’s happening in our lives, and see things around us in new light.

Want to turn it on? Rhythmically chop those veggies. Carefully wrap those gifts. Stare out the window and watch the leaves rustle in the winter breeze. Invite a sense of quiet. Let yourself reflect and relax. Your brain will be listening, and will use that little vacation from the hustle to get caught up on some important work that might deliver a new cognitive gift to you.

2. Check the tech. For at least one of your holiday experiences, put the mobiles out of sight and out of mind. Simply SEEING a mobile phone shifts our focus, researchers say, distracting us from conversations and activities for up to 23 minutes.

Break the cycle by giving yourself, your guests, and your tech a break. I’m hearing more and more people say they’re putting an “ unplug box” or phone-collecting basket near their front doors and corralling devices there.

Sure, it can feel weird not to have those always-on distraction optimizers at hand, ready to give us a neurochemical jolt once we’ve scrolled or liked or posted.

But weird can be good: use it to shine a light on how strong the tech urge has become for each of us, and consider what you might want to do about that as a new year beckons.

3. Surprise a sense. When we shift the usual way of doing things, we challenge our usual ways of experiencing things. Suddenly we notice things we may have overlooked before.So…why not do that as part of your holiday? Open your mind and consider…let’s be curious here…playing classical music rather than the usual holiday tunes…getting your table guests to enjoy one course in silence… opening a present with eyes shut and trying to feel what it actually is.

Something tells me you may have thought of something that’s even better than those ideas. If so, make it happen. Simple changes, especially when enjoyed together (hello, mirror neurons) can awaken whole new experiences.

The frenzy of the season is real, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it take over. Take a breath. Unplug. Do something slow that you enjoy. And pay attention in a way you might forget to indulge in other seasons. In other words, open the real present: your presence. Close your eyes and think about that and you’ll connect with a true gift.

-Ellen Petry Leanse, neuroscience educator and author of The Happiness Hack

For more brain hacks, check out The Happiness Hack>>

November 25, 2019
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