In 1995 I was sitting in my office reading an article in The Wall Street Journal about multitasking. Until that moment, I had never heard the term. I immediately saw myself in the article – someone who worked on doing more than one thing at a time. The ironic part was my business partner and I were running a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) company.
That night, I confessed my plight to our class and invited them to speak about how they did the same thing. Most were much more proficient than I was. Yet, none of us were necessarily more efficient or effective. Before I developed the ROC Formula, I knew enough to know I needed to slow down to be present with what was occurring in the moment.
Through the eight-week MBSR course over the year and half I remained in Phoenix, we helped hundreds of super Type-A professionals change their lives. One woman got off all six of her medications and stopped emergency hospital visits from work for her high blood pressure. By the end of the course, her blood pressure normalized while off all her meds. She became liked by her co-workers and daughter. She did this by slowing down one practice, one day at a time.
For her and the others, doing less caused them to produce more and receive more from life. What I did not realize at the time was that as you build your presence, you build your capacity to hold a broader awareness. You become able to stay present to your experience AS you are more aware of an aspect of the external world. Rather than speeding up and focusing on many things, I started slowing down and making my awareness bigger.
My weekly group was my weekly mastery class. Sitting with eleven men, staying present to my experience as I tracked all the other men trained my conscious — and particularly my unconscious — mind to be aware of the subtle happenings in the room. I joke with Dalia, my partner, how I learned to be the mother who always knows what her kids are doing. My men were not kids, but they often checked out. My job was to track that, make a mental note, and come back to the moment when a man checked out to ask what was occurring. The more I improved my self-awareness, the more I naturally enhanced my dual awareness.
Dual awareness is the process of being able to pay attention to one or more experiences simultaneously. It helps to contain overwhelming feelings, thoughts, and body sensations. Dual awareness is about developing an observing self while we are experiencing something, even when that experience is a traumatic memory. When you have a flashback, you have one metaphorical foot in the past, and if you are practicing dual awareness, the other foot is in the present.[i]
Studying Stephen Porges’ Ph.D. work, you learn how humans have several nervous systems. The newest evolutionally is the social connection system of the ventral vagus nerve, which allows us to not only slow down our survival systems, but to help us heal past traumas. We do this by having a dual awareness of our survival experience in the present moment and by socially engaging – as we do in our groups.
Knowing we use multi-tasking for checking out as much as attempting to get more done, where or how do you multi-task?