4 Underrated Habits That Can Secretly Upgrade Your Health
Thatcher Wine has had one serious health journey: Soon after undergoing surgery for chronic headaches (and experiencing trouble with his vision post-operation) the author and entrepreneur discovered three tumors in his chest—and was diagnosed with lymphoma.
"Fortunately, they were treatable, and I was able to recover from them, but no sooner had I gone through the treatment for cancer, I went through a divorce. And this whole time, I was an entrepreneur," he shares on the mindbodygreen podcast. The thing is, though, you would never know he was struggling—Wine was a pro at keeping up appearances. "I was trying to do it all—run a business, be a good parent, take care of my health—to really make it look like I could handle it. And part of handling it, to me, was not slowing down."
Until one day he realized: Multitasking simply doesn't work. (In fact, neurologists believe it actually hinders brain health). "Being really creative, successful, productive, and present wasn't about doing lots of things," he continues. "It was really about slowing down, doing one thing at a time, and doing it well."
This mindset shift worked for him so well, he decided to write a whole book about it (titled The Twelve Monotasks). And below, Wine shares how to "monotask" everyday habits for your overall well-being:
With walking, most people multitask without even thinking about it, says Wine. For example: You might be wearing headphones (listening to a podcast, perhaps?), texting a friend, or taking snapshots of your surroundings.
Rather, try to be super present while you move your body: "Feel your feet on the ground; listen to the sounds around you, including the leaves crunching under your feet, and see how you feel," Wine says. "Can you sit with a little bit of boredom and curiosity about the world instead of needing to be doing another thing at the same time? Those walks, for me, tend to be the most enjoyable."
What's more, he says focusing all of your attention on the walk can lead to a burst of creativity. "If you can quiet the noise, some important, good ideas can come in," he continues. "They may not have had the space to come to mind if you had been multitasking while out on your walk."
If you feel comfortable doing so, Wine suggests leaving your phone at home so you can literally look up at your surroundings while you walk. Or, you could turn on the "do not disturb" setting while you're out, so you're not distracted by notifications. If you're walking with a friend, he suggests not having a conversation (at least for a few minutes): "We're both just going to monotask our walks."
"Because of our devices, we've gotten used to other people not fully listening to us all the time," says Wine. "It's almost become the norm." Whereas, when you can give your full attention to someone (and they to you), it creates a special sort of connection. "You can have closer relationships with your friends or your partner," Wine continues. "You can probably be more successful at work if you're present and not daydreaming about something else."
So the question becomes: How do we become better listeners? The answer, of course, is to monotask it. Wine suggests what he calls "one-way listening," which entails truly tuning in with your full attention. Would you be able to write down what they talked about or relay the points to someone else? Then with "two-way listening," it's all about having a fulfilling conversation—really try to be present during that encounter.
"You don't have to do it with every single conversation you have, but at least once a day, have a conversation as if you were recording a podcast," says Wine. "See if you can up your listening skills a little bit over time." Call it a monotasking challenge.
Monotasking your eating involves—you guessed it—sitting down and really being present with your food. Essentially, try to treat every meal like a Thanksgiving feast (same ideals, just perhaps less pie): Think about where the food came from, who prepared it, then give gratitude.
"Many people were responsible for getting [the food] to the point where it could be purchased, cooked, and put on your plate," says Wine. In other words, think not only about what you're eating but how it makes you feel and where the meal comes from.
"Also think about the conversations you can have with the people around the table, or it could be with the stranger next to you," adds Wine. It relates to the previous point about listening—as Wine declares, a fully present conversation can also enrich your food.
Considering Wine's expertise as a library curator, it's no surprise that he recommends reading "a little bit every day." Five minutes, 20 minutes—just dedicated some time out of your day to pore over pages.
See, reading is a monotask in and of itself: "If you're reading a physical book, it requires you to fully pay attention while you're reading," he explains. "Printed books are really good for us in that they command our attention." But it goes further than that: "What they give back to us is more than what was on the pages—they strengthen our attention," he says. (He's not wrong: Neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., once told us to read for at least 15 minutes per day for better brain health.)
That said, if there's one monotask to implement into your life, Wine highly suggests reading. "It is a really good example of how we can give our attention to one thing and get it back even stronger."
The beauty about these monotasks is that you're likely already implementing these activities into your daily life—Wine just encourages you to slow down and focus all of your attention on each task. "You don't have to say, 'Tomorrow when I wake up, I'm going to do my monotasking practice for 15 minutes,'" he says. "Whatever you're doing, you can just say, 'I'm going to monotask it.' You can call upon monotasking wherever you are."
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