Why I started a 'stop it' list

SARAH BERRY
Last updated 05:00 25/04/2014
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LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: Stopping is sometimes necessary in order to flow better.

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THE AFTERMATH: Several days after the accident.
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IN RECOVERY: Post-orangutan.

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Four weeks weeks ago today, I was hit by a car.

Walking home from CrossFit, I was crossing the street when a cab, turning right across the intersection and racing the lights, knocked me out.

I came to by the side of the road, eager to escape home, embarrassed by the commotion I had caused.

Luckily, because the cabbie had slowed to turn, and luckily, because I apparently have the rock-hard head of a bowling ball, I escaped relatively unscathed.

I was concussed, having landed on my head which would later swell until I looked like an orang-utan. I was also blood-spattered and needed an operation on my hand. And I had a smashed finger. My illustrious hand-modelling career was over and I scolded myself for neglecting to insure my precious phalanges, a la J-Lo's arse.

But otherwise I was OK.

Later, in hospital, high on adrenalin and morphine, I texted my editor to say that I might be a little late for work. When the doctors insisted on keeping me there, I messaged to say I might not make work at all, after all.

I was told to take the next week off and, reluctantly, after some argument, I agreed.

My foot, so used to being on the accelerator, was suddenly hard on the brake.

Too bruised and confused to exercise or work, I didn't even want to listen to music or see people - there was too much static in my head.

Without distraction, the experience "knocked" back into my body.

I walked a little, but mostly lay under a tree for the week, teary and trying to absorb the blow not only to my physical self but to other less discernible parts of me.

Lying on my beach towel under a sun-dappled tree (it wasn't all bad) I considered my tendency to confuse activity with accomplishment; "doing" (or, more frequently, distracting) with being.

I considered, too, the idea that all the doing that I had been doing might not even have been all that effective.

There's a picture of me as a kid, sitting on the toilet, with a harmonica in one hand and a computer game in the other. Little has changed in my drive to "do".

I check emails while in meetings or on the phone. I watched a movie, with a book in my lap, while researching the ineffectivess of multitasking.

We multitask but we also wander with our minds. One Harvard study found that our minds are wandering 50 per cent of the time. We do pretty much everything except be where we are.

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Allowing our minds time to wander is OK as creativity is cultivated through space as much as stimulation. But numerous studies, across various disciplines, have found our highest performance and greatest fulfilment comes when we are fully engaged with what is in front of us.

This simultaneous focus and state of immersion is called "flow", says author and psychologist Daniel Goleman.

It's a delicate dance between roaming and reining in and the problem is, as Goleman says, "the tools that we use - our phones, our computers and so on, are also devised to distract us, to seduce us, to draw our attention from this to that".

So it requires a conscious effort to stop distracting ourselves to allow immersion in those moments of space as well as the chance to focus completely.

"What I stop doing is just as important as what I start and continue to do," says best-selling author and blogger Danielle Laporte. "Stopping equals room to run free and create from the deepest place of being without restraint or compromise."

I keep catching myself, remembering that, even though it feeds my appetite for stimulation, life feels less satisfying when I'm not fully present. It feels better being in my body. I return to myself in brief moments in which I notice my breath again, or for longer periods when I meditate, run, write or am fully engaged with someone (unsurprisingly the Harvard study found that people's minds wander the least while having sex).

I feel the sense of "flow".

Laporte, and others, have Stop Doing Lists to help focus on what's important.

For a week of lying under a tree, my stop it list is pretty short: to stop being everywhere except where I am now.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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