Multi-tasking, mantras, and simple goals

One morning last week, while I was driving the kids to school, I heard a heard a report on NPR about new research examining how working mothers and working fathers experience multi-tasking differently. The study discovered that mothers find multi-tasking more stressful than dads, and that moms generally do a fair bit more of it (about ten hours more a week).  The study specifically discussed the type of multi-tasking that mothers do — handling household chores and responsibilities while also helping and caring for their children — and even zeroed in on the evening hours between the end of work and bedtime as especially stressful.  Oh yeah.

This research seems to dovetail with other studies done over the years showing that working mothers do disproportionately more housework and childrearing than working fathers — essentially creating a second workday for mothers.  But this study takes it a bit further in homing in on the types of activities mothers engage in and how it affects their stress level.  “You could see from the data all the stresses and strains they felt as they walked in the door, and all the tasks they  felt they had to accomplish during those early-evening hours.”  I admit hearing that this is a real phenomenon experienced by many women (as opposed to me just being puny and neurotic) is somewhat reassuring and vindicating — but what do we (or I) do about it?  The study acknowledged there were no simple solutions.

As those of you who know me may have noticed, I’ve been whining quite a bit lately about being busy and under stress.  This fall has been somewhat unusual for me in terms of work and family demands and stresses.  Some of these things are resolved, have eased, or have been addressed with at least temporary solutions.  But my day-to-day well-being has definitely suffered in the past few months.  And the little things (as discussed in the study) have seemed more overwhelming than usual at times.

Near the beginning of 2011, I installed an App on my phone called “Simple Goals”.  The App allows you to list as many goals as you like and to check off what you’ve done each day.  It then tallies your numbers for the week and the month.  This App works best for small, concrete tasks — things that, theoretically, you can do every day.  I have seven goals listed on the App.  The most mundane is flossing my teeth; the most intangible is “use Positive Discipline”.  I also include writing daily and engaging in at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day.  I’ve noticed that a day when I do all (or most) of my listed goals is usually a better day than a day when I don’t do any of these things.  Still, as low-key and attainable as these activities are, they can still slip away if I don’t make an effort, especially when I’m in the overloaded mode I’ve been in lately.

Another one of my daily goals is meditating.  It’s hard for me to say this with a straight face.  Partly because it sounds a little pretentious and new-agey, but mainly because I just suck at meditating.  Of course, my mind is constantly roaming around.  I’m also always rushed — trying to sit still and be peaceful in the few minutes between making lunches and the kids waking up on a week day morning.  But even with more time set aside, I  doubt I could be disciplined or dedicated enough for real meditation practice.  However, one day a few months ago, I had this strange little breakthrough.  I had done a few minutes of yoga and was sitting quietly, bleary eyed and moments away from my morning cup of coffee, when a mantra entered my mind.  It went like this:  I am refreshed, energized, and inspired.  The words passed through me with each breath, and I found myself actually feeling refreshed, energized and inspired.  It was a very distinctive experience — light, clear, and quietly powerful.  Crazy, right?!  Since then, I’ve tried to return to that mantra as I flounder through my days.  Although I have not felt particularly refreshed, energized or inspired most of the time, I still find the mantra oddly reassuring and, at least, something to aspire to.

Today went well and included a beautiful walk (at least 20 minutes of activity), a successful family meeting (using Positive Discipline), writing this blog post (daily writing) and, perhaps, even flossing!  This week, I will focus on returning to my simple goals, including my so-called meditating.

Do you have a mantra?  What is it?  What would you like it to be?