If you’re out for dinner with a friend and you get an email marked URGENT, should you interrupt your conversation and deal with it right away? What if you’re just getting to grips with a piece of work and your phone rings showing your partner’s number. Should you stop what you’re doing and talk to them?
We all experience plenty of unnecessary distractions that interfere with our real priorities. But what about the times when you feel there is a valid need to respond?
There are so many benefits to being able to reach people when you need them, but the expectation that every communication should be answered immediately can sometimes be at odds with our effort to live mindfully, fully invested in the moment, free from distraction. After all, each message, update or alert is an invitation to be somewhere else – maybe even literally, but at least in the mind.
Worst of all, these notifications come to us no matter the context we find ourselves in. Each nagging request causes a miniature spike of adrenaline, a feeling of disturbance, and sometimes we’re tempted to answer hastily just to get it out of the way. Acting on a feeling of frustration, we might send a communication that we regret, which ultimately creates more difficulty in the future.
In fact, whoever sent you that message would probably prefer that you reply when you've enough space and time to do so properly.
It can all feel quite complicated, but we’ve got a very simple suggestion for these situations: breathe deeply.
Although meditation existed long before any of the devices that now play such a big part in our lives, the lessons it teaches are so helpful here. In our daily practice when difficult thoughts and feelings arise, rather than trying to push them out of our minds, we learn to acknowledge and accept them, and then go back to the exercise at hand.
In the same way, whatever feeling the communication you’ve just received creates, you often don’t need to respond to it immediately. If you can breathe deeply for long enough to acknowledge the feeling that arises, you might find that you can continue with what you’re doing for now. Of course, you shouldn’t ignore urgent requests, but try to acknowledge the substance of them and respond accordingly, rather than responding to the feelings they provoke immediately. By all means, set aside a bit of quiet space to deal with the call or email later, but there’s no need to let it dominate what you’re doing now.
In fact, whoever sent you that message would probably prefer that you reply when you’ve enough space and time to do so properly. If the communication you’ve received is challenging or provokes more complex emotions, that’s all the more reason to take some time before you respond. In fact, you’ll make better decisions, write a calmer, more thoughtful response once that initial emotional response has faded. Sometimes breathing deeply can even mean getting a good night’s sleep and responding in the morning. You’ll be amazed at how different things can look the next day.
It might feel risky at first, but deliberately resisting that urge to respond instantly, just a few times, is enough to help you to realize that nothing terrible happens when you do. And maybe, just maybe, the best way to show that you’re treating something seriously is not to respond immediately, but mindfully, in your own good time.