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Happily Abandoning the Fast Track

Animals are not shy about resting.

I recently had the enormous pleasure of meeting one of the great minds of our time, Ellen Langer. She is a psychology professor at Harvard and an artist.  For decades, Ellen has researched how our minds work and how habits can follow if gone unchecked. I told her my notion that multi-tasking is the downfall of contemporary women, and she balked. “I disagree.” My eyebrows rose. As such an accomplished woman, I assumed she was stressed out like so many of us. But Ellen is great at deconstructing assumptions. “The observer never knows what goes on inside of the actor,” she said, followed by: “I like multi-tasking.” Apparently, she gets a flow going between the different things she’s doing, which is rewarding to her.

“Don’t you feel torn between what you’re doing?” I asked, still aghast that someone wouldn’t agree that multi-tasking is hazardous to our health. “You only feel torn because you’re either feeling inconvenienced by the task or you think that by not doing it, some tragedy will occur.”

In her typical fashion, Ellen made me rethink my experience and examine my thoughts and habits. Even though I used to love the feeling of accomplishment that multi-tasking in the fast lane provided, I was in a constant state of frustration and never found the flow she referred to. Rather, I felt inconvenienced at having to do one thing or another while thinking something else was more important. In that track, I could never be fully present as a wife, mother, employee, playwright, cook, or anything else. And meditation? Are you kidding?

I have somehow lost the habit of doing nothing one day a week. And I still don’t multi-task. But I have found the flow that Ellen speaks of. For me, it requires doing one thing at a time and being fully present with it. I don’t get as much done, nor am I as organized. But I’m happier, I have more time for the small pleasures, and my family says that life is better now than it was before cancer.

I still have lots to do. Emails to answer. Dust bunnies to wrangle. More blogs to write. And I’ll get to them all, I promise. But first, my beloved nap.

Resources to help you slow down or be mindful and feel great about it:
Why Meditation Is So Cool
Gratitude is Good Medicine
Simple Bliss Relaxing Tea Recipe
Mindfulness (Book by Ellen Langer)
Relax Into Greatness (Yoga Nidra CD by Rod Stryker)

Read more: Blogs, Cancer, General Health, Health, Inspiration, Mental Wellness, Natural Remedies, Peace, Stress, , , , , , , , , , ,

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Leigh Fortson

Leigh Fortson has been writing and editing books about health and nutrition for decades. She is the author of Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About, and Treating Cancer (Sounds True, 2011). Every month, she will write about a topic in her book that was instrumental in defining her healing journey. To learn more, go to


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4:44AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Thanks for the tips.

11:57AM PST on Nov 14, 2011


2:23AM PST on Nov 14, 2011


5:30PM PST on Nov 12, 2011

Thank you so for sharing! Best of ALL to you!


6:42AM PST on Nov 11, 2011


5:23AM PST on Nov 11, 2011

Mary B, I've said more than once that if the government actually PAID us stay-at-home moms for what we'd do, that would be a major economic boost right there-after all, we're shaping and molding the next generation of (hopefully) decent, law-abiding, responsible adults capable of making a solid contribution to society! I read an article in Forbes years ago that listed all the jobs we do in the course of an average day, and it said that if we actually rated a paycheck (which I insist we SHOULD), that it would come up to six figures easily. I still can't figure out how the job of homemaker got thrown under the bus when women started working outside the home-after all, it's still a full day's work and then some!

11:46PM PST on Nov 10, 2011

great article, thanks!

9:02PM PST on Nov 10, 2011

You can make up your mind to stop running in the race, but the real difficulty lies in getting the rest of the world to leave you alone!

7:16PM PST on Nov 10, 2011

Even God stopped creating and rested for one day. So why can't we do the same? A day a week just doing nothing, just letting go and enjoy every minute of a quiet day. Thanks. Great post!

4:28PM PST on Nov 10, 2011

I know what you mean by men being better at chilling out--I can't help but have a thousand things run through my mind,while I'm doing others.Seems like men can just turn OFF.

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