While I was having my breakfast this morning, it occurred to me that this morning ritual of mine has been one of the things that has really fueled my recovery. See, each morning — almost without fail (unless I have an early appointment or I oversleep) — I get up and make myself some breakfast. I usually do a little bit of exercise first, but no matter whether I ride the exercise bike for 15 minutes or I do pushups and squats or I do a bit of yoga, I always have my breakfast. I fix it deliberately, paying attention to what I’m doing, then I sit down and eat it, paying close attention to the whole process.
I don’t just pour myself a bowl of cereal and gobble it down, reading the paper as I eat. I really take the time for myself to really enjoy it while I’m doing it. There have been times when I have wanted to rush through, but I didn’t let myself. It’s important that I pay attention. If I rush, I tend so spill things and make a mess, and the last thing I need is to make a mess while I’m trying to start the day right.
This is important for a number of reasons.
First, I am investing time in taking care of myself.
Second, I am slowing myself down on a regular basis, first thing in the morning, which sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Third, I am paying very close attention. Even when I don’t want to, I practically force myself to. And I’m always glad when I do.
At just the time when I feel like flaking out, I force myself to bear down, and it helps me. Not only does it get me out of my head and get me thinking about something other than my own self-pity and self-defeating thoughts, but it also helps me build more brain connections. From what I’ve read, attending very closely to things builds synaptic connections — neurons that fire together, wire together — which means that my paying close attention to my breakfast builds up more connections in my brain.
Sometimes I notice different things — the way the egg and toast combine visually, or the way the butter and jelly on my toast tastes. Sometimes I mess up the whole process of getting breakfast together, and the toast is burnt, the egg is under-cooked, and the coffee is either too hot or too cold. And I have to regroup and focus in again.
But no matter what I notice, first thing in the morning, the important thing is, I DO notice. And that practice keeps me going throughout the day. In fact, I would say that even more than being a good way to satisfy my physical hunger, a mindful breakfast is a good way to satisfy my psychic hunger — my need to be involved in my own life and participate in the things that matter to me.
Paying attention at the start of the day sets a tone I can follow the rest of the day. And the more I attend to what I’m working on, the more synapses get connected, the more neurons that wire together, and the easier it is for me to live my life.
The great thing about this is, it’s very simple to do. It’s not always easy, but it’s simple. And I have to say, one of the key ingredients of being able to do this in the first place, has been lowering my anxiety levels so that I can slow down enough to pay attention to what’s going on. Once upon a time, the very idea of taking 20 minutes each morning to feed myself was about the farthest thing from my mind and my interest. But now that I’ve been at it, I can see how it’s helped me. And it’s something that just about anybody can do.
Even if you’re not into eating breakfast, anyone can start the day mindfully, paying very close attention to what’s going on in front of them. Something as simple as washing your hands can be a source of fascination. Or watching the birds at the bird feeder. Or the cars passing in the street. Or the clouds in the sky. But we never get a chance to see it all, if we don’t make the effort of slowing down and paying attention.
The good thing about it is, bearing down and making the effort to pay very close attention — no matter how small the detail — is never a waste of time — it’s an investment in our cognitive futures.