Why You Need Regular Mental Check-Ins
As often as possible, I deeply question behaviours and traditions we accept as a part of life, and evaluate the fundamental principles behind our 'common sense'. This is the breakdown of one of those questionings.
For the last few months, the following line of questioning has always been on my mind:
- What pushes us to do the things we do and make the decisions we make?
- Why are some of our natural tendencies to engage in meaningless tasks, while others find meaning in everything they do?
- Are some people simply wired differently?
- Or is it because they found the right motivation to push them to engage in productive tasks?
As a general statement, humans are driven by dopamine and pain. Dopamine is the chemical released in our brain that makes us feel happy, usually triggered after we behave in a way that is evolutionarily advantageous; and pain stops us from doing things that are evolutionarily disadvantageous.
- Would we find that people who are wired to be highly productive get more dopamine from doing the productive tasks, versus people who slack off and regret their decisions afterwards?
- What are the key differences between productive and unproductive tasks?
I often find that when I consume fictional stories (novels, TV shows, movies, etc.) I focus on the immersion and feelings of being sucked into another world - and often forget the specific message behind the content (if there is one at all). In such cases, I am obviously not digesting, and simply engaging in meaningless comsumption. I don't believe that there are truly 'unproductive tasks', but rather a lack of absorption that turns tasks that could be meaningful unproductive and vice versa.
A good example of a productive task turned meaningless would be mindlessly executing a task in a corporate setting. If you don't ask questions about why you are completing such a task in the way you were told to and actively thinking of new ways to approach the problem, you will always be doing things the same way, and not learning anything new.
So, then, we can agree that the most important concept in making a task meaningful is not if it was productive or not, but rather how much did you learn from it - and actively improving for next time. So, how can we constantly be mindful about digesting the content we are consuming, and also reminding ourselves to swiftly move on or improve if the value we are receiving is sub-optimal?
This line of questioning is what led me to become a strong advocate for the Pomodoro technique (time-boxing) - as it provides an opportunity to conduct a mental check-in every 25 mins to ask yourself:
- Why are we doing this?
- What are we trying to achieve?
- How could this task be done more efficiently, or with higher quality?
Take Time To Think
The foundations of mindfulness revolve around this concept. Mindfulness is about being aware, and if most people are not able to be mindful and execute at the same time, well it's fair to say that taking short 5 minute breaks between every 25-minute interval is a healthy habit to adopt. It is a meaningful "thinking time" moment to analyze the execution we just completed, and do it better next time. By conducting life in this manner, we have 24 chances to improve ourselves everyday (assuming you are awake for 12 hours in the day).
I schedule my life into 25-minute chunks, so I am actively intentional about the tasks I am doing each day. Find my time-boxing schedule template here.