Bandwidth, Part 2: Freeing Up More Mental Space

Managing our personal bandwidth for fun, health, and happiness…
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Image from Dr. Chuck Hillman, University of Illinois.*

How can we manage our own personal bandwidth for fun and happiness?  And by “we,” I mean “me” first: my main reason for posting this is as a giant online reminder note to myself that words are not enough and that sometimes only actions will do.  The picture above is a powerful reminder for me to get moving; I’ve seen it many times, but then it always disappears before I remember to capture it. So it’s captured here as an anchor to move me to action when needed.

Embrace, Be Aware, Visualize: The first steps in managing personal bandwidth were described in my previous post: embrace the concept of bandwidth, become aware of how your available bandwidth operates in your life, and visualize that in a way that makes sense for you. I’ve been using Activity Monitor to help me visualize my available bandwidth; here’s how that got started.

bandwidth narrow

Almost immediately after I got a new computer two years ago, this brand new MacBook Pro suddenly slowed down to a crawl for no apparent reason. It seemed to be happening while I was web browsing, but it would happen even if I had only one window open. Stymied and a little peeved that I was having trouble with a brand new computer, I called Apple Support, which is when I learned about Activity Monitor — one of those many apps on the Mac Launchpad that, if you’re like me, you don’t pay any attention to.

Activity Monitor performs many functions, including monitoring system memory use. The System Memory option will tell you what process are running on your computer (apps and behind the scenes processes) and what percentage of the CPU and how much real memory each process is using. When the Apple Support specialist asked me to read the system memory report, he quickly identified the culprit: a process called SafariDAVClient, which was hogging all the CPU capacity and a huge amount of real memory (a problem which, I learned later, was afflicting other Mac users as well).  After multiple phone calls, the Apple Support specialist was able to help me remove SafariDAVClient from the system memory, but unfortunately he could not identify a fix that solved the problem completely. So now I never use Safari because each time I do, SafariDAVClient appears and slows everything down to a stop, even though I thought that deleted that folder and removed SafariDAVClient from my computer. Oh well; I use Firefox now, and I don’t miss Safari a bit.

Green Circle Time: Another important step is to recognize our need for downtime.  Every once in a while, we all need to have a circle/pie that’s mostly green: chilling out, nothing wired or much active taking up our precious mental space — talking a hike or bike ride or walk in the park that require much effort, or zoning out in front of the TV if we must. And having moments where we seek a totally green circle on our bandwidth dashboard — this is what I imagine effective meditation to be — are really helpful and nice as well.

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The analogy is imperfect, of course. We can’t shut off our brains the way we can shut off our computers, even during sleep.  But it’s close enough for me. So, my quest for mental well-being has become a quest for more green space on the bandwidth pie.

One suggestion for doing this is to find those things that are bogging you down mentally. What are the “SafariDAVClient” processes in your life that are hogging your bandwidth and slowing your mind down to a crawl? How can you delete or move or otherwise work around them?  One of the SafariDAVClient processes that recurs in my life is pushing on when I’m tired. Having been a single parent for so long, I got used to the pattern of work-then-parenting for 12, 14, 16 hours a day for so long that I lost the internal mechanism that told me when I was tired. Being too tired to function was not an option, after all; so I learned to push and ignore feeling tired until my work was done, often falling asleep on the floor of my son’s bedroom after he’d fallen asleep in his bed.  After years of this, even when my son was old enough that I could lighten up a bit, there would be many evenings when I’d feel out of sorts — grumpy, a bit depressed, even a little hopeless — until eventually my therapist provided a valuable insight: I may be those things, but basically I was just plain tired. When I realized that, it took a big burden away, because it was true: I was simply tired. Realizing that made a huge difference, because I still knew what to do when I was tired; I just needed to regain the capacity to recognize when I was tired.

Some of my other current favorite strategies:

Meditation — daily if possible, even if it’s low quality (i.e., full of thoughts about the day).
Stretching time — especially good for me in the morning as a wake-up routine.
Designated chill out time — if I make a schedule for the day, the schedule is required to have a certain amount of down time built into the schedule. This is non-negotiable if at all possible.
– If I have one of those days where it’s just not possible to have enough or any down time, I do my best to make sure that I have a day soon after with plenty of down time — a half day, or a four-hour block at least. If I don’t do this, I find my not-so-subconscious self doing this anyway — dawdling longer on Facebook or online, finding an undemanding chore which suddenly cannot go undone for another moment, staying out longer on the run or the bike ride — you recognize the pattern.
– If I have a string of days where downtime is impossible or in short supply, I do my best to schedule an off-day — again, I find it better to do this consciously than to find my not-so-subconsious self doing this anyway.  If I do it consciously, then I get to enjoy it more.

Sometimes the best way to chill is to do something active: take a walk, do an exercise routine, go for a run. Especially if you’re someone like me whose work involves sitting at a computer for long stretches during the day, it’s important to remember the health hazards of sitting and do something about it.

There’s probably nothing new in these suggestions; no doubt you’ve done or read most if not all of them. I know I have — and yet here I sit, typing away, when what I should be doing is something active — anything. So off I go…

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*Can be found in various locations; this one is from Explore, a blog by Maria Popova.

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