Updated: Sep 18, 2020
I was walking the trails the other day, going along and enjoying the scenery when amidst all the novelty I found myself getting distracted by all the possible routes I could take which all seemed intriguing. I usually wander around without any real purpose, but this time I gave myself an objective to continue on this one path and finish this particular journey. It was actually quite difficult as I kept having to remind myself to bring my attention back to the path and continue on straight. Every time one path would entice me I noticed the thought, and brought my attention to what was in front of me. I decided to give myself an objective because just like in a sitting meditation where the usual goal is to focus on the breath, I needed an anchor to bring myself present. It was an application of mindfulness in a more informal and practical way.
You see, mindfulness doesn't only happen when we are sitting with our eyes closed. There is a whole wide world to see, so sometimes we require to have our eyes open! But this doesn't mean we should mindlessly explore the external world. We should still apply the same amount of awareness and attention to what we are doing on a day to day basis. This means everything you do should be done with a sense of purpose and intention. We can train the mind to reduce the noise by shifting our attention to one thing at a time. It can mean something as simple as just focusing on brushing your teeth rather than ruminating about the past, or what you have planned for the rest of the day. Every time we catch ourselves in moments of rumination or preoccupation with negativity we can directly train the mind to refocus on what we should be doing. This is important because in our time of extreme productivity and speed we put waaay too much on our plate and are confused as to why we aren't as productive as we should be. True focus is about giving your full attention and awareness to one thing at a time and not trying to multitask. In fact, multi-tasking has been found to be a myth. We are basically just shifting attention rapidly from one thing to another which comes with a cost of cognitive energy. So it is no wonder we feel drained every day!
"True focus is about giving your full attention and awareness to one thing at a time and not trying to multitask"
So to be more productive you need to simplify your tasks, and reduce the things pulling at your attention. I talked about this in a previous blog post, but the main takeaway here is to put less on your plate, and give things your full, undivided attention. Each thought, action, or movement should be made with awareness and intention. Once you do this you will actually find yourself not only being more productive with your time, your quality of work will actually improve as well. As much as we would like to think so, humans are not machines. We have limited bandwidth and energy each day so it is important to use it wisely. Think quality rather than quantity.
Start with simple daily activities. Next time you are making coffee or tea, notice what you are doing. Actually notice. Where does your mind go? Do you tend to rush the process, getting your cup ready as fast as possible? Instead of going through the motions see if you can slow it down, and do everything with a bit more intention and curiosity. By adding some purposefulness to each action the whole experience becomes more enjoyable. For example steeping your tea with patience, and waiting an extra minute rather than rushing to drink it will result in a more calm and purposeful start to the day. This can then be applied to activities that have a bit more consequence like studying, a difficult conversation with your boss, or keeping your composure during a tense game of fortnite. This is what mindfulness is all about. Paying attention to what you are doing.
One of my favourite scenes from any movie is from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Master Yoda tells Luke he has watched him for a long time. Luke is always looking away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was! (mhmm!) what he he was doing.
In the same sense, be where you are. We spend over 47% of our waking time mind wandering. That is almost half your day spent elsewhere! Imagine the quality of life that can be achieved by spending a bit less time in your head, and a bit more time doing things with awareness, full engagement, and curiousity. We need to start to be more, rather than to do more. Be more present, be more intentional, and the doing will come naturally.
The place is here, and the time is now. Good luck!