How often do you do things in an automatic way? How often do you do things in a non-conscious way without thinking? For example, have you driven somewhere and had no idea how you got there because you were thinking about something completely different or were distracted by children or talking to another person. Or maybe you were doing many other things besides driving. We live in a society that values multi-tasking. We are conditioned to scan tremendous amounts of information that we’re bombarded with every day, to work while watching children, to cook and clean while talking on the phone, watching TV and monitoring sibling squabbles. Besides that it often makes us frazzled and exhausted, are we really getting more done? Researchers have asked one set of people to do things mindfully and another group of people to do everything as quickly as possible (multi-tasking). The researchers* found that the people who did things one-mindfully were, in fact, the most efficient.
Doing one thing at a time can actually be difficult. Often when we’re bored or upset we don’t like what we are doing, we start doing something else or thinking about something else. Planning for the future or worrying about the past also interferes with our ability to focus on the present. But focusing on the present has many advantages: 1) it is more efficient, 2) it allows you to live life to the fullest. You don’t miss what is going on and 3) even when bad things happen, you experience them and move past them, rather than hanging on to them and worrying about them endlessly.
This summer consider making a conscious attempt to really experience the season. Don’t let this part of life slip past you. It’s hard not to love the summer. What’s not to love about fresh cut grass, warm air, and the ice cream truck? Whether you are in the mountains of Colorado hiking alongside rushing streams or on the beaches of NJ, summer is the season of long days, warm nights and playing outdoors. But sometimes summer slips by too quickly. Somewhere in the midst of swim lessons, long days at work, household chores, and visits to relatives the season is gone. I might plan a trip to the beach or the amusement park, but I’m so busy orchestrating the outing, making sure the outing works with nap times, that snacks, sunscreen and extra clothing are packed, strollers and carriers are organized etc. that I miss the moment. I turn to intervene in a squabble in the back of the car, rather than notice the warm breeze and smell of the sea. I wade into the waves only to my knees between trips to the potty and bouncing a tired baby. As a result, I miss out on the joy and relaxation that comes from simply experiencing the season. Here are 3 ideas to help you focus and experience the season.
- Eat or drink something. Eat or drink something this season that represents the season to you, whether an ice cream cone, watermelon slice, or blueberry you picked yourself. Eat as slowly as you can, hold each bite in your mouth and truly taste it, as you eat it. Notice your thoughts and surroundings and bring your mind back to simply tasting the food/drink.
- Watch the sea or some form of water. Find a favorite spot and notice the water. Spend several minutes. Notice how it moves and changes color. Notice with your full attention. Notice the details of surface. Is it very flat, with only the smallest of ripples or rough and churned up. If you find you are distracted by sounds or things you encounter gently bring your mind back.
- Participate. Choose a summer activity that you love and give yourself a break from being the organizer and orchestrator. Allow yourself to fully participate in the activity. When you are participating, throw yourself in. Walking somewhere, focus on just walking. Do just one thing at a time, walking is walking. Eating is eating. Swimming is swimming. When you experience the inevitable distractions, notice them, deal with the ones you have to, and then bring yourself back to fully participating in what you are doing.
Focusing on one thing in the moment allows you to live life to the fullest. If you are living life in the moment, if you can experience it, you can be aware of your entire life. You don’t miss your life. You don’t miss what is going on.
*Article: Joshua Rubinstein, Ph.D., of the Federal Aviation Administration, and David Meyer, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Evans, Ph.D., both at the University of Michigan, describe their research on multi-tasking in the August issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). (Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/xhp274763.pdf.)
*Blog: Monica discusses Mindfulness vs. Multitasking in her blog: http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:VBfXNVOj1tYJ:nebuddhist.blogspot.com/2007/03/mindfulness-multitasking.html+research,+multitasking+vs.+mindfulness&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us