The turning point for me in my mindfulness journey actually happened outside of traditional meditation.
I had managed to get into a fairly consistent meditation practice, and I felt amazingly light and clear-headed after each meditation, but it seemed like in no time at all, I became cluttered and frantic.
Then I discovered being mindful in my daily life off the cushion.
What does it look like? Quite simple, actually. It means doing one thing at a time. Being curious. Focus.
And in doing so, you can really get into the flow of whatever it is you are doing, immerse yourself in it. As a result, you tend to do a better, more thorough job of whatever you’re doing, from hanging shelves to listening to your partner talk about his or her day.
It’s simple, but not always easy.
This morning, for instance, I started with about four or five tabs open in my browser. One for this website, another for facebook, a third for instructions on how to do something, and a fourth for another website I’m working on.
Erm, could I possibly use all four pages at once? No.
To add to the visual clutter, as I started to sit down to write this blog, I started thinking about all the things I’m not doing that maybe I should be doing instead: I have an assignment due that I haven’t really started. I need to listen to some of my recorded coaching sessions as part of my reflective practice. The kitchen floor could use a good sweep, too, as I have crumbs stuck to my bare feet.
Doing one thing at a time can feel like a waste of time. The irony is, you probably will end up getting more done to a better standard than if you try to do everything at once.
How to make that change, though? It’s a hard habit to change. Here are some tips that can help.
1. Unleash your curiosity.
Being curious can be a built-in way to be mindful. Think of a child’s innate curiosity – what are those people doing? Why is the sky blue? Where is the aeroplane going? Why do we say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes? What was that sound?
We tend to shed this wide-eyed curiosity after having been around the block a couple of times. But that doesn’t mean that inner child isn’t there ready to ask questions and explore the world.
I have found that the more I encourage myself to feel curious, the more curious I feel. It’s like a muscle. It means I’m more interested in other people as I’m naturally more curious about their lives and opinions. I’m more interested in processes at work (even the really boring sounding ones). I am more engaged in my coaching practice as I don’t assume anything about my clients and instead find myself stepping through the looking glass with them into deeper and deeper levels of understanding.
I genuinely think it makes me a better conversationalist (people find the interest in their lives flattering), a better worker (I’m asking vital questions and improving things more readily because I’m paying attention), and a better coach.
So really engage in whatever you’re doing. Explore it. Be curious. Immerse yourself in it. That’s mindfulness.
The issue with curiosity can come up when you’re curious about lots of different things at once, or there always seems to be something that can drag you from what you’re doing, until you find yourself flitting from one thing to the next, which segues nicely to…
2. Only do one thing at a time.
Because the human brain works sequentially, effective multitasking is a misnomer and a myth. You’re actually switching back and forth between one task at a time, and losing energy and time each time you switch.
So if you’re on the phone at work and catch yourself replying to an email at the same time, you’re not really concentrating on what you’re typing and you’re not really paying complete attention to the person on the other end of the line.
But picture how it plays out when you approach it mindfully. Be on the phone, be a full part of that conversation. Put the phone down, and then start replying to the email. When I first tried it, work felt delightfully airy, light, calm.
What’s more, I found I did more, not less, and to a higher standard. Knowing that as well, and having better recall of the conversations, meetings, emails, and tasks I accomplished also boosted my confidence, as I felt I had more of a handle on what has been happening.
3. Be realistic.
One of the challenges to working or being mindful in day-to-day life is it is so tempting to pack in too much to do.
I have seen some of my own to do lists, which feels like setting myself up for failure:
“Okay, I’ll brainstorm a blog while I wait for the bus with my son, then after I drop him at nursery I’ll do some coursework and balance my bank account on the train, and at work I’ll finish that report, have three meetings, write up the project brief for that other project, and maybe draft some questions for that research project. Oh, and reply to emails and anything else that comes up during the day...”
The problem with being unrealistic about what we can achieve in a day is a) it requires that time doubles up because there is just too much to squeeze into 24 hours otherwise; b) we may start to panic the moment something comes up or we slip behind on my to do list because our ambitious list allows no give; and c) we can work bloody hard to accomplish a lot and still feel like failures.
So be realistic. Be gentle with yourself. Celebrate what you do get done.
Savouring is related to curiosity, and a powerful way to appreciate the here and now.
For instance, I found that by being really mindful and savouring my walks to the bus stop with my son in the mornings, what was once a harried, stressful race to tick off my list has become one of the calmest, happiest spots in my day. We talk and tell stories. I feel his little pudgy hand in mine and notice the softness of his skin. We comment on what’s in the window of the BHF charity shop on the high street.
He’s happier in the mornings. I feel like I get more time with him during the working week.
And you know what? We leave the house at the same time we used to and tend to catch the same bus.
I don’t think I was saving any time. I was just wasting the time we had together.