Mindful confession: I’m writing this as I watch the NCAA men’s basketball final. Or more accurately, I’m trying to write and finish this during halftime. I don’t have high hopes I can do that in 15 minutes, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
Starting to write while watching basketball got me thinking about the irony. One of the keys to practicing mindfulness is to do one thing at a time. So I’m mindfully choosing not to be mindful? Does that mean I’m then mindful? Deep thoughts by Amanda Stemen.
Doing one thing at a time is important because as humans, we suck at multi-tasking. Hate to burst your bubble if you haven’t already realized this. When we try to do more than one thing at once, we don’t do any of it as well as we could if we focused our attention on only one thing.
This can get confusing because even I think, but I can drive and listen to nineties hip hop and my driving doesn’t seem to suffer. Or listen to podcasts while I do household chores. Or go out to dinner with friends where I both eat and manage to have a conversation at the same time. Multi-tasking master here!
The thing is, that’s different. We can do more than one thing very close together in time, but we’re switching our attention back and forth between the activities. We aren’t actually multi-tasking.
Take basketball as an example since that’s my other focus at the moment, a person needs to be able to run and dribble, pass, or shoot a ball at seemingly the same time or else they can’t play basketball. The concentration moves back and forth between all of the tasks necessary to do this. And those who are really good at it (Aka these players in the championship right now.) are those who are able to do it most mindfully. They aren’t dribbling while simultaneously thinking about their political science final.
It only seems like multi-tasking because many things are happening so close together in time.
True mindless multi-tasking is more like making your grocery list while pretending to listen to your kid tell you about their day at school. If you do this you’ll find later that you don’t remember how their day was and probably left something off that list. If you spend too many moments doing this, you find yourself wondering where your life went and what actually happened during it.
I know this sounds confusing. And if you think too much about it, it is (Like much of life.)
Let me try to clear it up for you. In order to focus on one thing at a time, be completely present for that one moment. Also, remember that a moment can simply be even a fraction of a second. So eat when you’re eating. Speak when you’re speaking. Run when you’re running. Worry when you’re worrying. Try not to think about other things at the same time.
While eating out with friends, you can really taste a bite of your food and be fully present with it, then make a mindful comment to a friend or listen to what someone is saying. You’ll go back and forth between all of this throughout the meal, but the key to be as present with each thing as you can. When you find that you aren’t actually tasting your food or listening to your friend, bring yourself back to that moment. Whenever you find yourself not in the moment, bring yourself back. Always bring yourself back.
And that’s it.
For a long time this was incredibly difficult for me. I thought I had multi-tasking down to an art. I’d write while listening to a lecture in class. Read while watching TV. Talk on the phone while trying to complete a project. I thought I was killing it!
But only because there didn’t seem to be any consequences. I accomplished things, people seemed fine with them, and I thought I was fitting more in. The truth was there were consequences, grave consequences, but they were more internal. I wasn’t experiencing life fully.
It wasn’t until I had this moment, many years after making a concerted effort to practice mindfulness, that I realized I’d missed out on so much of my life because I wasn’t present for it. I’d spent far too many years of my life in the past or the future, often wanting to be somewhere other than where I was, doing something other than what I was doing, and feeling something other than what I was feeling. I just couldn’t do it anymore. My life was flying by way too quickly with too many vague memories.
I began to really focus on the moment at hand, even if it was super boring (aka pointless meetings), because I wanted my life to slow down. I longed to experience my life completely and remember it. Now life is so much sweeter, no matter what’s going on. I really taste that cup of tea, feel the raindrops against my cheeks, and listen to that speaker’s monotone voice, sometimes hearing something meaningful I would have otherwise missed. Sometimes.
I also now find it incredibly difficult to multi-task. Even though I’ll still push it at times when I really want to do two things at once, like right now. But I keep bringing myself back to the moment and in this moment, I’m going to end this so I can now fully focus on watching the rest of this game and its mindful players.