Michael drives to work. He passes hundreds of other drivers, obeys all the signs, heeds traffic lights, avoids pedestrians, merges lanes, adjusts the speed of his vehicle and ultimately parks. He does all this and later has practically no recollection of it at all. He got from point A to point B on “mental auto-pilot”, where his brain drew on habits to navigate, while his thinking mind was elsewhere. He might have been planning the day ahead. Or he might have agonizing about a cacophony of demands in his life. Or worrying about a problem. But for the 45 minutes it took him to drive to work, his mind was elsewhere. The real question is: how many tasks are performed in a day with little or no thought at all? Brushing teeth. Getting dressed for work. Drinking a cup of coffee. Eating lunch. Working out at the gym. Carpooling. Cooking dinner. Each day blends in with the next, and suddenly the year is half over.
While everyone does some tasks “mindlessly” at least once in a while, there are folks who are on “auto-pilot” a lot. Absent smiles. Perfunctory greetings. Blank stares. For them, life is zooming by while they are disengaged. The problem is that time – the scarcest commodity – is passing and it will never come again. Time spent on auto-pilot is basically time missed. After all, when Michael drove to work but can’t recall the drive, was he really present? Given how precious time is, can anyone afford to be “absentee” from even a single minute of life? How much more productive and happy would a person be if he were fully engaged and savoring every moment of every day? And, at the end of his life, how much might he give to be able to get back all those “auto-pilot” moments? Now there’s something to dwell on! So is there a way to stop zoning out and live more “in the moment”?
Being in the Now
Most psychologists agree that a person’s brightest future hinges on the ability to stay focused on the present and stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Life unfolds in the present. But so often, we let the present slip away allowing time to rush past unobserved and un-seized. We squander invaluable minutes stressing about the future or ruminating about what’s past. Or worse, we get lost in the surrounding noise that makes it all but impossible to focus on the here and now. The world’s noise contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, and incoherence. Whatever the cause, disengaging from what is happening in the here and now is detrimental.
The act of being in the now is often referred to as mindfulness. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, “mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.” So if disengagement robs us of joy and mindfulness provides greater insight, then the goal should be to stay in the moment. But how?
Tips for Staying “In the Moment”
1. Slow down and be deliberate.
There is nothing wrong with doing things with purpose. If a job needs doing, there is no point in dawdling. It is good to get on with it. But rushing through life is a primary contributor to mindlessness. We hurry to get done and don’t focus on the finer details of what we are doing. In rushing, we don’t savor the moments. We ignore our surroundings and miss opportunities. To overcome that, slow down just a bit.
2. Pare down and ruthlessly prioritize.
One reason people rush through tasks is because their plate is overloaded. Most people have more to do than they can possibly handle. This is often worn as a badge of honor. Overloaded inboxes. Overdue projects. Back-to-back meetings. Multiple cell phones. But this can obviously chronically add to mindlessness. It is impossible to stay focused on the now if many other things are vying for that same time and attention. The solution is to prioritize ruthlessly and cut out things that are not essential. Create a hierarchy of what is valuable and necessary, and then find ways to reduce that list. Organize. Delegate. Outsource. And most importantly, learn to say “No, my time is already committed.” When it comes to mindfulness, less is more. Do less.
3. Create space buffers.
Put space between things. Space buffers ensure that a schedule does not get overloaded. Add space buffers to your calendar, blocking out quiet time and time to regroup and refocus. Before the next task, take a brief break to drink water (or coffee) or just stretch. Build in at least a few minutes each hour to disengage in order to maximize engagement the rest of the hour.
4. Stop worrying and stressing.
For many, worry is a bad habit. It is a “bad” habit because worry is a thief of peace and focus. But it is a hard habit to break. To focus on the present, it is important to understand that worry adds absolutely no value to any situation. Worry doesn’t fix problems or alter situations. Neither does stressing out about a situation. While it is obviously easier to say than to do in light of all the demands and crisis one might face in a day, the most effective way to deal with issues is to focus on the here and now.
5. Be present when dealing with people.
There is nothing worse than talking to someone and knowing that that person is really not listening. They are: Texting. Checking messages. Reading the news or social media posts. Typing. Driving. Pushing papers. They may say “I’m listening” but the reality is that they are only giving a minimal amount of attention. Besides being incredibly rude, the exchange will lack the energy and thoughtfulness needed to be worthwhile. No reliable decision can be made when the mind is not fully engaged. That means the conversation becomes a waste of time for the person speaking and for you. At work, this can be demoralizing, inefficient and ineffective. When a manager does it, it undermines morale and sends the message that the work and the person don’t matter. Being in the moment means stopping all other activity and giving the person before you undivided attention. It is a gift. That means being present is a present.
All of these tips are not meant to recommend any kind of meditation, yoga or other kind of “mindfulness program.” These are simply suggestions for being more aware of the time you have and the world around you. It is about being aware and enjoying more fully the richness of what each day brings.
Quote of the Week
“Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.” Marcus Aurelius
© 2016, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.