I often find it impossibly difficult to focus. I may have ADD to compound the matter, but I know I’m not alone in my inability to pay attention and stay on task. I’m frequently found making dinner while emptying the dishwasher, corralling children, helping with homework, letting the dog out and conveying directions to my partner on the phone.
Multi-tasking has become more than just a way that people do things; it has become the norm, for myself as well as a good portion of society. And it has it’s purpose. And it’s place.
But multi-tasking constantly doesn’t help anyone’s difficulty to focus, especially not mine. How can we expect to focus when we’re trying to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously? The two are diametrically opposed in principle.
Sometimes we need to have the ability to get a vast array of things completed in a short amount of time. Multi-tasking works well for this. But what about when we really need to focus on one particular task, a task that requires detailed attention? Something like a report or a physical task, such as painting trim in a room.
Recently I’ve begun learning about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a main component in Buddhist meditation, as well as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and many other practices. Generally, it’s about being aware in the moment. One exercise in mindfulness that I have been practicing is picking a task and practicing staying present in doing that task.
For example, if I choose the task of eating I would try to pay attention to eating and only eating. I would really be aware of picking up the food with my utensil, of putting it in my mouth, of chewing it and swallowing it. I would notice the smell of the food and the taste, as well as consistencies and temperatures. I would be fully mindful in the moment of what I was eating.
It’s truly surprising if you pause to think about how many other things most of use do while eating. We hold conversations. We watch television. We read books. We surf the internet. We talk on the phone. We text. We drive. I’ve been practicing this exercise for a few weeks now and it’s amazing the difference in my experience eating when I am successful in being mindful. I actually taste my food. And I eat better quality food and less of it.
By practicing mindfulness in this manner, I am better able to access the focus I gain when doing other tasks that require singular attention. Writing reports has become a bit easier in that I can better bring myself back to the task when I am distracted. I can better stay on the task, and just the task, as well.
It’s by no means perfect, as nothing is perfect, but it is an improvement. I will continue to practice in hopes that I can further improve my focusing abilities. Don’t let the name scare you off, mindfulness is something we’ve all done at one time or anything. Putting a label on it doesn’t change what it is – and that is really being present in the moment. It’s seamlessly easy when we’re having a “good” time. But with practice we can all gain better control of our abilities to focus on tasks that would likely not fall into the “good” category. And that’s all it really comes down to. No one is in control of our lives but ourselves.