Now more than ever, we are bombarded with disruptions that keep us unaware. If continuous mental chatter isn’t enough, we’ve got tweets, text messages, emails, phone calls, and urges to check this or that on our internet-connected devices. The pace for many people is fast and continuous.
Humans are wired to pay attention to disruptions. For most of our existence as a species, these disruptions were extremely important. They were usually created by something living, and very often potentially one of two things: food or danger. It makes sense that we paid attention to them. But today, more often than not these disruptions are addictive, trivial, and rob us of awareness, skill, and maximum enjoyment.
One At A Time
Thinking is linear, and we can’t think about more than one thing in any given moment. Although many people think they can multi-task well, they cannot. In study after study, attempts at completing A, B, and C are degraded by mixing them…in everyone. Both the time it takes to complete the tasks and the quality of the work is decreased when the tasks are mixed. The best way to complete A, B, and C, is to do them one after another, with no disruptions.
In addition to humans being unable to do two things at once, at least things that require concentration or focus, it also takes our brains time to switch to being fully involved in one task to being fully involved in another. Even if you only stop what you’re doing to glance at a tweet, text message, or email, you’ve just degraded your concentration.
How To Cultivate Awareness
Real awareness requires effort. Try for just a moment to focus only on your breath. Right now: Breath in, and feel it without thought. Breath out, and feel it without thought. Do that 4 or 5 times in a row. If you’re aware of what’s going on inside your head, you’ll quickly realize how difficult it is to silence your thoughts. Your mind will continuously bombard you with this and that, often unnecessarily.
The next time you’re eating, don’t watch TV, read the paper, work on a computer, talk on the phone, send text messages, or surf the web on your smart phone. Just eat. Empty your mind, and really taste the food you’re eating. If you’re eating good food, you’ll enjoy it many times more. If you’re eating bad food, you’ll realize it. Without being mindful and aware of what you’re doing in any given moment, you’ll miss out on the good and be unaware of the bad.
These days, it’s common for people in the middle of a real conversation to pull out their phone to read and send text messages or answer a call. It distracts both participants of the conversation, and degrades our ability to be fully considerate, active, and present.
Whatever you’re doing, be mindful of it. Eliminate disruptions. You’ll notice how much richer your experiences become, and those you live and interact with will also benefit.
In the Zone: Active Non-focused Awareness
Eliminating technological disruptions, by giving yourself time to specifically return your messages for example (but not while you’re doing anything else!), would be easy if we weren’t addicted to these disruptions. But many of us are. However, eliminating them is worth the effort. You’ll find yourself able to better focus on whatever you’re doing…to be present in the moment and maximize your experiences.
Eliminating mental disruptions, your own thoughts, is a lot harder. It takes practice. Find a quiet place to sit comfortably, feel your breathing, and quiet your mind. Sit in awareness of the present, with nothing else. With practice, you’ll be able to do it. And you’ll start to notice things. You’ll notice sounds and smells you didn’t notice before. You’ll see things in a new light. Quieting your mind is the key to being fully present.
The longer you practice this active, non-focused awareness, the more it will spill out into your everyday life. Instead of walking to your car while checking your text messages, unaware of what’s around you, you’ll notice both the good and the bad (if it’s present). The world will open up to you.
I used the phrase “non-focused awareness”. It takes focus to achieve it, and that’s what initially makes it hard for everyone. First, you’ll have to focus on quieting your mind, and you’ll have to maintain that focus to keep it quiet. With that focus in place, you’ll have achieved a non-focused awareness. It may be more accurate to call it a “focused, non-focus”, or a focused non-attachment.
Becoming More Skilled
Highly skilled practitioners, of anything, are fully aware and hard to distract. Cultivating an active, non-focused awareness is the key to noticing what’s going on within and around you, and acting/responding efficiently and effectively. With awareness, you’ll be better able to notice and correct your own mistakes, and to counter your opponents actions. It’s no surprise that many martial arts place emphasis on meditation, and most high level athletes have some form of mental training, even if that’s done through the practice of their sport.
Stop. Regularly take time to sit in the present. Eliminate distractions both internal and external. You’ll become more aware, better at everything you do, and more skilled in your art. You’ll also be able to fully enjoy the good in your life, and see and eliminate the bad.