Research shows that our minds are distracted about 50% of the time. This means that we spend half of our days thinking about something other than what we're doing.
Yet, researchers have also demonstrated that we feel happiest when our minds are focused on whatever we're doing, right now, in the present moment. And it matters very little what that thing is.
This might seem counter-intuitive. If you're chopping veggies for dinner or stuck in traffic, thinking about your upcoming vacation might seem like a good way to escape what might seem like a tedious task.
But every time you separate your thoughts from your present moment, you expend additional emotional energy, which can cause you to feel more anxious and less content. When you devote your attention to the present moment, rather than leaning into the past or the future, you maximize the energy you have to devote to it. This is part of the practice I call mindful awakeness.
One of the things I don't love doing is slicing Brussels sprouts. To save space, we haven't gotten a food processor, so whenever a recipe calls for thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, I do it by hand. It takes time and is kind of an annoying task. But my daughter loves this sliced Brussels sprouts and caramelized tofu dish I make, so I do it.
Last week I decided to take this mindful focus research for a drive. As I sliced the Brussels sprouts, I tried to focus my attention on the feeling of the knife cutting through them, the pile of the sliced ones growing, the way that their green contrasted with the wood of the board. I tried to get lost in the rhythm of what I was doing.
And you know what? I did enjoy doing this a bit more. It felt like a small moving meditation. Do I now absolutely love slicing Brussels sprouts? No. No pink unicorns came out, either. But I felt a little bit more content, more peaceful as I did it.
And that's a huge win in my book.
How to practice
Try being mindfully awake to an activity you don't particularly enjoy. It can be anything from driving to cleaning up after dinner. Notice some of its nuances, pay attention to some details you might not usually focus on. Do you feel a tiny bit more content, more peaceful, less stressed as you do it?