In a recent professional development exercise (hope I didn’t lose anyone yet), my class was told to close our eyes, clear our heads, and silently count to 50, restarting from zero the instant a stray thought – other than the current digit – darts into our minds. Then raise your hand when you hit 50. Minutes passed. And passed. I wondered if this band of overachievers was trying to farm out the exercise until the 2:45 p.m. break (which I was not unopposed to doing; it would just be unusual to have that type of group-think from this particular group).
Stop and try it – well not now, do it after you read this post, and do it honestly. Then reflect how you felt while you counting and in the moments after you were done. Where did the creeping anxiousness, crushing weight of “to dos,” maybe even that gnawing headache go? They didn’t vanish, but were held at bay outside of this perimeter you drew for yourself.
Mindful thinking, mindfulness-based stress reduction, it goes by several names but it means being in control of your thoughts. It also means savoring whatever you are doing and feeling in that moment – even if it is physical or emotional pain – and moving beyond pure existence to living, the former being where far too many of us reside.
I dabble in yoga – meaning I DVR Veria programming since there are no yoga classes in Shade Gap , Pennsylvania – and the mantra as you move through the poses is to focus on breathing and clear your mind. That is what gets you through revolving half-moon. That philosophy takes me back to Lamaze- which when I last tried it at age 18 in natural childbirth did get me through 14 hours of labor. The nurse coach even came to my room the next day to congratulate me. But in lieu of an epidural (which I adamantly rejected along with a circumcision when I submitted the ‘birthing plan’) – breathing and counting were all I had at my disposal. Turns out I had a girl so I also made the right choice going with no circumcision. (That was a joke for those who are new to how I am.)
I am committing myself to more mindful thinking. I have taken pride in always living ten minutes ahead, the mistress of lists, blocking my Outlook calendar in 15 minute chunks of project work (always time under-budgeted). Yet I am not in control of my thoughts or my actions. Because I am always trying to beat the clock, my mind is racing on to the Next Big Thing. And the current work becomes drudgery, a dry rote task to complete before The Next Task. Even work I typically should enjoy, like designing a newsletter or playing around with Photoshop filters on employee poster concepts, feels exhausting when I am juggling being creative with answering emails or IMs pokes.
So, last week I started with this new way. When I am at home cleaning, instead of thinking about how to write an intranet post for work I slow down and take interest in what I am doing- not merely spraying and wiping so I can cross it off my list. At work I block my Calendar and IM status as “Busy” or even more restrictive, “Do Not Disturb.” I keep my two smart phones tucked in my bag for most of my two hour daily commute. I think about keeping my car out of the cinders and how nice it feels to drive and how it handles, especially on the switchbacks in Cowan’s Gap. When I make dinner, I focus on doing a better job of chopping ingredients, of whisking the sauce so it doesn’t burn again and make the smoke detector go off. Which used to be the universal signal for “dinner’s done.”
I even focus on counting to 50.