How often are you in fast-forward motion trying to get to the good stuff—heading for the nirvana of pleasure and skipping over what’s happening now? You know what I mean. You have to get through the traffic jam to your appointment instead of being in the traffic jam. You have to hop in and out of the shower to get to work instead of being in the shower. You require yourself to rush through lunch so you can complete the project on your desk instead of being present with each bite.
Do you frantically work on projects focused on the next item on the agenda without regard to what it’s doing to you mentally and physically? Are you worried about whether the boss will like the finished product or thinking about what you’ll be doing this weekend? As you work remotely, is it harder to hold your concentration because of your family’s chatting or the neighbor’s barking mutt? These out-of-the-moment episodes create lots of stress and disconnect you from yourself and your surroundings.
When You Stray, You Pay
Your mind could be wandering right now. You could be thinking about what you ate for lunch and what you “should” have eaten. You could be worried about unpaid bills or an unfinished project wondering how you’ll meet the deadline. Or you might be replaying in your head an argument you had with your main squeeze. When your mind wanders too much, it could be stressing you out or at the very least preventing you from actualizing your full potential at work.
Harvard researchers found that the human mind wanders 47% of the time and that when you stray, you pay. When your mind wanders, you’re more stressed out and unhappy than when you stay in the here and now. The Harvard scientists report that people are happier—no matter what they’re doing even working overtime, vacuuming the house or sitting in traffic—if they are focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else.
When You Stay, You Play
When you can stay in the moment, your presence of mind keeps you fully immersed in the game. And you’re able to work mindfully and productively in an alert, active and calm manner. Scientists say the way you use your mind determines how much work stress or work productivity you have. If job pressures or career disillusionment consume you, hijack you from the present moment. Keeping your focus on the present instead of ruminating about what already happened (in the past) or about what might happen (in the future)—none of which you can change anyway—keeps stress levels down, makes you more effective at job tasks and makes for a happier life.
Sidestepping Your Mental Fogs With Mindfulness
Right now your mind could be miles away from your body, caught up in streams of thoughts about past or future regrets or judgments. Mindfulness is a powerful antidote for dodging mental fog. In four simple steps you can harness the social circuitry of your brain, enabling you to attune to your own mind:
- Keep your focus in the present moment.
- Move at a steady, calm pace.
- Attune to yourself and your surroundings.
- Accept without judgment whatever thoughts you’re aware of that arise in each moment.
Take time right now to try this exercise:
- Turn your attention to your fingers and focus there for one minute.
- Wiggle your fingers and notice how this sensory experience feels. Focus on how the wiggling looks and sounds. Do you hear any crackling in your joints or sounds of skin against skin? What else are you aware of?
- Notice if you judge yourself or the exercise or if you have trouble staying focused. (Don’t judge yourself if you catch yourself judging).
- Now ask yourself if this exercise gave you an immediate connection to the present moment. Or did your judgment interfere with your being fully engaged? If you were fully engaged during the exercise, you might have noticed that previous worries or future concerns were absent.
Next in a comfortable place and relaxed position with eyes opened or closed, take time to notice your thoughts for three to five minutes.
- Watch your thoughts streaming through your mind. Focus on each one with a nonjudgmental attitude. You don’t have to do anything but pay attention. Don’t try to change or fix anything. Just observe what’s there much as you might inspect a blemish on your hand with curiosity, not judgment.
- Notice if the thoughts are centered on the past or future or are they focused on the now?
- After completing the exercise, go inside and pay attention to your body sensations. Perhaps your muscles are looser, heartbeat slower and breathing softer. And you might notice your mind is more alert, active and calm.
Congratulations, you’re probably back in your present mind. Don’t be surprised if you gain aha moments that help you approach your job and respond to hard-hitting stressors in more effective ways—readying you to get back in the game.