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Susan Petang: “Focus on what you’re doing right now”

Focus on what you’re doing right now. Using our dishwashing example, have you ever taken the time to notice the colors in the soap bubbles? How do the suds feel on your hands? Do you like to wash the plates first, or the silverware? Is the sunlight glinting off the faucet? Observe and appreciate these […]

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Focus on what you’re doing right now. Using our dishwashing example, have you ever taken the time to notice the colors in the soap bubbles? How do the suds feel on your hands? Do you like to wash the plates first, or the silverware? Is the sunlight glinting off the faucet? Observe and appreciate these little things. Be flexible and prioritize. Have a Plan B, Plan C, and a Plan Q if necessary. If things start unraveling, make sure you pay attention to what’s happening at the moment and focus only on urgent and important tasks.


As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Susan Petang, Mindful Stress Management Coach, and author of The Quiet Zone — Mindful Stress Management for Everyday People. A Long Island, NY, mother of four, she mentors individuals in learning new ways to deal with the stress of daily life.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

The Quiet Zone Coaching program was born from my own triumph over anxiety. I’ve spent much of my life researching ways to deal with it. Therapy and medication were helpful, but I still felt unhappy and dissatisfied with life. I discovered it was my own attitude toward the stresses of daily life that were the problem; combining all my research and deciding what works and what doesn’t, I created a program that I want to share with others to assist them in their own journeys.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I think the “good” stress of daily life has always been with humanity: The need to eat, sleep, etc. The urgency behind those stressors was survival. Our recent technological explosion has added additional layers of urgency — and the feeling of being “rushed” — since technology has sped up daily events in our culture. We’re no longer just experiencing the need to survive, but the urgency of being connected all the time, and information and data is traveling faster.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

Being rushed means we’re not paying full attention to each task as we’re doing it, which necessitates multitasking. The potential for error increases exponentially, whether we’re doing complex work-related tasks or simply washing the dishes. Correcting these errors — having to spend time to rewrite a report or clean up a broken plate — actually takes extra time, reducing our productivity, and has ill effects on our health and happiness by creating unnecessary stress.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

By slowing down and paying attention to each task as we’re doing it, we not only eliminate many time-wasting errors but also create the ability to appreciate the minutiae of daily life. How much time do we spend thinking about the next thing on our list of to-dos and miss the beauty and wonder of the little things we see every day? By finding wonder, amazement, and gratitude for little things that we normally speed past, we’re creating new, positive neural pathways in the brain that enhance our life experience. In addition, by slowing down we eliminate many accidents caused by not paying attention to what we’re doing.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Ask yourself, “How important is this, really?” Can this task wait? Does it really have to be done right now? Does it really matter if I answer the door five seconds later, or if I arrive at work two minutes later, or the kids are a few minutes late to soccer practice? Is this something that needs to be done at all?
  2. Take an inventory of how you’re using your time. Get a calendar book and write down where you’re spending your time. Find things that can be eliminated, rearranged, or delegated. Make a list of what is really important to you: Spending time with your children, taking a yoga class, or having time to pursue a hobby you love, for example. Make those things a priority and schedule them into your life.
  3. Limit the demands others make on you. Limit the number of activities in which the kids participate, or learn to say “no” when friends ask for favors.
  4. Focus on what you’re doing right now. Using our dishwashing example, have you ever taken the time to notice the colors in the soap bubbles? How do the suds feel on your hands? Do you like to wash the plates first, or the silverware? Is the sunlight glinting off the faucet? Observe and appreciate these little things.
  5. Be flexible and prioritize. Have a Plan B, Plan C, and a Plan Q if necessary. If things start unraveling, make sure you pay attention to what’s happening at the moment and focus only on urgent and important tasks.
  6. When dealing with a long term project or goal that has many steps, plan out when those steps should be done, schedule them into your calendar, and only be concerned with the step you’re working on right now. Be fully engaged and find something enjoyable about each step as you’re doing it — even if all you can think of is, “I’m managing to get through this.” By doing so, we eliminate a lot of stress that results from being overwhelmed by large, complex tasks.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is being aware and observant of what is happening to and around you at any given moment — sights, sounds, smells, physical and emotional feelings, and events. For example, how many times have you driven somewhere only to realize you don’t remember the trip? You were obviously conscious and aware on some level, or you would have crashed. But you weren’t being mindful.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

  • Rather than maintain a laser focus, simply be observant of what’s happening around you. Think of a dream you’ve had when you noticed everything in your environment — use that kind of focus to be aware.
  • See your environment through the eyes of someone who has never been there before.
  • Notice and be amazed by things you encounter that you don’t normally pay attention to — light reflections, the movement of leaves in the breeze, the sound of traffic, the way people move, patterns on the walls and floor.
  • Shake up your routine — take a different route to work or put your clothes on in a different order. Pay attention to the differences while you’re doing it.
  • Taste every bit of food you’re eating. Notice the aromas. Notice the textures.
  • Feel the sensations of your body. How do your feet feel in your shoes? What does the pen in your hand feel like? What parts of your body are making contact with your chair?
  • Describe tasks to yourself as you’re doing them. For example, say to yourself, “I’m washing my hair and the lather feels great on my hands. Now I’m rinsing the shampoo out and putting on the conditioner.” Describe what you’re doing as though you were teaching someone else how to do it.
  • Wear a favorite cologne every day, and use the aroma to remind yourself to stay in the moment.
  • Pay attention to your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen. While doing so, say to yourself, “In…. Out…”
  • Ask yourself, “What hat am I wearing right now?” A Driver Hat? A Good Listener Hat? An Efficient Worker Hat? A Dishwasher Hat?
  • Say to yourself, “I’m the best ‘X’ I can be right now.” For example, “I’m the best employee I can be right now.” I’m the best student I can be right now.” “I’m the best driver I can be right now.”

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

I like to take 5 minutes breaks during which I focus my attention on one small thing — anything from a paperclip to a stain on the wall — and really observe it. Look at the way something is made, its color or texture, or pattern. Even if you have to hide in the restroom to do it, it’s easy and brings your focus back to the moment at hand.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

I really like A New Earth by Eckhardt Tolle. Another great resource is Headspace.com — a wonderful, easy way to learn meditation, which is an important tool we can use to develop mindfulness. When our kids are little, we take away things that might be harmful and give them something they can play with. Meditation is doing the same thing for our minds.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Que sera, sera.” What will be, will be. (A modern version might be, “It is what it is.”) Much of my own self-imposed stress in life was caused not only by a lack of mindfulness but unrealistic expectations. By learning to be mindful and manage our expectations, we reduce most of the stress in our daily lives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m in the process of developing a program to teach children not only mindfulness, but managing expectations, dealing with traumatic events, developing value systems, and developing basic communication and conflict resolution skills. If I had had access to these skills 50 years ago, how different my life could have been! Our children are growing up in a hectic, fast paced world into which humanity hasn’t had the time to evolve. Since children’s brains are still elastic, neuroplasticity — creating new neural pathways in the brain — makes it easier for them to develop skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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