Be Here Now! Not only is that the title of spiritual teacher Ram Dass’s book published over 40 years ago, but it’s the rallying cry of the mindfulness movement (and the cry of the frustrated homeowner waiting for the cable guy). Based on the latest research, it’s also a way to avoid unhappiness.
Be honest. Are you able to bring your complete attention to the present experience? Or, does “staying present” seem like an unrealistic luxury for most of us, as we simultaneously text, answer emails, file documents and scarf down a protein bar at our desk then pat ourselves on the back for our multi-tasking efficiency?
On top of that, as humans, we naturally find our mind time-traveling, often to ruminate over past events (“Why didn’t I speak up at the meeting?” or “How could I have let her talk to me that way?”). We can eliminate a chunk of that mind-wandering if we choose to speak our truth in the moment. That way, we won’t be regretting our past interactions.
Mind-wandering also includes second-guessing our choices (“Why did I think cutting bangs would be a good look for me?”) or speculating about possible future events (“What if I don’t land that sale?”). Yet knowing how easily distracted we can get, is being in the present moment really all that important?
Science is now proving that when our mind wanders, it can lead to unhappiness, and the idea of staying “in the moment” truly does lead to greater contentment. Matt Killingsworth, who studies the nature and causes of human happiness, created a smart phone app to study happiness in real-time during everyday life as part of his Harvard Ph.D. research. Turns out we’re most happy when we’re “in the zone,” so engrossed in what we’re doing that our mind is fully focused on the task at hand – even when doing something unpleasant like commuting! His research shows that across-the-board, a wandering mind was less happy. He also found that mind-wandering causes unhappiness, not the other way around. In other words, unhappiness does not precede mind-wandering.
So here are two ways to remain mindful:
1) Stuck in a meeting you feel is a waste of your time? Rather than spend mind-time feeling irritated, stay fully aware. Notice especially others’ non-verbal communications – body language, facial expressions, tone of voice. Use this opportunity to up your emotional intelligence.
2) Stop self-interruptions. Let’s be truthful, often we allow our smartphones to become distractions, pulling us from the flow of our work as we check personal emails and texts throughout the day, so put it away. And while clearly, there are some jobs that are prone to constant interruptions from co-workers as part of the job (hello, admins!), eliminating self-created distractions (hello, Facebook!) can allow us a greater chance of becoming absorbed in our work. When I catch myself wandering, I’ve trained myself to say, “Back to work” and refocus.
While it may not always be possible to be in the zone at work (or at home), when your mind does begin to wander, you can gently draw it back to the present moment, knowing that you’ll be happier staying mindful, no matter what you’re doing. And truthfully, who couldn’t use a little more happiness in their life?