Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Being Present

I've been meaning to write something about "being present" for quite a while now and Steven, from the Ice Chamber in California, had a great blog post entitled Guidance From The Young which pushed me to actually post on the topic. "Being present" means not being somewhere else mentally when you are at the dinner table with your family, driving down the road, or while talking on the phone with customer.

A key to success, and by success I mean "doing a good job" (not monetary because anyone who knows me knows I'm not exactly rolling in dough), is being in the moment. This is the same for parenting, training, and work. It applies to being a good listener, speaker, and participant.

I remember reading an author (I think it was "Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance") talk about a coffee cup he owned that had on it "NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE!". Very astute even though it's probably a Yogi Berra quote. When I walk outside today in the glorious zero degree winter day, I can say "This weather sucks. I hate the cold. I wish I were in Florida.", or I can stand a little taller and experience the cold with acceptance and curiosity; "Yep, this is COLD! Hmm, it's been a while since I've had mucous freeze in my nose - hahaha!". No matter where you go, there you are. You're there no matter what, whether you want to be or not, whether you choose to be engaged in it or not. Being present makes each moment, big or small - crucial or mundane, more productive and meaningful.

NOT in the moment...

Multi-tasking seems to be the way most people nowadays operate, but it doesn't mean people are doing a better job at more things. It means they are addicted to multi-tasking and they are incapable of actually being present for longer than a few moments. Perhaps these people are better at transitioning from one thing to the next, but I wonder if that applies to disparate tasks - my guess is that it doesn't transfer itself particularly well to new, complex skills.

Being able to say "no" to distraction is crucial to the ability to be "in the present". This isn't license to be an a-hole of course, just permission to say to yourself "I have many things I need to do, but I'm going to focus on this ONE THING right now". The following is from Robert Cooper, M.D.:

Keep peering into the whir of moment-to-moment choices and reactions. Cherry-pick the best, let go of the rest.

The act of saying no to the trivial many in favor of the critical few isn't just a time-management strategy - it's a way of taking advantage of that neuroplasticity we talked about before to alter what your brain focuses on in the future.

If you're shaking your head right now and thinking that I don't know the real world, because you really can't say no to tasks, I'd advise you to think again, and ask yourself how committed you are to your most important goals. Because when our commitment is deep, we do say no to things that get in the way. When our romantic commitments are deep, we say no to other involvements that might compromise those commitments. When we are financially committed to some goal - buying a home, let's say - we say no to expenditures that stand in the way of attaining that goal.

We say no to many things in order to be able to say yes to our children, to our spiritual obligations, and even to recreational activities, such as our weekly bowling league or golf game. Heck, we say no to things just so we don't miss our favorite television shows, even though we probably won't remember one important thing about those shows a week after we've watched them.

Once you have placed something on your schedule because it's important, be sure you derive the most from it by using two questions that keep you linked to your emotional experiential memory. Ahead of that interaction or activity, ask yourself, How can I seize this chance to become more of the person I most want to be? And immediately following it, ask yourself, Have I just acted like the person I most want to be? What did I miss? How can I do it better the next time?

Start now to build defining moments into your schedule. Think about small specific things that give you the most hope and drive toward a better future, the simple specific actions or interactions that boost energy and spirit in yourself and in each of the four or five individuals who are vital to your success in the year ahead. Pick one or two of these by-plan defining moments every day: Put them in your brain's awareness, not just on your schedule, and then make them happen.

- Robert Cooper, M.D. ("Get Out Of Your Own Way")


fawn said...

My yoga teacher is a Vipassana practitioner. I have just barely scratched the surface of this type of practice. After all, awareness has to be practiced... it doesn't just happen. I have noticed that squatting close to double my body weight demands all my awareness.

Boris said...

Nothing like a heavy barbell on your back to give you focus - that's for sure! Some focus better than others and losing focus is when things tend to go wrong.

Today I was driving on very icy roads and got passed by some fool who was texting while driving!!! Definitely suffering from time-space dissonance... I really don't understand how people think that's okay... I guess they just aren't thinking at all.

Aaron Friday said...

Boris, where do you live? We have those exact-same asshole drivers in St. Paul.

"No" is now my default answer for pretty much everything, although I always reserve the right to say "yes." If I say "yes," I'll be there with enthusiasm. It's a better way to be.

Boris said...

I live in Iowa - pretty sure they are the same kind of a-hole drivers.

I like your default setting. We can all learn from that.

Aaron Friday said...

Yeah, same drivers here as there, I suppose.

When we were driving back home from St. Louis this summer, I was struck by the beautiful sky in Iowa. "Man," I thought, "that's a beautiful sky. Would you look at that sky!" Clear blue with big, fluffy clouds, and HUGE!

We stopped in Clear Lake for a break and heard Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens on the radio. Seemed like this station had a non-stop tribute going on. My Dad got a kick out of it; he actually had tickets for the Fargo concert they were headed to.

Boris said...

The cool thing about living in a flat, flat place like Iowa is that when the sky is beautiful, there's so much of it to enjoy!

Minnesota certainly has it's share of beautiful scenery.

Aaron Friday said...

I grew up in Fargo where I spent winter evenings sitting on the radiator.

A mere 30mph wind in the summer was a perfect day for playing baseball, LOL!