In November 2006, I met my husband for the first time in his chiropractic office after crashing my dirt bike. I emotionally told him about all the events leading up to the accident and his response was, “This accident is the universe telling you to slow down. You are distracted and accidents happen when you aren’t paying attention. You have got to reduce distractions.”
I will never forget this statement. In that instant, I thought about the big and small “incidents” I had experienced in those past months. Things like smashing my finger in the door, losing my keys, tripping during a run, my car being towed…twice, and most disheartening, getting into a two-car and now a motorcycle accident. He was right, I was distracted and I could see how the string of bad luck was really me rushing around, worrying about life, thinking about the past, planning the future…everything but paying attention to what I was doing in the moment. Ahhh, distractions are all around!
Mindfulness and being present in the NOW is a popular subject these days. Many chalk it up to foo-foo mumbo jumbo, but if we actually stop for a minute and think honestly about the consequences of always being distracted, perhaps it makes more sense to pay more attention to what we are doing when we are doing it. Being more present (aka less distracted) means fewer mistakes, missteps, injuries, and opportunities to put your foot in your mouth. Fewer distractions will also allow you to enjoy life a little bit more.
Here are a few things I do to try to cut down on the distractions in my life. By no means am I even close to perfect; I am still distracted all the time. But I am better than I was a year ago and leaps and bounds beyond where I was nine years ago. And that, my friends, is the key: constant improvement.
- I take deep breaths throughout the day and remember that I have a body. Yes, most of us meander (or sprint) through our days and hardly think about our bodies. When was the last time you thought about yours? Thinking about your body as you breathe is the fastest way to help you calm down and get your head out of planning, pondering, worrying, doing, etc. Doing this helps eliminate distractions.
- I do not look at my phone or email when I am trying to concentrate. For example, I probably have 30 emails and six texts waiting for me right now. But I am going to finish writing this draft blog post before I check. This is brain training. If you let yourself be distracted all of the time it becomes a habit. This is especially important when you are pouring yourself a hot cup of coffee or driving. Don’t act like you don’t text and drive. Distractions like this can be dangerous.
- I practice paying attention to what I am doing in a given moment, even when it’s mundane. Have you ever tried to brush your teeth and only think about brushing your teeth? It may seem silly, but again, this is brain training. If you can only think about brushing your teeth while you brush your teeth, you can give someone your full attention when he or she is talking to you. That’s a great segue…
- I listen intently. Truly listening when someone talks to you is not only a great way to show respect and compassion, but it also means that you are in the moment. Don’t let yourself be distracted by phones, emails, to-do lists, and other interruptions. Remind yourself that you should make whoever is talking with you feel like the most important person in the world. This will help you restrain yourself from glancing at the email that just arrived. Making solid eye contact and asking the right questions will help.
- I put down the phone when I get home from work. And I don’t pick up my iPad or get on my laptop. This is critical to being a good parent, spouse, partner, friend, animal owner, etc. Refuse to be distracted when it’s time to relax, unplug, and enjoy living your life. Life’s too short (check out my blog on why having a balanced life leads to success here).
- Last but not least, when I do hurt myself, make a mistake, or miss something obvious, the first thing I do is a check-in with myself and honestly assess my distraction level. I can almost always pinpoint it as the root cause and then I can take steps to be more present. Sometimes, though, it’s just me being klutzy.
To me, it feels like time is speeding up (how that can actually be, I don’t know). There is always a rush to do more and be more. This year has gone by with gusto, galloping at breakneck speed on its way to the next decade. Living in this fast-paced, technology-driven world, we can easily divert from the present. I think it’s time to put a foot on the brake and distract ourselves from being distracted by paying more attention to living life in the moment.
Check out these videos about the benefits of and science behind mindfulness if you are so inclined. They are short yet very informative.
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