The Power of Presence
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“A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” – Matt Killingsworth
Unlike other animals, humans have the unmatched ability to plan for the future, reminisce on past memories, and think about think about ice cream and a funny cat video while studying for an important exam.
The prefrontal cortex, along with its ability to plan, reason, and think about the future, may be the one key distinction that separates our species from all others, and has allowed us to ride in cars and travel to space. But with great power comes great responsibility, and that’s where our abilities lead us astray. Instead of planning a better future or solving the world’s biggest challenges, our minds tend to wander to random things.
In a 2010 study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, 5000 people from 83 different countries around the world downloaded a phone application that would prompt them to answer three questions randomly throughout the day:
How are you feeling right now?
What are you doing right now?
Are you thinking about something other than what you are doing right now?
Taken together, these questions measured people’s current happiness level, activity, and mind-wandering.
The findings are about as sad as the fact that goldfish now possess a higher attention span than us. On average, people reported mind-wandering 46.9% of the time, and at least 30% during every activity except making love!
This means that nearly half of the time throughout our days, we don’t actually pay attention to what we are doing, and instead mindlessly surf the internet or pretend we are working. I don’t think I have to tell to you what that means for your daily productivity.
Now, how does mind-wandering affect your happiness? When people’s minds wandered, they were significantly less happy than when they didn’t, including unpleasant activities. When thinking about pleasant topics, people were no happier than focusing on their current activity, but thinking about neutral or unpleasant topics made them significantly less happy. In addition, what people were thinking was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing. In short, mind-wandering leads to unhappiness.
So how can you take control of your mind and stop it from useless mind-wandering? Over the last few decades, thousands of studies have all pointed in the same direction: Meditation.
Meditation … as the oldest mental practice in the world, it is also one of the most effective. Increased attention span, improved mood, better health, and less stress are just some of the incredible benefits of practicing mindfulness and staying in the present moment. But even if your happiness and health isn’t worth a few minutes of sitting still each day, there’s other ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your life:
When you’re stressed at work or feel your mind wandering, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, bringing back your focus to the present.
When you’re out in nature, take out your earphones and simply observe. Listen to the birds singing in the trees, watch the squirrel jump from branch to branch.
When you’re playing with your kids, forget about your work and focus on them. Acknowledge your worries, fears, or doubts and mentally place them into a box before you close it and decide to focus only on being present with your family.
Go ahead, take a moment to breathe deep and relax in the present.
Have a great day!
Executive Coaching Intern Executive Success Partners… A Service Offering of CRG Leadership Institute LLC Max@CRGLeaders.com