Of all the things that can draw our attention, we pay relatively little attention to the now. Rather, our attention is directed towards the past or the future. As we are taking a shower in the morning, we rarely pay attention to showering itself and the sensations that it entails. Instead, we are focusing on the things that need to be done that day or the things that we did day before.
Mental “tools”, like thinking and planning, can be very useful. However, at the same time, they can cause emotional imbalance because we are often not able to stop thinking and planning, even when it is not required. They are powerful tools that are often difficult to dismiss. Consequently, we think about rather than actually experience life.
Concerns about the future, regrets about the past, comparing oneself with others, and constantly thinking about how things could be better are examples of typical thoughts. Constant thinking makes it impossible to fully enjoy a nice meal, a good movie, or falling rain. This constant thinking not only distracts our thoughts and attention from the here and now, but when thoughts are negative, they can also cause problems, such as anxiety or stress.
Mindfulness can help us realize that thoughts are not reality. By focusing our attention on the present moment, we free ourselves from obsessive thinking and connect with our direct experience rather than a mental story. Soon we realize that in this moment, right here and right now, there is rarely an actual problem.
Exercise: Choose one (or more) routine activities, such as brushing your teeth, eating, doing the dishes, going to the supermarket, taking a walk, and the like, and try to do the activity with full attention.
During the next week, choose routine activities on which you will consciously focus your attention. List those activities below:
During the next week, try to pay attention to how you engage in a conversation. Try to focus on the conversation as fully as possible and the person/persons with whom you are communicating. The moment you notice that your thoughts are distracted, return your attention to the conversation. Try to be as present as possible.