I love catching fish, but I hate fishing. This is one of the many challenges I have with being productive.
Let me explain.
When I get coaxed into fishing – usually about once or twice a year – I typically do not enjoy myself.
My mind is fixed on the outcome. I find myself not being able to enjoy the present moment activities of casting the line, waiting, changing the lures, more casting, changing location and so on.
I just want the fish. A big, tasty one that I can cook up and enjoy.
How is this bad? I’m focusing on the desired results. There are numerous articles written on Asian Efficiency’s blog alone exposing the benefits of this behavior.
Taking the time to decide where you want to go and even drawing a map to your destination is no doubt a productive exercise to do… even as often as a weekly basis. However, once you expend your energy on focused planning, you should then pull back and concentrate on the present moment.
This is easier said than done. And this is my problem with fishing. I keep my attention on the future and forget about the present moment.
Then a few years ago – from some forgotten source – I came across an idea that rang so true and obvious to me, I felt crazy for not realizing it sooner.
The thought was:
Life unfolds only in moments.
Nobody has ever experienced anything that wasn’t part of a single moment unfolding. Glory on the battle field. Being elected President. Leaving the Earth’s gravitational pull. Discovering a cure to a deadly disease.
All of these moments, that people dream of and others have accomplished in the past, happened in a single moment.
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”– John Lennon
This means life’s only challenge is dealing with the single moment you are having right now.
Before I recognized this, I was constantly trying to:
- Solve my entire life
- “I need to know my perfect career/relationship/place to live…”
- Battling problems that weren’t actually happening…
- “What if people don’t like my article or presentation?”
Not understanding that there is only one point of contact with life and everything else is my imagination… simply thoughts I’m having in the present.
This compulsive thinking is so pervasive with most people, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are nearly always thinking. This mental chatter leads not to experiencing the world itself, but our beliefs, hopes, and expectations of it. And that false experience leads to confusing reality with the thoughts we have about it.
“I’ve been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”– Mark Twain
Thoughts don’t build houses. Bricks do.
Understanding that life unfolds only in the moments leads to the next realization:
The quality of your life (and what you can bring to it) is determined by how you deal with your moments.
Happy, productive, successful people don’t spend a great deal of their present moments fantasizing about what their mansions will look like or what would happen if the mansion should burn to the ground. They use their moments to lay one brick after another, after another, after another until their dream house is built.
This does not mean never plan. The key is to plan and engage with the present moment.
To put it another way, don’t start at A and dream about Z. Start with A and plan and engage with B.
Plan by deciding the outcome you would like for B and all of the steps required to achieve that outcome. Engage by doing all of the action steps required. Even if the step is, “I don’t know the next step. I’d better ask someone or do more personal research.”
Then do the same with C and D and E and… you get the point.
Keep an eye on Z. But also be okay with Z changing as new information comes your way.
When you tackle your big, hairy, audacious goals in bite sized pieces, you are able to plan the future, consider the past, but invest in today.
“The Secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn the past, worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” – Buddha
So how can you harness the power of the present moment?
I am by no means an expert. I often forget about all the tiny brush strokes required to paint the big pictures. However, below are 3 tactics I have used to help stay engaged with the present moment and lay more bricks along the way.
The reason meditation is becoming so popular around the world is that there are so many mental and physical benefits you can get out of it (reduced anxiety, lowered blood pressure, increased serotonin production, better ability to focus).
Here’s the basic idea. Every new thought can create a feeling of disturbance or agitation in the body and mind. As you start to meditate those thoughts will begin to come less frequently. As that happens, you will start to gain more clarity.
A common misconception about mediation is that you are trying to stop your thoughts and have a completely empty mind. If you do this, it will only encourage more thoughts..
“I am doing this right?” “I don’t feel relaxed.” “I wonder what Peter wanted to talk to me about?” “Why am I thinking about Peter. I’m trying to relax and clear my mind, damn it!”
Meditation must be effortless to be effective. It is similar to trying to fall asleep in this way… if you try too hard, it won’t happen. (Ironically, this can make meditation harder for people that are the most driven to produce results.)
Instead, when meditating, you should try stepping back and looking at the thoughts. Just notice them. Allow your thoughts and feelings to come in, then take note of them and finally let them go by returning your concentration to the breath, mantra, koan, relaxing music or whatever other mediation method you have chosen.
A very easy type of meditation you can do at virtually any time is to focus on your breath.
As surprising as this may sound, you are not able to think two thoughts at the same time. If the voices in your head are pulling you out of the present moment, try focusing on your breath. Think about the air coming in through your nostrils, filling your lungs and then leaving your body.
Since you are unable to think two thoughts at the same time, paying attention to your breath will make it impossible to ”˜mourn the past or worry about the future’.
2. Be Grateful
Gratitude is an attitude is a platitude… but that’s how it works!
Cultivating gratefulness will not only elevate your mood, but can bring you to the present moment if done in the right way.
I started my gratefulness habit by setting a reminder on my phone every 3 hours during the day with a push notification that would simply say, “What are you grateful for right now?”
The reminder served to pull my attention to the present moment and reflect on what was going well in my life… my health, pleasant surroundings, having certain people in my life, etc. I originally used the tactic to create a greater positive attitude, but it has served a surprise dual purpose of a better attitude and keeping me in the present moment.
Right now I’m grateful for these sweet smelling flowers I am sitting next to.
3. Capture Your Thoughts
Using a task manager and journaling are two practices that I use help myself stay in the present moment.
This works because when you capture your thoughts and store them in a trusted place you know you will review at some point in the future, you do not allow thoughts dramatically interfere with what you are presently engaged in.
For example, while writing this newsletter, I had a good idea about a present I could get for my brother’s upcoming birthday. Instead of worrying about trying to remember the thought or logging into Amazon and ordering it, I pressed Command (âŒ˜) + Shift (â‡§) + Spacebar and typed in the thought using the Quick Entry shortcut in my task manager OmniFocus.
Now I can order the birthday present for my brother when the moment is better suited.
I may never really love fishing, but at least I know I can now (usually) fish without thinking about all the times I came home empty handed or worry too much about snagging that gorgeous rainbow. I can enjoy the present moment activities of casting the line, waiting, changing the lures, more casting, changing location and so on.
This has helped me be a more productive person.