What happens when we stop counting our steps
A few times a year I try to get away on a personal retreat. It’s nothing fancy, I simply stay at a friend’s place and attempt to catch up on work, write and listen to myself. While on my recent retreat to Florida, I was faced with a distressing realization – I multi-task constantly, am impatient and rarely give any one thing my full attention.
The fact that we have to leave town to do our work is telling enough. Our lives have become so busy, so layered, and the boundaries between work, life and play so blurred that we find it difficult being present for any one thing.
Instead of diving deep into what’s in front of us, we attempt to maximize productivity during any activity, even when the purpose of the activity is pleasure. But I’m beginning to wonder—is all this layering about efficiency or is it really about distraction?
Take my daily walks on the beach. I turn up at sunset to enjoy the beauty of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico. (No doubt in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Maybe there’s a tweetable or great IG shot here somewhere?”) Aside from the pelicans, I have the place nearly to myself. It’s quiet, peaceful and yet the first thing that comes to mind is making this walk a workout. Instead of being present for a contemplative stroll on the deserted shoreline, my mind was busy calculating how many calories I could burn.
I went back the next day, determined to simply have a good time and proud of myself for setting aside productivity in favor of enjoyment. But the day was cloudy, the sea dark and moody and instead of joy, I felt melancholy. It occurred to me this might be why we don’t dive deep; if we skim the surface of life, filling our time with distractions in the name of productivity without truly immersing ourselves in anything, we can escape any emotions, perhaps unpleasant ones, that might bubble up from within.
A practice for making change
Here’s a simple practice to help us focus on one thing at a time. The next time you take a walk:
- Leave your phone at home or at least turn it to silent.
- As you walk, look around. Notice the birds, the trees and the sky.
- If you’re walking your dog, pay attention to your dog.
- Observe any thoughts or feelings that arise.
- That’s it. Just walk!
Voilà! You’re doing one thing at a time. Congratulations.