Got a minute?
Try this. For one minute (maybe have someone else tell you when that minute is up, because you almost inevitably will cut it short!) think of one thing. One object, an experience,. a person — not a problem to solve.
What was so hard about that?
If you’re like most, you had to fend off distractions like swatting gnats. Or, you sized up whatever your thoughts were quickly and were just waiting out the clock. Yeah, yeah, got it. What’s next?
If you gave up before that minute, did you miss anything? Did you learn anything new?
We are wired for efficiency. It’s what makes us productive. If we can quickly enough grasp the familiar and register it against that data set in our heads, we think we got it. Nothing new here, move along.
We are also wired, though, for stimulus. Our brains are suckers for that bright shiny object or anything that moves.
Together, they can also be the most mindless things we do.
Mindfulness as a business discipline has been in vogue for a while (although Asian cultures had this one pegged millennia ago). It has taken on an urgency in a world where some of our greatest qualities as people are being overwhelmed by the avalanche of stimulus that thunders towards us in seemingly every setting.
Our mind operates on two levels — what it knows, and what it takes in. Ego and efficiency sate the first; curiosity and willful ignorance fuel the latter. Too often we use what we know to filter the unknown, rather than having the unknown disrupt what we do know.
Being “in the moment” is an unnatural act if we yield to a tyranny of efficiency. Being mindful in the moment is a horribly inefficient exercise if you only value the satisfaction of being busy.
Mindfulness is all about focus — like that one-minute exercise, a practiced quiet, study and reflection on that one thing. It is the discipline of holding what we know at bay and paying homage to the unknown; it is reserving judgment until we explore; of opening ourselves to options just when we think we have it figured out. If we fill our thoughts with only what we know, we are but a recycling bin.
Knowledge is power, but it will let you down like a flat tire on a dark rainy road. Greater power is found in our curiosity, our intentional ignorance, a pursuit of the unknown, in the subtexts, subtleties and and nuances. In those areas of quiet and questioning are found the great ideas, the innovations, the dope-slap ah-hah moments of learning we too often miss when we are absorbed with flitting form one bright shiny object to another.
The only way to have a fuller mind is to get out of our own heads for a bit. Mindfulness is the path to a fuller mind, and the path to that comes in the moments we miss.