I recently heard a TED talk featuring Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google. It was about picking one thing to modify in your life over a 30 day period – something that you could do every day – and then to see the effect it has on how you feel about yourself and on achieving your goals. It’s supposed to be challenging but not impossible, so that you can have success. Immediately I knew that giving up desserts was not going to be the one I picked.
Here’s what Matt chose. In order to be more “present” in his life and more aware of what was taking place in his day, he decided to take one picture every day of something that caught his interest, and then look at the catalogue of his days after a month. The pictures didn’t have to be earth shattering moments – just something that caught his attention and made him slow down long enough to notice it. So that could be… a red cardinal resting on a branch outside the house with the backdrop of all the snow we’ve had, your spouse deep in concentration at work on a project, your child doing something cute or just happily resting, a full moon, a beautiful pie you just baked, etc.
So instead of the time flying by with little notice as to what was going on, he found that time slowed down and he was able to be more involved and present in his day. He was being mindful of his life.
Mindfulness is a term that we are hearing about more and more. There are books, articles, and classes on mindfulness, often combined with meditation. The word is used often.
What does it mean? It is really about being present in the moment with what you are doing. It is sort of the opposite of multi-tasking. While we pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task, in fact, we often lose focus by doing it. Though, no question, there are times we have to multi-task anyway.
From a psychological perspective, mindfulness is used in a therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which helps patients with anxiety and other mental health issues to tune out unhealthy or debilitating thoughts, and be present with what they are doing. For more about DBT, look up Marsha Linehan, or go to these websites: www.behavioraltech.org and www.linehaninstitue.org
Cell phones, with their many wonders and advantages, are often the enemy of mindfulness and being present. Have you been out to dinner with friends or family and everyone is briefly but concurrently checking their phones? Ouch.
So let’s talk about parenting and mindfulness. Our kids get lots of attention from us, but what they don’t always get is our undivided attention. So perhaps, there need to be some very conscious moments in the day when we give them our undivided attention – absent of checking cell phones, making dinner, or scanning the newspaper. Because something important that comes with giving someone your undivided attention is eye contact. We can teach our children that eye contact is an important social skill. And everyone feels good when they have someone’s full attention – it builds self-esteem.
A wonderful opportunity for being in the moment with your children is reading to them. Reading together can create some special memories and feelings of closeness for children and parents alike. If you liked the “picture a day” idea, consider doing this with your child.
For kids who struggle with significant worry or anxiety, I have suggested to parents that they schedule 15 minutes every day, if possible at the same time, to let their child talk about their worries…uninterrupted, with parent giving their full attention, not making comments or trying to solve any problems – JUST LISTENING. Children feel validated, they know they will have that time with their parent, and it can help to make them feel calmer. Over time, it may not be necessary to schedule this. Essentially, this conversation allows the child to get worries off of his/her chest, and “leave them” with the parent, and often results in the child being more likely to share concerns.
For more TED talks on a variety of subjects, go to www.ted.com
So, I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on mindfulness, and hopefully you have not been doing anything else except sipping your coffee or tea, and taking a few minutes to be present in this activity.