By Jessica M. Miller, M.A.
We've all had times like this: Our kid comes up to us, asks a question. We're not paying attention, but out of parental guilt and/or irritation we say, "Yes," not having a clue what we just agreed to. Next minute we look outside and see him running butt-naked through the sprinkler.
Or, maybe that just my experience, but you get the point. We have moments throughout our day when our minds are not focused on the important stuff, like our families.
According to this Harvard University study, almost half of our waking hours are spent NOT living in the moment. That's a shocking and sad statistic.
Why is it so difficult to feel present in the moment?
Blame it on the evolution of our brain's ability to multitask -- that and the fact that the pace of our society leaves us no choice but to do a constant mental juggle.
In the morning, when you brush your daughter's hair, you're not paying attention to the scent of her strawberry shampoo or listening to her sweet chatter about yesterday's art class. You're planning next week's extra-curricular shuttle service or rehashing the argument you had the night before with your spouse. Sometimes when my kids see me staring off, I'm racking my brain trying to remember if I showered the day before ... or the day before THAT!
In the midst of multitasking, we miss emotional connections.
I'm neurotic about making the most of my time, so the Harvard study startled me. I decided to challenge myself to focus on the moment during our pre-school morning mayhem. (Why I picked this crazy time of the day to experiment is beyond me.)
- Quiet my mental chatter.
- Stay focused on the task at hand.
How did it go? The morning was insane as usual. The kids fought over the left sink, my son freaked out because I forgot to wash his favorite monster truck t-shirt and my daughter relentlessly complained about her oatmeal.
It was the same, but it was also VERY different.
Time slowed down when I focused on the 'now.'
I actually felt my kids' frustrations with the obstacles they faced at the crack of dawn. Before being present, I would get annoyed by their gripes, but today I was able to empathize with their concerns.
Why wasn't I MORE overwhelmed beings tuned into this circus? This is the best way that I can explain it: Imagine that you're in a busy subway station and that you're trying to listen to Taylor Swift's Bad Blood through your phone speaker. Then, you remember that you brought your ear buds and plug them in -- quite the sound and clarity difference.
Life becomes AMPLIFIED when you're in the moment.
When you pay attention to your five senses, you can't listen to your internal reel, which taxes our stamina to handle the external input.
Yes, there's a way to shut off that mental chatter. You know that voice inside your head that reminds you of the things you didn't get done, messed up on, and have yet to do? Once I was able to turn that off and tune into my senses (sight, smell, feel, taste, hearing), I unknowingly allowed my neurons to connect with what was in front of me, rather than what was circulating in my head.
I listened to my daughter when she stated her case about the damn oatmeal. I felt the inner struggle in my son when he fought like hell to get the better sink, and I noticed the lethargic pace in my husband before he walked out for work.
I saw my morning with fresh eyes. Regardless of the fact that it was still loud, crazy and, at times, unbearable, it was real life.
Give it a try yourself.
- Designate a specific time in your day to focus on what's in front of you.
- Bring your mind back each time it tries to sneak off. Just say, "No, I'm doing that right now. I'll get back to worrying later."
- Ask yourself throughout the phase, "What do I hear, see, taste, feel, and smell?"
- It's impossible to live in this state of bliss all the time. The reality is that the world we live in doesn't allow for that. But anytime you feel disconnected from yourself and/or your family, simply unplug and tune into what's surrounds you. You'll notice a huge difference, and so will the ones you love most.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.