My Dad used to say this to me a lot when I was a kid. It was of his constant refrains “Hang on a minute, let’s just do one thing at time”. In my enthusiasm for whatever it was at the time, I’d want to rush in and do it all at once. (I’d also often be told “simmer down” but that’s another story)
I still find it challenging to do one thing at a time. Over the years I’ve made it a meditation practice to just eat, just listen, just sit.
I‘d practice just sitting at a cafe. Without a book, a paper or a phone. Without even sunglasses to separate me from what was directly happening. After a while it got easier but I do recall the initial agitation. I dare myself still to try it.
I’ve been doing the ‘washing the dishes’ meditation for years. Just coming back to just the whole present sensory experience. Not using the time to think, plan, ruminate, but remind myself, again and again, to pay attention to ‘just this, just the dishes/water/bubbles’. The aim -being totally present to whatever it is I am doing.
How often do you talk to a friend on the phone and hear the click of the keyboard as they check their emails while talking to you? It doesn’t feel good, yet I confess I have been guilty of doing just that.
We’ve trained ourselves to think that unless we are doing more than one thing at a time, that we’re wasting time. So we read the paper on the toilet, watch TV and eat dinner, go for walk and ring a friend, and more dangerously - drive and text! (See Oprah’s No Phone Zone campaign).
We live in a culture that’s addicted to busyness. We’re obsessed with multi-tasking and yet it is so counterproductive. It makes it difficult to focus on one thing at a time and research is shows that it makes us slower to solve problems. Even worse, it makes us depressed (because we can’t focus, it’s even harder to focus on the positive).
Writer A. Jacobs calls it our ‘hopscotching brain’. He says that multitasking makes us less able to connect with people and that while it makes us feel efficient, it actually slows down our thinking.
He says ‘while we may feel we are multitasking we are in fact ‘switch-tasking’ toggling between one task and another. Phone, email, phone, back to email. And each time you switch, there are a few milliseconds of start-up cost. The neurons need time to rev up”
So the best way to improve our focus is to meditate. Thousands of years of independent research all agree on this. Perhaps as a start though, we could just try ‘one thing at time’. I challenge you (and myself) to just be on the phone. When it rings, greet your friend, sit back, close your eyes and listen… Just be there at the end of the phone. Try it. Your friend will love it and you might just feel a bit calmer.
Like the writer says, let’s embrace the ‘noble path of uni-tasking’
Bernadette is a yoga and meditation teacher and group facilitator and has been teaching since the early 1990s. She has worked with people of all ages, from diverse backgrounds and cultures and has developed skills of serving people dealing with significant life issues. She taught community classes for children, teens, people with disabilities, the elderly, sports professionals, and also in corporate environments.
Bernadette has worked with the Quest for Life Foundation since early 2006 and is the Senior Facilitator on our residential programs. Her work is treasured by our participants and our team. She has also been developing and refining a deep understanding of the use of appropriate yoga and meditation approaches for use in oncology and with serious illness.
Bernadette maintains close association with International Yoga Teachers Association and is a senior lecturer for their Teacher Training Course. She has designed and delivered yoga teacher training courses for other organisations. During 5 years in the UK she taught retreats, workshops and classes across the UK and in Europe and worked as a personal ‘lifestyle’ coach. Bernadette brings a gentle and loving nature with insight and compassion borne out of her experience. She can assist a deeper connection with the body as a means to rejuvenate the spirit.