“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” – Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
Such a simple yet challenging task. Over the past several weeks I’ve had a minor obsession with active listening, undivided attention and multitasking. For once, these issues have nothing to do with my children… but with other adults.
Let’s set the stage with some interesting facts on multitasking and focus.
Did you know that maybe 10% of the human population can actually multitask? These unique individuals are called, “suptertaskers.” In most cases, we’re actually less productive just when we think we’re mastering the art of multitasking. What is occurring in the brain is just task switching; this can exhaust the brain. We are just moving from activity to activity, back and forth, back and forth. Tired yet? Our brain is!
Another term I recently learned is inattentional blindness. An example of this, you’re driving along chatting with a friend and miss seeing the car in front of you come to a screeching halt. Although you were driving, your attention was within the conversation.
Now why am I so focused on this and how does it relate to mindfulness? Here are a couple situations that have me in such a tizzy.
I was in a store earlier this week to return a few things. This particular store is typically super busy however it was a weekday morning and customer service was empty and quiet. There was 1 other person in front of me. While returning several items, with various receipts and payment methods, she was simultaneously chatting on her cell phone. The conversation had something to do with her evening before. With a smile, the customer service employee continued to ask her multiple questions about her returns as she kept on going with her conversation. It was frustrating, offensive and quite frankly, rude. This was clearly an attempt at multitasking along with inattentional blindness.
Here’s another scenario. Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about how much I had going on. I suppose my venting is all over the map sometimes and I’m hard to follow or listen to, but it’s my way of trying to get it all out. As I was mid-list of all the reasons life was chaotic at the moment…my friend started checking their phone. Just when I thought I had gotten everything off my chest, that brought about a new frustration and the process of mindfully letting go began. Inattentional blindness, the email was the main focus, the conversation secondary.
Lastly, have you ever sat at a dinner table or in a restaurant and really looked around at human interaction? 75% of people are on their phones, taking pictures then looking at said pictures, updating their status, “checking in”, filtering, tweeting, managing, responding and avoiding. This brings me to a recent family dinner with my aunt. She does not have a cell phone. She’s over 70, acts 40, and lives a pretty busy life. Her condo is in the heart of DC and she walks everywhere. When she’s not volunteering at National Museums and in her church; she’s studying Macbeth at the local bookstore, going to the ballet, enjoying lunch and tea dates daily AND internationally traveling. I can’t keep up! As we were at dinner last week she looked around and noticed 5 out of the 6 people she was trying to have a conversation with on phones (I was not one of them!) “This is why I do not want one of those, look at you all! I go to the library to check my emails, 30 minutes tops. I also have real conversations over the phone.” – Aunt Barbara. Again, inattentional blindness combined with a lack of mindful attention.
How does this all tie back to mindfulness? Remember, mindfulness is being aware of the present moment as it is.
When you’re checking out of a store, you’re interacting with a person at that moment. Give them the attention they deserve.
When you’re having a conversation with a friend, be an active and engaged listener, they trust you with their worries and concerns.
Next time you’re out to dinner with family or friends; keep your phone in your pocket. The post can wait.
That’s being mindfully attentive.