WHEN I’M NOT BUILDING STRATEGIC PLANNING MUSCLE IN INNOVATIVE ENTERPRISES, EXTREME ADVENTURING WITH MY HUSBAND THOMAS, OR ENGAGING KIWIS IN POLITICAL SOLUTION-FINDING, I TEACH TEAMS AND INDIVIDUALS TO FUNCTION AT A HYPER-AWARE LEVEL THROUGH #ACUITYHACKS.
We’ve all heard the cliché that life is not a dress rehearsal. Right now you’re literally giving the performance of your life. Is it startling?
If it’s not, then you’re not paying attention.
Because the wonder of truly, deeply living that Emily Dickinson was talking about? It’s the product of presence.
When you put aside your brainful of thoughts and cares, and let all your awareness flow onto that thing that you’re doing right now, you become as free, as light, as powerful, as a human can be. Freedom, lightness, power: these are at the essence of mental acuity.
But mental acuity isn’t achievable if your attention is MIA.
So that notification bleeping or buzzing its arrival on your cellphone; the urgent interruption at your workspace, the gritty conundrum swirling in the background even while you’re trying to give quality time to a relationship .... Distractions like these are literally robbing your life of startle-ability.
You‘re not fully *there* with the thing you’re doing, but neither are you *there* with the things that are leaching your presence. In a true and terrible sense, in those moments you’re nowhere.
Acuity hack No. 1: just do the thing that you’re doing.
There’s an antidote, and it’s not complicated. You can do it right now.
Whether it’s plugging away at a task, relaxing, playing, communicating, thinking, even occupying yourself with something as simple as watching the sun set ... put aside all other thoughts and cares, and let all your awareness flow onto the activity or person that is the object of your attention.
If being mindful in this way is new to you, you might need a strategy to get started. Here are a couple:
The most popular approach is to focus on breath. Don’t try to control your breathing, just observe your inhalations and exhalations, and let your mind follow your breath in and out. Despite it being so simple (or perhaps because it is), you’ll find this to be extremely calming in times of emotional stress.
For day-to-day acuity (that is, when I’m not feeling any emotional turbulence) I find it more effective to zoom in on my body, examining my sensations and focusing on the sense that‘s most engaged at a given moment. If I’m watching a sunset then my eyes are the center of my awareness and I’ll “become” my sight, tuning out all other forms of sensory stimulation, absorbing as much visual detail as possible, and dampening my brain’s tendency to filter and interpret what I’m seeing. If I’m doing something more physically active, I’ll instead “be” my senses of touch and proprioception, feeling as many nuances as possible in the interplay between my body and the world.
If you really are giving your current activities or companions your full attention, you’ll be – yes – startled at the multitude of sensations you encounter. That’s the feeling of being intensely alive.
It seems counter-intuitive but, by getting out of your head and into the moment, you jump-shift your brain’s capacity to process literally everything that’s going on around you. As you hone your ability to be present, you’ll find ways to apply this sharpened acuity to situations, problems and opportunities that, in the past, have been derailed by stress, indecision or confusion.
So ... where are you right now?
Footnote: Paying full attention goes, too, for distractions themselves. There’s nothing wrong with being focused on a pressing problem. (Neither is there anything wrong with being distracted – it simply has a cost to your function in the present.) If you’re not able to put a problem aside to focus on something else, then rather than dividing your attention, go all in. Having solved the problem, your attention is freed to fully engage with the here and now. But if you can’t solve it readily, practice building the discipline to put it aside and bring yourself fully into the present. This discipline in itself will improve your problem-solving faculties.