While re-reading Ralph De La Rosa’ The Monkey is the Messenger a few days ago, a particular piece caught my attention. De La Rosa writes about some research two Harvard psychologists (Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert) did and the title of the study is “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” What they found was not staying in the present moment decreases positive emotion. For example, you’re doing one thing – eating breakfast and at the same time bring up email on your phone. Their research found that even if the email or social media was enjoyable it will still make breakfast less enjoyable than if you just ate breakfast. And if the emails contain upsetting or maddening information your emotions drop even further.
This information fascinated me so I did an experiment of my own this week. I love to bike ride (bicycle) and have a beautiful path to do it on. But my busy little mind often wanders on my bike ride and I can come back from a ride and remember very little of it because I’ve been solving problems, reminiscing, and just basically not being present in an activity I really enjoy. So this week, I worked hard to stay in the present moment and enjoy the view, scents and experience of my ride. The result: my bike ride was so much more enjoyable. So much more that I willingly and happily went for a ride this morning even though the temperature and the humidity were uncomfortably high. (Don’t worry I brought lots of water and took my time). I kept bringing my attention back to the present and my emotions stayed high even when I was a hot sweaty mess.
I encourage you to stay present and focus on one thing at a time. A meditation practice will make it easier to bring your attention back to the present experience and keep it there. If you’re not meditating yet, just be aware of your attention and keep bringing it back to the task, experience, or activity at hand. In a conversation with someone, put all other tasks away and focus on the person in front of you. Have an unpleasant task to tackle? Stay present in it and you’ll feel the best. However, if you do decide to distract yourself make it something pleasant. Focusing on something unpleasant while doing something unpleasant makes the experience worse their research showed.