When I first heard Daron Larson’s “Don’t try to be mindful” TEDx Talk (which is hilarious and hugely valuable) my automatic reaction to this statement was “That’s not a very optimistic way of thinking.”
But it stuck with me, and I started noticing how much of the day my mind went off somewhere else, usually in response to something frustrating or uncomfortable or unpleasant.
Our brains process information in a narrative format. It helps us recognize and respond to potential threats. Since most of us aren’t protecting ourselves from mountain lions, our survival-minded brains get really creative with things like (for example for me yesterday) a really long line at the salad place at lunchtime. I saw the line and my brain thought “long line = I’m going to be late and/or hangry at my meeting = people will be mad at me = red alert alarm bells go off!” My natural inclination at that point is to forgo the salad and/or take out my phone to be furiously productive while in line as to not “waste” time.
The problem is, if you distract yourself from it or quit or try to solve for every obstacle you will inevitably end up wishing away the hours of your life waiting for the discomfort to end. Because on the other end of this obstacle is another one.
Every time you catch yourself checking out is an opportunity to check in instead. You don’t have to meditate to be mindful. In fact being mindful isn’t about emptying your brain of all thoughts at all. Because that it impossible.
Instead it’s about noticing what is happening, inside and outside. What you’re thinking and feeling. What really happens as opposed to what your brains automatic narrative predicts will happen. It’s a chance to interrupt the old automatic narrative and write a new one. Because what’s more likely to happen is that the salad line will move faster than your brain predicted, and you won’t end up late and/or hangry to your meeting