Earlier this week I spoke to a breakfast group and asked what they did while driving to the meeting that morning.

Nothing surprising, people said they ate, listened to music, talk radio and motivational “tapes,” some sang, talked on their cell phones, some thought about problems, one rehearsed a speech, a salesman worried about a client, they checked email, they texted, one sexted, one woman put on lipstick, several drank coffee, and a man planned dinner. Some of them were doing a few of these things at once.

But not one of them just drove.

You see, driving is one of these activities we can do without paying the
slightest attention, despite the fact that it’s actually quite complicated. And it turns out that driving isn’t the only thing we do without paying attention. When you stop to think about it, there is very little besides video games, golf, and television that we actually give our full 100% attention.

Much of our life is done on semi-automatic, and sometimes – like driving – full-bore-auto. And it’s not just one thing that’s on auto-pilot, but often a whole bunch of things going on at the same time and none getting anywhere near our full attention, our minds flipping and switching and jumping from one thing to the next to the next.

Of course, what you end up with is sub-par performance because nothing is getting our very best, difficulty focusing (what a surprise), a lack of creativity (creativity definitely requires focus and you’re out of practice), procrastination (because when you’re doing 7 things at once who wants to do anything else), fuzzy thinking (again, no surprise), no spontaneity (we’re never really present), and more kinds of stress you can possibly imagine.

So I was driving to the talk on mindfulness, and practicing JUST DRIVING…

“Feel the foot on the gas and the hands on the steering wheel…”

And then I’d jump to thinking about what I was going to say. And then I’d remember to JUST DRIVE.

“Push the turn signal control down, turn the steering wheel slightly and sense the car moving into the left lane…”

And what was I going to say? Oh right – JUST DRIVE…

And so on. Then I started breathing into the driving. That made it easier. My focus became sharper.

When you ease into it, when you breath into it, everything starts to feel better. The mind chatter settles down almost instantly and your senses become sharper. Whatever else there was a moment ago falls away. Breathing is really key to mindfulness practice.

Try this:

Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Pay attention to the air flowing in through your nose and down your windpipe and into to your lungs. Hold the breath for a second and then slowly let it out, again feeling to the air as it leaves your deflating lungs, flows up your windpipe and out of your mouth. This is what yoga people call
“watching your breath.” Do that a few times. If you’re still with me, count from one to ten along with your breathing.

Go ahead. Just stop reading . Breath and count. After you’ve done it for a while come back to me.

How was it?

Most people get lost somewhere between 2 and 10. Their mind wanders and starts thinking about… Something.  Maybe you remembered what you were doing, came back and kept counting. And then lost it again. And then kept counting. And so on.

No matter how it went, if you did it at all, you did a great job.

You might try this little process again at different times throughout the day. You’ll find it refreshing and energizing. And yes, you’ll begin to get bits of everything I promised above. This really works.

One more thing…

Mindfulness is a funny word; it almost sounds like the opposite of what we mean.

Just an hour ago I was picking up a rental car at MCO. Alamo has an interesting system they let drivers pick out the car they want. So I jumped in the Jeep, didn’t like the seat adjustments, and the Kia felt like it was made of cheap plastic, so I ended up with a nice Dodge SUV something.  I moved my luggage in and out of one car and then the other. Got in the winner car, looked up the hotel address, checked the Nav, which was on the blink, finally figured out where I was going, acclimated to the chosen car, adjusted the mirrors, adjusted the seat… My mind was so full with the details of choice, hopping from one car to the next, driving at night in a strange city, the semi-broken navigation on my phone, so filled up with stuff, that I didn’t realize until 24 miles later that I’d foolishly left my trademark blue blazer in one of the cars. Called lost and found. Called the garage itself. No Blazer. No Joy. Complete failure for paying attention to the present moment.

Which brings me back to the mindfulness idea…

Most of us pass our lives paying very little attention to the present moment because our minds are so full with all the stuff we’re doing. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware by letting go of all the stuff and focusing on the one single thing we chose to do whether it’s driving while we’re driving, or walking while we’re walking, doing the dishes while we’re doing the dishes, or counting while we’re counting.

Over the next few weeks I’ll give you some other easy exercises to draw you into the present moment.

I’ve been working with a few of my business coaching clients on mindfulness practice as was a way of deepening concentration, sharpening focus and stimulating creativity. As if those things weren’t enough, it instantly floods you with energy (without caffeine) and it just plain feels good.

So go count from one to ten again, and when you’re done, leave me your comments and tell me what’s happening.

45 Responses

  1. John H

    February 2013 … Review of past blog posts

    Managing Our Thoughts

    When I first started purposely building engineering projects in my mind during my daily walks, I discovered all sorts of other thoughts trying to encroach on my blank drawing board. It was then I realized how much junk was up there and that I could manage all those unnecessary thoughts just by saying that I do not need to be thinking about them right now.

    I now constantly ask myself;
    “Is this what I am supposed to be thinking about right now?”
    “What am I supposed to be thinking about right now?”

    These are good questions when I start getting distracted when working at the computer.

    Also when doing things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn or showering. I am able either to be mindful of the chore at hand or use the time for creative thought.

    What we can do with a clear focused mind is incredible.

    Not being mindful of my walk during my daily walk is a choice purposely made to build projects on my minds drawing board. It pays valuable returns on creativity. I am never unaware of the beauty of my walk through the woods and I also have the joy of creativity.

    Reply
    • pl

      Hi John – I don’t believe there is any particular way you are “supposed” to do it. Perhaps the issue is being purposeful or not. Most people’s experience is filled with non-decision, clutter and garbage. By being deliberate… purposeful… mindful… More of the good stuff of life happens. ~pl

      Reply
  2. Tyra

    Hello Paul, all I can say is this is such a wonderful advice. I’m so thankful to read this one and got a good advice from a successful person like you. Will keep this in mind. More success!

    Reply
  3. A. Maris Design

    This is also a wonderful way to start the day.. and keep focused on whatever is important at the time. Staying in the moment provides opportunities to insure that you are really listening to the client, hearing their problem, and not trying to solve it until you understand it!

    Reply
  4. Gurumantra Khalsa

    Yeah Paul, I call that the "Driving Yoda Game". The game is about attentiveness to how much space I can keep around my car. The goal of the game is to drive without ever having to use the brakes. That has a keen ability to draw out attentiveness all right. Great post.

    Reply
  5. MarciaAnn Calantonio

    In your breathing meditation, add the mind mantra "I am breathing in" on the inhale, and "I am breathing out" on the exhale, and your mind will not allow another thought! Just one of my beautiful *blinks*.

    I have written a wonderful meditation on stirring and drawing creativity in you and through you to fruition!

    Thanks Paul!

    Reply
  6. Xander Griffiths

    Great advice Paul! It is really helpful. In today’s busy time, most of us tend to forget to focus much on driving, like on the picture you’ve attached, I sometimes have my coffee beside me while driving, especially when kind of a hurry. I know it is inappropriate but trust me, most of us do that sometimes, right? I had a great time reading this and I’ll share to everyone in my network so that they will learn something from it too!

    Reply
  7. Stefanie O'Donnell

    Paul,
    Thank you so much for taking time today to speak with us during the Ryan Lee Inner Circle training. I thought your coaching session on Mindfulness was amazing and very helpful.. I started putting into practice what you taught right away during my next meal 🙂 Thanks again and I will be looking into getting your latest book, Be Unreasonable!

    Reply
  8. Eddie Shap

    Today was a tough day. There were many reasons and they all got together and just bundled themselves. I knew I had this email in my inbox but had more important (or so I thought) things to do. I finally got around to reading the post and after doing the deep breathing exercise, felt a bunch of tension leave.

    Let’s hope the sun shines a bit brighter tomorrow. If it doesn’t, I’ll be doing more deep breathing!

    Thanks for your words Paul…

    Reply
    • pl

      Eddie (slow reply, I know — holidays and all…) Some days are like that, they just are, and they’re just like every other day. Like you said, breathe deep…

      Reply
  9. Nick

    Spoken like a true Zen master – thank you for your writing. It is stimulating, and unlike many others, you only write when you have something valuable to say. That is uncommon.

    Reply
  10. Nick

    Paul – please delete the partial post- somehow Isubmitted before completion – maybe my fingers were multi-tasking.

    Great post.

    Multi-tasking is an epidemic. It’s viral and insidious. Knowing where it comes from is the first step to begin releasing yourself from its grasp. I’m still afflicted – and need reminding of the value of mindfulness.

    The challenge is to develop awareness and tools to manage it, rather than fight what is innately human.

    As we develop skills there is a natural learning process which takes us through four steps that Maslow called the Competence Cycle. Travelling from top to bottom in this list.

    Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence
    Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence
    Stage 3: Conscious Competence
    Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

    When we are young and have never driven a car we just get taken somewhere. We have no idea how to drive a ca and have no awareness of what it requires. (Stage 1)

    With practice we reach Stage 4 and that’s when we can eat, text, sing, practice speeches or think of clients we’re going to meet. Or at least think we can be just as effective. We still get to the destination, even if sometimes we don’t remember the journey.

    The challenge with being mindful about our driving is that we get bored becasue we’re skilled. We’re intelligent beings and can multitask.

    We’re trained sub-consciously by television which delivers short snippets of attention, the only way a 24 hour, 1 week or longer story can be delivered within 30 or 60 minutes.

    My question is this: Does mindfulness conflict with a sense of achievement from reaching uncounscious competence or are there more stages that Maslow missed? Like going from a yellow belt in karate to a 7th Dan black belt – there’s always more to learn?

    Reply
    • pl

      Nick, your thoughtful post deserves a thoughtful answer, and I’ll be brief. As I see it, mindfulness is not in conflict with anything, not mutitasking, not unconscious competence, not even MTV. It is simply a practice to “empty your mind” for a few fleeting moments yielding all sorts wonderful things.

      Reply
  11. Don Stewart

    Paul- Thanks for the fine post…It takes my mind back to some of the excellent Vernon Howard writings about being “awake”. My scattered mind can’t seem to focus upon anything for very long, and I GET SCATTERED RESULTS (like hitting on the caps key by mistake)

    Driving across country (I did it many times) I seemed to fall into a creative state of mind and actually think more clearly. It’s interesting that we have different gears of mind and that the slowest one in beta provides the most creativity.

    The mind is amazing and any help we can get to “use it” consciously is great…Thanks for your insight…Looking forward to “seeing ” more of yor musings…

    Reply
    • pl

      Jason – I still have my copy and occasionally remember to apply it. The book is 40 years old and disintegrates a little more each time I read it — I think there’s something to the metaphor. ~pl

      Reply
  12. Sam

    Thanks Paul, excellent article and video! Am currently reading the “Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and your thinking resonates with the essence of the book. “Be in the present and your being will transform you into an extraordinarily individual”. I have been practicing it since I started reading the book and the transformation in me is palpable. It is heavy going at the start but if you can stay with it, you may get something out if it.

    Reply
    • pl

      Sam, we’re all just Buddhists at heart. But he’s got the accent and seems to be meditating WHILE he’s speaking. ~pl

      Reply
  13. be zen

    Appreciatively THANK YOU, Paul,
    You are definitely amazing!

    btw, i have my own theory about
    that infamous glass(un)fulnesses..
    which i always use as the visual illustration
    one, just reversing exact to mindfulness
    while working with the partners=clients..lol

    and this Your article is only pretty nice proof to…:-)

    PS: i like your new “avatar” in the FB…:-)

    Reply
  14. Lloyd Freeman

    I do know that a large percentage of people are too engrossed in the hussel and
    bussel of everyday life that we do not see those things that are really important
    for our health, happiness and our financial well being. I had a friend that encouraged
    me to FOCUS on the thing at hand. I could really elaborate on the subject, but
    folks are just too busy to listen or have a real interest in what others are doing.

    Reply
    • pl

      Lloyd, that’s the secret, isn’t it? FOCUS on the thing at hand, and let go of everything else. -pl

      Reply
  15. Troy Assaly

    Thanks for reminding me… again. Your tip on meditating about a year ago stuck with me and it fits nicely with this mindfulness routine. I spend a lot of time repeating one, one, one, in my head to shut off all the external noise. It’s snowing like crazy here at Whistler Resort Canada, so I’ll soon be able to clear my mind by skiing down steep mountain chutes… until then, I’ll count and breath in order to focus on today’s priority tasks.

    Reply
  16. Stew Kelly

    Yes Paul, so true. What is worse is our technology, such as flipping around on the computer, adds to the distractions and lack of focus. I’m seriously thinking some synaptic changes are taking place in our brains to hard wire our minds for distraction.

    Reply
    • pl

      Stew,

      Do not, I repeat, do not blame the technology. The tech is awesome and in the right hands gives us the ability and freedoms undreamt of previously. I’m sitting a cafe 3,000 miles from home with 100% of the productivity that I have in my office. You may be right about the synaptic changes however. I just read an article that offered evidence of brain change amongst heavy gamers. Mindfulness and more “committed” meditation practices may be the antidote or even a preventative.

      PL

      Reply
  17. David Turk

    As always, Paul, you’ve struck a chord. I appreciate your usual insightful thoughts and illuminating yet another way I can bring effectiveness to my life. Your lessons cause me to be a better dad, husband, businessman, employer, athlete, and friend.

    I bet I even get better at driving 🙂

    Reply
  18. Angelo

    Sometimes we confuse multi-tasking as a high productivity path. In most, if not all cases, it’s the opposite. A laser-robot can do 1,000 things per second because it is present or laser-focused on each one of them for the respective fraction of time.

    I am focusing all 2011 on improving focus and I am shocked with how persistent the old habit of abstractly and uncontrollably picking thoughts in the air can be…

    Thank you Paul, looking fwd to the exercises!

    Reply
    • pl

      Hi Angelo – I’m a recovering multitasker. I used to think it increased my productivity, and I am totally sure that at least for me it does not. –pl

      Reply
  19. john

    thanks again Paul, what I love about your posts is that they useful , quick to read and take on board and can be life changing. I’ll certainly be trying this one.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.