It was an ordinary day and an ordinary car ride. I was driving my 10-year-old daughter to dance class on a Wednesday evening. My son, 8, and niece, 10, were also in tow.
While my pre-teen was filling me in on the day’s drama/events, my son and niece started playing “Count the Christmas Lights.” The person who spots the most twinkling houses/apartments/store fronts wins. A fun game that kept them quiet, busy, and happy. Perfect. But most noted, they were focused. They had one task at hand. Count. Christmas. Lights.
And that’s when some unexpected emotions set in. Some admiration mixed in with a new respect for these little people. I appreciated their ability to stay focused on one task. To be in the moment – to quote Gord Downie – Fully Completely.
Rewind a few months…
My family started a new birthday tradition. On each person’s special day, everyone writes down 3 words to describe the birthday girl or boy, who then reads the words out loud, attempting to match the writer with the words. On my birthday, I got words like creative and driven. But a word my sister wrote stood out: multi-tasker. Sure, I get a lot of stuff done. But I’m aware my multi-tasking sometimes comes at the expense of really paying attention, being in the moment, and soaking in the Good.
So, I can either multi-task my way to my next birthday cake, or change the script. Remember, I’m determined. So…
It’s never too late to do less.
True, I have a full plate with three kids, a husband, a full-time job, programs, play dates, appointments, volunteer commitments, and everything in between. But I’m starting to think…there has to be a better way.
So, inspired by some birthday fun and a backseat car game on a chilly December evening, I’m ready to get this snowball rolling. In fact, I’ve already got my snow suit on.
A few months ago, I read Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. To literally rewire our brains to think more positively, Hanson suggests “taking in the good” using three simple steps. Think “stop and smell the roses” but with more purpose, power, and potential.
- Look for good facts and turn them into good experiences: “When you notice something good, let yourself feel good about it.”
- Really enjoy the experience: “Try to stay with it for 20 or 30 seconds in a row – instead of getting distracted by something else.”
- Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you: “Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day.”
I put Hanson’s 3-step process to the test during a recent work offsite. We spent the afternoon at Ward Island off the Toronto Harbourfront. At the end of a relaxing day, it was time to return to the dock and wait for the ferry to bring us “home.” It was a glorious, sunny day and the skyline combined with the sparkling water was truly picture perfect. So in that moment, I stared. I stared at the CN Tower, its neighbouring buildings, the water, the whole sight. And then I let the whole beautiful scene sink in. I literally said to myself (as per Hanson’s suggestion): “This is a good one. Remember it.” And a few months later, I still do. Clearly, the warm glow worked.
A few weeks later, while I was walking home on a crisp fall day, instead of reading, I raised my head and looked around. I immediately noticed that the trees – a collage of fiery colours – made a perfect arch shape over the sidewalk. It was truly lovely.
It’s a walk my feet have memorized. But my eyes had never before appreciated.
Today, I try to take in the good at least once a day.
Sometimes it’s as simple as savouring each sip of a vanilla bean latte. Recently, at my son’s Shabbat ceremony at school, I paid extra attention to his position on stage, his sweet smile, and the colourful ribbons the kids waved in rhythm with the beat of the music.
And who’s to say mono-tasker – not multi-tasker – can’t star in my birthday game next year?
I get it. The to-do list isn’t going away. But do I really need to schedule carpools via email when I take a 10-minute walk in the middle of the day to get away from my desk? I think (I hope!) I can just Go. For. A. Walk.
With these few self-enforced “rules” I’m confident I can join the mono-tasking club. Or at least apply for membership.
- Use technology more efficiently
While there’s an abundance of organizing apps at my fingertips, I haven’t embraced them as much as I should. ENOUGH is ENOUGH. It’s time to make lists and stick to them – calls to make, emails to send, yada, yada, yada. No more “Oh-shoot-I-forgot-bristol-board-at-the-dollar-store-and-now-I-have-to-go-back-for-the-third-time-this-weekend” for me! (At least that’s the goal).
- Stop texting and walking
Who am I kidding? I look silly and the extra typos drive me bonkers! I’m going back to the Good Ol’ Days…walking with my head up, looking at the world around me…like the person I once was pre-iPhone.
- Only eat while I’m sitting
I’m shamelessly stealing this one from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I’m not too important that I can’t sit down for a meal. If I’m eating, the plan is to ENJOY my food at a relaxed pace, hopefully with family and friends. AMEN.
So, will taking in the good and mono-tasking really mean I’ll be doing less? I hope so! Either way, I have a strong feeling I will enjoy the journey even more. And I will have the positive neural pathways to prove it!
Now who’s up for a game of Count the Christmas Lights? Or a vanilla bean latte?
Just not at the same time 🙂