September 12, 2019

Mindfulness is driving without texting

Most people sense that if you text while driving then your driving will be compromised. You might do fine if nothing bad happens, but if a deer or a child ran into the road while you are deep into a text, your reaction time would be measurably poorer than if you were intently looking directly and uninterruptedly at the road ahead with your hands at ten and two.

Mindfulness is like driving without texting, you don't necessarily stay 100% focused on the present moment non-stop, but when you feel the tug to pick up that phone and text, you resist it and return your attention to “driving”. All the various systems in your brain work together to help you experience that present moment fully and richly, your driving is better and your experience of driving is better.

If you are having a conversation with someone and you are mind-wandering, thinking about lunch, or about something you did earlier that day, about regrets that you have, or an email you plan to write, then you are effectively texting while driving.

You are not paying full attention to the conversation or to the person you are having that conversation with. If everything goes fine then they (and you) might not even notice, but if suddenly your full attention is required, if they said something important and they expect a thoughtful response, then you might be headed for a crash.

If you are listening to music but really thinking about work, then that's fine if your objective was to think about work, but it's not fine if your objective was to listen to the music. Resisting the temptation to pick up the phone and text is not easy, it requires practice, although some people can do it naturally with minimal effort, while other people find it very difficult to resist texting no matter how hard they try.

The good thing is every time you do successfully realize you are about to text and manage to return your attention to driving, you strengthen your attention muscles a little bit. And every time you notice your mind wandering during a conversation and return you attention back to the other person, those same attention muscles get a little bit stronger.

The end result is you will get better at driving, and conversing, and relating to other people, and, surprisingly, at doing pretty much everything else.

Mindfulness is an open awareness of everything including the state of your own mind. The goal isn't to stop your mind from wandering, that's not possible. The goal is to notice when it does, and then, if you choose to, redirect your attention back to the present moment.

People hear this and they go “Yeah I get it, but isn't the real goal to stop your mind from wandering? Because that's what I want to happen.” Ultimately if you are mindful you will spend less hours of the day with a wandering mind, but that wasn't the goal, that was a side effect.

In “complex adaptive systems”, like people, you generally do not want your “goal” to be the end thing you actually want to achieve. This isn't an opinion of mine, it falls out from the math, it's the way complex adaptive systems work.

And it makes intuitive sense, if a coach told her team their goal was to “score more points than the other team” how good of a coach would she be? Obviously they want to score more points than the other team, but that cannot be their goal. Their goal should be something like “move the ball up the field” or “maintain possession” or “make better passes” or “keep it on the outside” or “get the ball to the Italians”.

The greatest college basketball coach of all time John Wooden famously said that winning was never his goal and it should should never be the player's goal. The goal was to play your absolute best. If you played your best and lost, that's great you succeeded, put a smile on your face. If you didn't play your best and won, then you failed, there will be no celebration for that, you were chewed out for that, you got extra conditioning for that.

How did this “not trying to win” philosophy work out? “In Wooden’s 27 years as the Bruins’ head coach, his teams won an unprecedented 10 national championships, including seven straight at one point in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The next closest coaches in terms of titles won? That would be Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp with a meager four each.” [bleacher]

Wooden famously sat his new players down on the first day and taught them how to correctly lace up their shoes. He drilled into them “soft skills” like enthusiasm, team spirit, initiative, loyalty, self-control.

He had a strict no profanities policy: using profanities showed you lacked self-control which would lead to fouls which could decide games. However the goal wasn't “commit less fouls” it was “don't use profanity on the court”. All these things resulted in winning games without ever adopting “win games” as a goal. [pyramid]

So you just have to embrace that “learning to notice when your mind wanders and redirecting it back to the present moment” is really the goal. If you do that 1,000 times a day that's great. That's 1000x better than not noticing that your mind had wandered. And if you do it consistently for months and years, you will win games.

Although will have to work at it, most likely for the rest of your life. People who have meditated for 40,000 hours, essentially all day every day, still feel they need to get better at it, but thankfully mindfulness is something you can practice throughout the day, even if you don't meditate at all. If you work at it you will see noticeable improvements in weeks to months, but it might be years before anything feels down right “life changing”.

However my main advice is keep your eyes on the road, your phone in your pocket, and your hands at ten and two. That will lead to good things, for you and everyone else.


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