Yesterday, when talking about tying existing habits to new ones that you want to create, I gave an example of listening to books while working out. Whether a book, podcast, music, or TV while on my indoor bike trainer, I definitely like to distract myself while exercising. This isn’t always a good thing. On one hand, it can affect my workout. I know that it is good for me to be dialed into my form and effort during a workout. Indeed, I know that when I am really pushing, there is no room for mental focus other than on my body and encouraging it to push harder than my brain thinks that it can. I focus on my breath and muscles, my jaw drops open, and I am in the moment.
But not distracting myself during a workout can have other advantages too. When I let my mind wander, or even vaguely focus on a problem, sometimes I work something out, solve a problem, get in touch with myself, or come up with something exciting and creative. Since I am so good at distracting myself, I am more likely to experience this while swimming since I have not yet purchased waterproof earphones. Even though I am usually counting laps, there is usually enough room in my mind to work through something in the background.
I have heard a number of people talk about this concept lately, in different ways, ultimately relating to the importance of just being. Without being absorbed in our phones, a book, or tv. Before smart phones, this was very common. While waiting in line, we could pay attention to what’s around us, strike up a conversation, or get lost in thought. Today, most of us spend those moments on Twitter, checking email, or taking a selfie and sharing your moment with your “friends” on Facebook.
I cannot remember specifically where this concept has popped up recently, except for in a book called Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi. In addition to sharing the science behind boredom and creativity, Mrs. Zomorodi shares many practical exercises and resources for anyone who struggles to disconnect from their devices.
[I literally just got distracted in the middle of writing the last sentence because I realized I had new emails, which led me to click to see what was new, which led me to a link to Facebook because there was a new message that I was intrigued by. And here I thought that I was pretty good at focusing and not getting distracted. I guess awareness is my first step].
Here is a small taste of the book’s introduction:
We may feel like we are doing very little when we endlessly fold laundry, but our brains are actually hard at work. When our minds wander, we activate something called the ‘default mode,’ the mental place where we solve problems and generate our best ideas, and engage in what’s known as ‘autobiographical planning,’ which is how we make sense of our world and our lives and set future goals. The default mode is also involved in how we try to understand am empathize with other people, and make moral judgments.
So, perhaps leave your device behind for your next workout and just let your mind wander. Or go for walks on your own. Or, the next time you find yourself standing in line, resist the temptation to look at your phone. Your future self might just be happy that you did!