Everyone’s recently talking about the power of mindfulness. After a fashion, I had jumped on that bandwagon myself in arguing that mindfulness, as attention focused on a single task, may well be the NZT of Real Life.
There is an aspect of that whole story that gives a twist that should not be forgotten, however:
Mindfulness, in all its association with psychology as well as Buddhist meditation, seems like serious business.
It’s yet another one of those practices that come with admonishments and earnestness.
Be mindful of this-and-that.
Make sure you concentrate, focus, increase your awareness.
Set aside time to practice, and practice all the more when you don’t have time, for then you’ll need it the most.
Control your thoughts.
All the while, the easiest way to be mindful in and of what you are doing is not to focus on yourself, your activity, let alone your desire to pay attention to it. Rather, it is doing what you do as fun.
We all probably know the situation, just aren’t entirely aware of it.
Do something because you feel that you have to do it, and you will be extremely mindful of that activity.
Your awareness will hardly waver from it (unless maybe if you distract yourself with music or the like), but only because you will hate every second of it, be conscious of every little odious detail of what it requires you to do, intimately know every little step you dislike about it.
Do something you have come to see as fun, however, and you may very well get into it completely, into a state of flow so deeply immersed that there seems to be nothing but the doing.
There is no more conscious attention, but you are all the more mindful of the activity for there is basically nothing that fills your mind – there is not even a feeling of “your mind” – but the activity.
This can be easy, or it can be very difficult.
It is unfortunately easy with things that we may not want ourselves to be having quite so much fun, be it mindful or mindless, with.
“Fun and games” does it well. Bad habits, done without much thought, do, too.
We can also, however, find and define the fun of things that are also better for us.
Sports, fitness, physical skills, done not because you have to but because it’s nice to move and play and explore, are one good and necessary example. (The New York Times’ Well blog went there a while ago, writing that “Losing Weight May Require Some Serious Fun“.)
Cooking, if managing to do it not while having to quickly get something on the table that everyone will like (or that is better than ever or anyone else’s), but as an experiment and a fun learning experience.
Learning, not because the next assignment is due or you fear for your job if you don’t sharpen your skills, but because it’s always good to know more and fun to learn more about something of interest.
There are lots of examples, but it all comes down to this:
The most serious and engaged of work is that done with flow, not for fortune or fame or being forced to do it (extrinsic motivation), but because there is a deep purpose and pleasure in its doing (intrinsic motivation).
And one of the greatest purposes and pleasures is the fun of doing something you enjoy doing because it is purposeful and pleasurable to you.
Mindfulness meditation is still something else, by the way. If you want to do that, go ahead. Have fun with it ;)