Forty-seven percent: This is the amount of time most of us spend doing one thing while thinking about something else according to research published in 2010 in Science Magazine by investigators Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert. In other words, we spend about half of our lives on autopilot, in our heads, and missing out on our life as it’s happening. What is even more concerning is that those same researchers, who aimed to study the link between mind wandering and happiness levels in over 2,000 adults in the U.S., found that all of this mind wandering is highly correlated with the extent to which we are happy, or, in reality, unhappy. It seems that the more we are lost in our thoughts about the past, the future, or the never-even-going-to-happen, the more likely we are to be unhappy.
As our lives have become more hectic and frenzied; as our responsibilities and expectations have grown; as we have become more attached to our phones, tablets, and laptops; and as we spend too much time trying to escape from what doesn't feel good, we struggle to stay in the moment. We avoid being present and connected with all of our senses to what is happening as it is happening. We miss opportunities to see, hear, taste, smell, and feel the moment-by-moment wonders that life has to offer.
As a psychologist, I get calls everyday from regular folks, like you and me, who are struggling with depression and anxiety, who are dissatisfied in their intimate relationships, or who maybe are just generally discontented with their everyday lives. As a professional who conducts psychological evaluations, my most common referral question is, "Does this client have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?" Common complaints include, “I can’t focus [at home, at work, at school],” “I lose track of [my keys, my wallet, my purse, what I was doing],” “My [partner, family, friends, ] tell me I don't pay attention." Other clients complain their minds are racing, they are “all over the place,” they can't sleep, and they are overwhelmed and frustrated.
So, does everyone have ADHD? No...but as Killingsworth and Gilbert discovered, most of us simply can't pay attention to what's happening within us and around us at least half the time. The funny thing is though, this hasn't always been the case for most of us. If you have ever spent time with babies and small children, you know that they are almost always completely immersed in their present experience. They explore their worlds with wondrous curiosity, touching, tasting, seeing, smelling, and hearing all that they can to absorb everything that their environment has to offer. And these little ones take such pleasure and joy in their moment to moment experience. But many of us lost this capacity as we got older and life became seemingly more complicated (I will talk more about how this happened in future posts).
This is why I have created my "Life as It's Happening" blog series, seminars, and workshops. In both my professional and personal life, I have witnessed over and over again how relearning the ability to stay in the moment with our present experience without judgment significantly improves our ability to cope with daily life struggles. My hope is that my blog and my experiential seminars and workshops will reach as many folks as possible to spark a collective journey toward building resiliency, self-awareness, and connection to both our internal and external experience so that we can experience happiness, joy, and contentment more fully, deeply, and frequently.
Weekly Mindfulness Tip #1: You carry your breath with you everywhere. Use it as an anchor. Follow one full cycle of inhalation and exhalation, concentrating on the physical sensations of the breath in the nose and the rise and fall of chest and abdomen. Do this for 3-5 minutes to fully bring your awareness into the present.
My blog will help you increase your knowledge and understanding of why it is so difficult for us to stay in the present moment; the science and philosophy behind mindful and insight-oriented skills and practices; and how these skills and practices can help combat depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor relational functioning, and a host of other problems. I will also introduce you to strategies for being more mindful and aware in your daily life. The Life as It's Happening half-day seminars and multiple-day workshops will offer the opportunity to not only learn more in theory, but to actively participate in interactive and experiential exercises designed to integrate mindfulness skills and psychotherapeutic interventions targeting thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to become a more resilient, more contented, and happier you for more than only 47% of the time.
Wishing you peace and contentment always,
Dr. Alysia Griffin