What’s Not on My Mind….

Just last night, I was cleaning my water distiller and not focused on the moment, at all. I had an impending call and my mind was not where it should be. After looking deep within the stainless-steel cauldron of my distiller, I noticed thick gunk stuck to the bottom and assumed that it was just debris from the tap water. I wrote a friend, who reminded me of what I already knew: the gunk was likely the good minerals the distilling process removes.

How did I lose the plot on basic information learned in a fifth-grade science class? I was not in the moment. As entrepreneurs, we often lose the plot in our quest to accomplish more in less time. We live in a world of multiple attentions trying to focus on multiple distractions simultaneously. Tonight, I had this newsletter in progress while testing an application, planning a board meeting and cleaning a distiller—all ongoing in the same 90-minute span.  And I’m a business coach who knows better.

We live in the past and the future, but neither are reality. Reality exists only in the present. And my reality, at that moment, was cleaning a distiller. The rest was either past or future, but not the reality of the present moment. And something cracked. Luckily for me, it was only fifth grade science that exited the “building” of my cluttered brain.

Researcher Chris Bailey said that our minds are focused on the past 12% of the time; the future 48% of the time and the present moment only 28% of the time.

As famed business coach Dan Sullivan wrote (ironically last night), we have a way of optimizing our memories and experiences that makes past, present, and future seem equally real. “Some memories we call the past and some we call the future, but they’re both just ideas.”

We don’t exist in those memories; we only exist in the present. The only “space” we can control is the present moment of our minds. The only place we can take any action is in the present. The only way we can lose the plot in the present is to have our mind occupied in the past or future.

Marcus Aurelius, my favorite Roman emperor next to the colorful Constantine (who saw himself as the fulfillment Plato’s “philosopher king” prophecy) said “the happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” If our thoughts are negative or not in the moment, we are missing a shot at joy.

If the present is the only space we can control, act and even experience joy, how do we learn to optimize our brains to remain in this space?

Mental toughness. Our brain is a muscle and if we don’t discipline it and force it to stay present, it will wander from shiny object to shiny object like a loose dog in a Madrid park.

To help train his mind, Sullivan builds every day around a positive achievement. Something he can complete in that day. He leaves no task for the day undone. This focuses his attention on that task, in the moment. He must get it done by the end of the day, so his mind focuses energy to make that happen.

Other strategies include meditation, writing with the opposite hand, or mixing up routines. The only way, however, to stay in the moment is to force your brain to do it.

I highly recommend you watch Chris Bailey’s TEDx speech on how to get our brains to focus. It could help keep your fifth-grade science lessons from leaving the building.