On doing one thing at a time

A Coll de Rates? — a friendly neighbour asked as I walked out on the street with my bicycle. “Sí, a Tárbena” — I responded. I was happy my planned route exceeded the neighbour’s guess by more than 100%.

When I reached the climb I hit play on a work related podcast and put the phone back into the jersey’s back pocket. On this ride I needed to get out of my own thoughts and rather listen to someone else’s. I replayed an episode I discussed with a colleague on a call earlier that day.

It was clear from the first pedal strokes of the ride that it won’t be a fast ride. The legs were shaky, completely off. Mind was wandering in all directions while at the same time trying to absorb the wise tips coming from the earphones. In the end I cut the ride short by a few kilometres. I sometimes do this. Out of laziness or listening to my body. I like to believe it’s the latter.

Doing the one thing properly

I often combine listening to a podcast with cooking, stretching, or cycling. There are other combinations I fall into. Thinking of why I do it, I came up with 2 hypothesis:

  • I don’t appreciate the primary activity enough, I approach it as an obligation and I do whatever makes them seem “pass quickly”.
  • I see room to be “more productive” and I don’t want to miss the opportunity. While legs are pushing into the pedals, why would I not recruit an idle brain and ears to listen to a podcast?

Both points are a trap, so I now focus on not doing multiple things at once. Or at least being aware when I’m about to do so and then giving or not giving myself a conscious permission.

Good things happen when I only do one thing at the same time:

  • The stretching is more proper.
  • The cycling is a more wholesome activity.
  • The cooking is more creative, enjoyable and I free from any worry.

Take for example this risotto I made this week, focused solely on cooking itself. It was delicious. And had I not been distracted by the thought of taking the photo, I wouldn’t have forgotten to chop the dried tomatoes, los tomates secos.

risotto with dried tomatoes

My “in the moment” activities

There are some activities during which my mind doesn’t wander, I don’t worry about past or future and I’m in the moment.

Cooking

This happens with any meal that is more complex than boiling pasta in hot water and putting cheese and tuna on it. Cutting ingredients is my favourite part. I find it close to meditating. When I focus on cooking I do less mistakes and come up with new ideas for combinations.

Learning Spanish

Recently this has been through Duolingo app and through reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. Both require my full attention. If I didn’t focus, I would run out of “lives” on Duolingo in a blink of an eye, or wouldn’t understand anything in the book. My mind often drifts away when reading an English book.

Working out in a gym

I only started going to a gym this year. I have to concentrate on doing the repetitions correctly. Otherwise the workout would be inefficient or I could get injured. There’s also a social aspect — I don’t want anyone roll their eyes over my poor technique. So I better focus on each rep.

Reducing clutter

I can spend hours sifting through things, removing what’s not needed and improving the space that way. It can be a room or a drawer. Today I spent more than two hours decluttering our laundry/storage room. It brought me enormous satisfaction.This can apply to digital objects as well. For example removing parts of this article, reducing noise at work or eliminating nonessentials from the product I work on.

The beginner’s mind

In the first three activities — cooking, learning Spanish and working out in a gym — it’s easy to apply the concept of beginner’s mind. Because I’m not advanced in them, they need my full attention. I’m in the moment.

I don’t have the beginners mind on a bicycle anymore. I could restore that attitude if I went back to having a structured training plan, or do more challenging rides. I could also concentrate on making each pedal stroke perfect. There’s more than 5000 of them in a short one-hour ride.

I see 3 ways how I could spend more time “in the moment”:

  • find new activities and topics where I would be a beginner.
  • spend more time cooking, learning Spanish, going to a gym, and decluttering spaces.
  • identify activities I already spend a lot of time with and approach them with the beginner’s mind. At the moment I’m not sure how exactly do this, but I’ll try to find out.

Your turn

During which activities are you are 100% in the moment? Let me know. I’d be also curious to hear which activities you still approach with the beginner’s mind even though you are no longer new to it.

You can message me at hola@michaluhnak.com .


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