Posted On 22 Jul 2011
Living better is simple: just do one thing at a time.
You’re probably familiar with this idea, but you may underestimate its importance. For example, are you clear about why doing one thing at a time reduces time stress?
Since stress comes from simultaneously being pulled in opposite directions, aligning the previously opposed forces automatically reduces stress [see http://dennis-bradford.com/1074/stress-relief-exercises/]. If you practice implementing this idea when engaging in routine tasks, you’ll quickly feel a lot better.
For example, let’s suppose that you wash the dishes daily. As you are washing them, you think back over your life to how many times you have already washed the dishes. What a waste! Shouldn’t you have been doing more important work?
Since you don’t enjoy washing them, you think ahead to all the times in the future when you must wash them. You dread having to wash them every day for the rest of your life.
Besides, there are plenty of present tasks that are better you could be doing if you didn’t have to wash the dishes. You could be having sex or reading a book or watching a movie. The more quickly you rush through the dishes, the more quickly you can be living a more enjoyable life.
Of course, some of your attention, too, must be put into what you are doing. Lest you break a wine glass, you do need to pay some attention to the washing.
Is this a familiar description of how you engage in routine activities?
Were you doing one thing at a time?
Obviously not: in addition to paying some attention to what you were actually doing, you were remembering the past, dreading the future, and desiring to be elsewhere. Instead of being focused on one thing at a time, your thought was scattered in four different directions!
No wonder washing the dishes is so stressful. So, if you let them, are brushing your teeth, walking down a hallway, cleaning your house, or getting dressed. All routine and all boring!
That’s a foolish way to live. Why not enjoy routine tasks? Why not enjoy life?
Remember how it was the first time your mother permitted you to wash the dishes? It was fun! Playing in that warm, soapy water and proving that you could do it without breaking a wine glass was an enjoyable, challenging experience. It certainly wasn’t boring.
Once you practice doing one thing at a time, washing dishes need never be boring again. The reality is that each experience has never happened before and will never happen again.
The only reason you are ever bored is because you are misusing your mind. That’s the only reason anyone is ever bored.
What has happened is that you have unintentionally gotten into a terrible habit, namely, instead of taking experiences one at a time, you have been using the present moment as if it were nothing but a stepping stone to the future. The implicit assumption is that, since the future may be better than now, let me rush through the present moment to get to the future.
That is the height of foolishness. Why?
The future never arrives! It is always now. It is impossible to experience the future. The future is unreal; it is nothing but an imaginary thought you are thinking now. You have foolishly been preferring a conceptual phantom to the wondrous fullness of the present moment!
The present moment is the only time we ever get. The future always appears as present, doesn’t it?
We all make the same mistake. To become wise, simply stop making it.
Really taking one thing at a time means never treating the present moment as if it were nothing but a means to some future end. How? Focus fully only on what you are doing. How? Practice as continuously as possible.
Objection: doesn’t this mean that you cannot prepare for the future? Reply: No. When planning for the future, do nothing except plan for the future! Preparing is a task that also can be done one thing at a time.
Once you get good at only doing one thing at a time, think how much your sex life will improve or how much more you will enjoy eating or even just walking!
Practicing one thing at a time is a very clever way to live better. It’s simple. Anyone can do it.
[For more on this topic, I recommend the books and audio programs of Eckhart Tolle.]