Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The "How's" of Mindfulness: One-Mindfully

Last time I talked about being Non-Judgmentally Mindful. Today I want to talk about being One-Mindfully.
"Mindfulness has to do with the quality of awareness that we bring to what we are doing and experiencing, to being in the here and now. It has to do with learning to focus on being in the present, to focusing our attention on what we are doing and what is happening in the present. We have to learn to control our attention. Many of us are distracted by images, thoughts and feelings of the past, perhaps dissociating, worrying about the future, negative moods and anxieties about the present. It's hard to put these thing away and concentrate on the task at hand.

So the One-mindfulness skill is an effort to help us focus our attention on the here and now, to be able to absorb the DBT information and take part in the present. Please do not judge yourselves about this. This can be a difficult skill for people to learn. It requires lots of practice and willingness. Be patient with yourself.” [source]

Put simply to be of one mind, means to do one thing at a time. If you’re like me your mind often runs at top speed, barreling through a dozen different issues at once. It’s no wonder everything always feels so hectic. One-mindfulness asks you to slow this down. All things will continue to be there in the future. In the now, right now, just pick one. If you’re eating, just eat. If you’re with a group of people, or having a conversation, just focus your attention on that moment.

DBT has roots in Buddhist meditation and this is one place I see it most strongly. If other thoughts or actions distract you, note them, but try to let them go. This is not easy. It takes practice.

One-mindfully is sustained attention in the present moment. This helps develop concentration. It also makes things more manageable. When you’re staring at a mountain of worries, it can be overwhelming. When you focus on one thing at a time, you realize that things are manageable. Doing one thing at a time decreases your anxiety by allowing your mind to focus on one thing, pushing preoccupation about everything else into the background.

Make no mistake. Letting go of distractions, distracting thoughts, intrusive memories, can be difficult. You may be only able to concentrate on one thing for a short time before some other thought jumps into your head unbidden. Push it away. Allow yourself to refocus on what you were previously doing. Do this over and over. It does take practice, but you can get there. And you’ll begin to see the calmness that comes with doing only one thing at a time.

Awareness of your attention gives you the opportunity to direct it to one thing or another. Distractions will come from all directions. Let distractions go and turn your mind toward what you are doing. Returning to what you are doing is powerful. A deceptively simple strategy when you find your thoughts wandering astray is to say to yourself, “Be here now” and turn your mind toward what you are doing.

Concentrate your mind.

Concentration is the gathering of the mind, bringing all the parts together, uniting the mental faculties. Attention is focusing on a selected object. Intuition, desire, and curiosity naturally concentrate your mind. Concentration is one of the qualities of Wise Mind.
If you find you are doing two things at once, stop and go back to one thing at a time.
Focusing on one thing in the moment does not mean that one cannot do complex tasks requiring many simultaneous activities. Like the dancer on the dance floor, at one with the music and her partner, attend completely to what you are doing. Dancing integrates many processes – listening, moving, looking, and balance, but you are still doing only one thing.” [source]

You may think that just doing one thing at a time is easier said than done. In this day and age everything is so often hectic and rushed. You may feel pressured to multi-task and do many things at one time just to get everything in. I’m very guilty of this. However, the reality of this is, that when your mind is focuses on many things at once, your attention to quality is also divided. If you focus 100% on one thing, you are putting all of your effort into producing something with undivided quality. If you focus on 4 things at once, multi-tasking, it’s impossible to give each task the maximum amount of effort, and therefore the maximum amount of quality you would be able to give it if you were focusing on that thing alone.  One project gets 100% of your attention. Four projects allow each to get about 25% of your attention. Math doesn’t lie.
Some Skills to work on:

Letting go of distractions – Thoughts, worries, strong feelings, fears, memories; all of these things may creep into your mind unbidden and unwanted. Try to let them go. Take a couple deep breaths and with each breathe let each thought or feeling be released. Often these return. So just repeat the process.

Concentrate your mind – Focus on one thing at a time. If you  notice that your attention is divided. That you are doing two things at once. Stop. Choose one, and  continue with that one thing.

Thought Stopping – If you have intrusive or bothersome thoughts or feelings, tell them to go away. As many times as possible. Actively stop yourself. Take note of the thought, tell yourself that it is not helping in this moment, this is not the moment to deal with it, and refocus on the task you had been previously focusing on.

Be careful not to invalidate your thoughts though. One thing that can be helpful is to actually worry. When you decide to worry, just worry. But do it on your own terms. Pick a specific time. Pick a specific place. Pick a specific duration of time. “I’ll go to the den at 7:00pm and worry for ½ an hour”. And for that half an hour let yourself worry about the stressors in your life. Give them their time so that you can take note of them in order to fix them, and once you have given them their time, let them go. Some worries you’ll realize are unfounded, just anxious ruminations of the mind running away with itself. These are unproductive. Others may be very valid life issues and now is a good time to think about them and come up with constructive ways to deal with them. Most importantly, when the time you have set aside to worry is up, stop worrying, and move on to another aspect of your life.
Start small. There’s no rush and no expectation that you will be able to transform your way of thinking over night. Pick a single task to focus on mindfully. One task. Do that one thing.

In time this will allow you to cultivate an inner calmness, away from the turmoil that often sweeps us away.


  1. Another great entry. Ive been doing this consciously for a number of years now. It really started when I started my current career. Because my job requires me to multitask, oftentimes on very different issues/tasks, often very detail oriented and mistakes can seriously injure or kill people (I have a job that is literally about life and death). I had to find a way to handle it all calmly and with sensitivity to those around me. Thankfully, practicing in my working life has bled through somewhat to my personal life. It is getting easier and easier to be present, focusing on the here and now.

    The hard part for me, initially, was being honest with myself and loving with myself. Giving myself room to fail. Not seeing it as failure, but learning. Learning how to be my own loving, gentle taskmaster.

    I can only imagine the high strung mess I would be if I hadnt discovered pot and eastern philosophy in my adolescence/young adulthood. I probably would have killed myself long ago.

    1. It's difficult for me to think about just one thing at work because I lead so many major projects. I really need to cultivate this more though.

      I'm still trying to figure out how to love myself. You're further ahead there than I am. I'm still working on simply accepting myself as I am. I am becoming more forgiving with myself though. I don't take "failure" quite as hard.

      Eastern philosophy has done so much for me in my life. Even if I can't remember the teachings every moment, when I do manage to find a some time I can remember to revisit the wisdom I've learned from it over the years.

  2. It's kind of odd reading this post.

    I only concentrate on one thing at a time and I have been this way since I was a kid. If I am genuinely concentrating people can say something to me and I will respond arbitrarily in the future like it were just said. Arbitrarily like ten minutes to many hours later.

    I just don't do anything when I can't concentrate, too.

    Great post by the way. I wish I weren't too lazy to read older posts.

    1. I wish I was more capable of doing this, which is why I'm working on it. My mind naturally multi-tasks. Amusingly when I'm under extreme pressure or very angry I am much more capable of concentrating on just one thing.

    2. I love feeling a lasting anger. It drives me. I just start doing things instead of procrastinating indefinitely.

      I'm always under extreme pressure in a way. The pressure of boredom and indifference.

    3. i can't imagine the amount of productivity I would have if i had a constant anger. I would get so much done. Unfortunately I have a general belief that the world is the world and only as important as we decide it is.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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