Over the weekend my husband and I had a spare key made for a friend in the building, but the spare didn’t work on our lock. My husband went for a run and tied his working key on his shoelaces. He met me on the way home after his run and I used my key to get us back in the apartment. He then put the non-working, spare key on his keychain thinking it was the working key while the working key went in the hall closet still on his shoe. I love my husband and am thankful everyday he’s in the life. But like every marriage it’s not perfect and this business of misplacing things is one of our common dustups.
This morning looking for the key, running late for work, I wanted to know what I always want to know but never get a satisfactory answer to – why didn’t he think through what he was doing while he was doing it in the first place? Why didn’t he notice that the new key was a shinier gold than the older key? Why didn’t he remember he left the working key on his shoelace? He’ll say he was on to the next thing and I’ll say he wasn’t present in the moment. If he would pay attention in the moment it would save so much time later, I’ll argue. We eventually find whatever it was that was misplaced but (in my mind) never have a satisfactory conclusion because the behavior keeps happening.
How does this man function at work, I sometimes wonder. But I know my husband is a conscientious employee. I’ve heard it directly from his managers over the years. I remember one manager of an extremely fast- paced workplace where details mattered specifically telling me that my husband seldom made mistakes. (This is information managers have volunteered, just to be clear – I have never asked.) Who is this man who looks just like my husband who remembers things? I’d like to take him home.
Believing that one should have well informed perspectives I set out to find some empirical research on mindfulness, commonly defined as being present in the moment. Was I right? Was it better to be present or on to the next thing? I found that some researchers argue there could be a benefit to “automaticity” because it “saves time and frees the mind for more important tasks” and others argue that “automatic thought…may have problematic consequences.” I’ve observed, anecdotally, more of the later.
Research also suggests mindfulness is associated with all sorts of positive outcomes such as increased self-regulation and, as you would expect, enjoying the moment. One study found that if you’re mindful while eating chocolate you enjoy it more than if you’re trying to eat chocolate while engaging in another activity at the same time.
Should you choose mindfulness rest assured that research has also shown that mindfulness is not a genetic predisposition you’re stuck with. Mindfulness can be cultivated.
Decide for yourself. Automaticity? Or, I would suggest, planning for the future but being present now because it is now that determines how your future will unfold.