The challenge of mindfulness

Mindfulness is hard in many aspects of our culture. I think it’s especially tough in design or other software or product roles since we’re always thinking about, planning for, and building for the future. I read some guidance from a high level consultant that recommended thinking of a problem you need to solve before you do something that doesn’t require much other thought, like going on a walk, and using that time to think of ways to approach the problem.

Can this be effective? Yes. Is there a cost to it? Also yes. It kind of ruins your walk. And it’s hard to turn this off once it becomes a habit. Once I was talking with my therapist about how I tend to ruminate on problems, and she asked if it worked. I think she was asking rhetorically as if she expected me to say no. Also, I really wanted to say no, but the truth was that I have sometimes come up with useful solutions this way. However, I usually find it draining, and much of the time, it doesn’t lead to anything useful.

I learned about the psychology concept of time perspectives a while ago. In that framework, we’re all born focused on the present, and the purpose of education is to make us more future focused. Success in most fields is tied to future focus.

Once you’re in this future focused career path, the most visible rewards (promotions, raises, recognition in the form of kudos) reinforce that future focus, and the costs or sacrifices you make to do it are subtle and easy to ignore. I think I’ve had the same New Year’s resolution for probably 10 years of spending more time with friends and family. A former manager recommended I read Four Thousand Weeks, Time Management for Mortals, and I put that off for a while but eventually did. It was a helpful wakeup call. I make some progress with being more focused on the present here and there. I also backslide occasionally. I find that spending time with my kid is a great way to pull myself back to the present. Also, we definitely experience time-perspective-related conflict when I’m trying to get him out the door to preschool and he stalls to read more books or play with his toys.