Ever walk into a room and wonder why you’re there? As I say to my wife when she looks up expectantly if I appear and then stop in my tracks, I get distracted by air.
We are flooded by stimuli from the bird soaring overhead, to the vibrating cellphone alerting us to an incoming message, to the lists that run in our heads. We have numerous opportunities to lose track of the principle task we assigned ourselves.
I’ve decided on a mantra to deal with these moments and others through the day: “While I’m here.” Yes, I know that’s not exactly a new turn of phrase and I know it’s a type of mindfulness, but my suggestion is about hearing and responding to the phrase.
For example, I might walk into a drugstore to buy shampoo and conditioner. I might realize, before I head to the checkout line, that “while I’m here,” I might also get some dental floss. After all, it’s not like dental floss spoils and, if you’ve seen the movie “Prelude to a Kiss,” you know the old man, once he returns to his own body, advises the young couple at the beginning of their marriage to floss. After several painful episodes with gums that had previously been a breeding ground for painful bacteria, I can attest to the value of that advice.
If you’re a suburban parent and you’re sitting at another baseball game, at a concert or at a dance recital, let’s imagine you’re waiting for the action to begin. “While you’re here” you might want to talk to the parent sitting near you and ask about his or her life or job.
“Hey, wait,” you say. “You’re in the same industry as I am? I had no idea. Of course, I’d love to write an elaborate freelance article that you’ll feature on the cover of your glossy magazine and that will lead to a long and fruitful business collaboration.”
That might not happen, but it certainly won’t if you dive deep into your cellphone to tell someone in another state that you’re not sure whether you’re going to eat the leftover salad from lunch or order chicken with broccoli from the Chinese restaurant down the street.
Maybe you’re at a job interview and you’ve hit all the talking points. You said your only serious flaw is that you take work so seriously that you won’t rest until you’ve secured whatever victories the company needs to beat its closest rivals.
“While you’re here,” however, you might also want to make sure you ask enough questions about the interviewers, so you know their career paths and so you have a better idea of the people with whom you’ll interact if they offer you the job.
Not all the “while you’re here” moments have to be of immediate benefit to you. You might, for example, be on a beach on one of the final days of summer and a strong wind might blow someone’s hat toward you. “While you’re here” you might want to help that person retrieve it. Or maybe you see a plastic wrapper heading into the water. “While you’re here” you also might want to grab this offensive litter and bring it to a garbage can so that it doesn’t damage a fish or a turtle.
If we consider a few times a day what we can do “while we’re here,” we might not only become more efficient, but we also might make that unexpected trip into the room worthwhile. The moment when we’re trying to recall what drove us into the room can transform into an opportunity … “while we’re here.”