Author and educator George Leonard writes in his book Mastery
that most of us can’t avoid doing mundane tasks: from grocery shopping and preparing food, to commuting and the routine aspects of our work.
These everyday chores exist “in between” the major activities and events that really count: beginning a new romantic relationship, completing a project, getting a promotion at work, and so on.
But as Leonard points out, if you stop to think about it, most of life is made up of this in-between time.
He suggests that you can use the practice of mastery, with its emphasis on process rather than product, to be more present during these everyday activities and to reduce the feeling that time is constantly slipping is away from you.
For example, take the experience of washing dishes. You can perform that chore in a hurried and haphazard way, with your main goal being to finish it as quickly as possible.
Or, you can approach it as a kind of meditation or dance.
Here are Leonard’s tips for making the most of washing dishes, or similar routine activities:
Compose yourself: Take a moment to balance and center yourself. Decide on the overall sequence of your work, and then begin.
Pay attention to your movements: Try to maintain full awareness of each motion. Even though your hands are most directly involved while washing dishes, pay attention to the rest of your body as well – especially your abdomen, back, feet, and shoulders.
Don’t rush: You’re going for efficiency and grace in your movements, and there’s no need to rush. Instead of thinking about getting the job done and moving on to something else, stay focused on the moment and the task at hand.
As Leonard notes, the irony of focusing on the process instead of the result is that it “often ends up creating more and better products in a shorter time than does the hurried, excessively goal-oriented rhythm that has become standard in our society.”
In any case, the odds are good that you’ll feel better at the end.