You may be curious about what I meant in my title by “you don’t want to miss it….”
“Miss what,” you ask? Anything! Everything! Great shoes on sale. A cloud in the shape of a giraffe. The love of your life.
There’s a hilarious meme that swept social media recently. It’s a photo of a man drinking coffee at Starbucks. The caption says, “I saw a guy at Starbucks today. He had no smartphone, no tablet or laptop. He just sat there drinking his coffee. Like a psychopath.”
I mean, just about everyone who saw that got the joke. Which means we all understood—the joke’s on us! We are the ones who spend our lives glued to a screen— maybe even when we’re sitting at a café on the Champs Élysées or taking a walk with our toddler.
We are often so preoccupied with being connected that we miss being connected. Our “virtual” connections rob us of real connections to people, places, the beautiful and funny and poignant moments that happen around us all the time.
Being present and accounted for in this moment might mean reading this blog on your phone but I hope that the moment after that, you look up. What do you see? Who do you see?
Whatever happened to catching someone’s eye across the train station? Those moments shared with a stranger that enrich us incrementally through our lives. A sympathetic look from another mom who gets what you’re going through. An appraising glance from someone who thinks you look pretty handsome today. A smile from someone having a great day who can take that good feeling and pay it forward. To us.
If we look up.
People who want to meet someone could easily miss an opportunity to smile or say hello to a likely candidate at the park, in line at the market, or in the elevator, simply by having their nose in their phone.
Don’t get me wrong. Technology is great. It can open doors that never used to even be there. Doors to other people across town or across the world who we might want to date, hire, or purchase a gently used pair of cross country skis from. Doors to opportunities, information, and, yes, merchandise!
At this point we really can’t live without technology, and we would not want to go back. But you know how when you leave home and forget your phone and it’s akin to forgetting your clothes? You feel naked, vulnerable, even scared—what will I do? What will I miss? The extremity of our reactions to being without technology for a run to the corner store… that’s a little scary. Don’t you think? No judgments, honestly—it happens to me too. I start panicking and then I think, “Seriously? Get a grip, Betty!”
I bet this has happened to you, too— you’re trying to speak with someone who is constantly looking at a phone. Maybe your boyfriend even answers a text as you talk. Or your girlfriend smiles at something—but not what you said. Trust me these people cannot hear you. Technology-induced deafness. Does it make you feel less than when you do not have someone’s undivided attention?
I can’t help thinking of my eldest daughter when she was a little girl. She used to say, as she spoke to me, “Mommy, look at me!” Cringing in retrospect, I remember telling her, “I can hear you. I don’t have to look at you to hear you.” It’s obvious to me now that she was picking up on what was invariably true: I wasn’t really giving her my attention if I was doing something else. If I’d had an iPhone back then, would I have sat at the playground and looked at it instead of watching my children play? I hope not, but not knowing for sure makes me a bit uneasy.
We all want to been seen and heard. And we all deserve that. When we stop just for a nanosecond and look at someone as he or she is speaking, giving undivided attention, we are sending a message. The message is this: “You are worthy.” When I look into the eyes of the young man at the Whole Foods checkout line and smile as I say thanks, he looks back, and I get the most surprising and pleasant smile in return. It’s a nice moment of seeing each other. Feeling validated by another busy person in a busy, busy world.
There is no such thing as multi-tasking. Don’t kid yourself. There have been a number of studies that have proven this beyond a doubt. Yup, despite what we like to tell ourselves, our brains can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Paying attention means giving close and careful observation to something. When you are halfway reading a recipe for meringue and halfway listening to your partner explain about her bad day, the meringue will be flat and so, in time, will the relationship.
Paying attention is not necessarily a no-brainer—so it might take practice. Here are some things to remember.
Be neutral and nonjudgmental. Just look around and be open to people, surroundings, experiences.
Be aware. Look at things closely. Notice the details. Not just “bird” but bird with white underwings and a yellow tipped beak.
Set your intention to be present. This might mean that you leave your phone in the car for fifteen minutes and say to yourself, “I’m going to notice every face on this street as I walk to the bank.”
Slow down. What’s the rush?
Make eye contact. I have to tell you, the return on investment for this one is HUGE. I love it! You will not believe the amazing connections you make—even the fleeting ones with strangers are special.
Mirror. When you are talking or listening to people, mirror their breath, their tone.
Call people by name. The barista making your coffee has a name tag on – use it.
Do one thing at a time and give it your undivided attention. Does that mean no more Candy Crush in the checkout line? Well, maybe sometimes? Try it.
So let’s do this little experiment to pay more attention, shall we? We’ll start by putting down our phones—just for a minute—to see what that’s like. Let’s spend some time every day following some of the tips above so we can pay attention to the people and things around us. The salsa band playing on the subway platform. Look at each one of them, listen to the instruments, enjoy the serendipity of unexpected music. The squirrel sitting at the other end of your park bench. You would not have seen it had you been looking down at your phone or even talking on your Bluetooth. Or just pause… to notice what is going on inside you. What are you feeling? Thinking? How are you?