productivity,  writer

how to be mindful in small chunks

6 min read

Life can be crazy sometimes. Always too much going on together. We’re always caught up in big projects, with no time for anything. I understand when people say they can’t make time for things like reading, writing, exercising, and (goddamnit) just having a cup of coffee in silence for a minute, to clear the mind, you know? But I think there’s a way to change that.

I was watching a soccer game on TV the other day, and it’s been a while I don’t care about soccer anymore, especially the regional championship games in Brazil. They are usually too boring compared to more exciting games like the ones in the Champions League or in the World Cup, where you actually see the players giving their best to win. I don’t know. That might be an unfair statement, but that’s how I feel.

Anyway. I was watching it. Idly. Looking at the TV screen. About to drool. Kinda rooting for my favorite team, too. And it wasn’t something I wanted to be doing with my time. But I was. And in the middle of my complete boredom, I started observing player by player as they had the ball in their feet. I started looking at the game differently because of that. I observed how they moved, how they controlled the ball, how they lost it, how they behaved, their role in the game, and their attitude. And I started to enjoy it.

Because, think about it. What do you expect in a game? Scores, winning, movement, and excited narrator screaming in our ears instead of a dull one filling his narration with monotone announcements of the next shows in the channel later on or just fun facts about the teams that are playing. All that exactly because the game is boring af. But that’s the big picture. What if you focus on identifying the team strategy, the position of the players, the ability of one player, in particular, the rules of the game… In other words, what if you stop caring about the final result and start observing the small pieces of the machine?

“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”

Cal Newport

As a writer, I tend to do a lot of observation in my life, like, in that game, I would even observe the surface of grass, the weather, something interesting for a story. But I never realized how that habit could affect the way I… live!

So I had two insights with all that:

  • One, (that already knew) even the most boring thing can be interesting and useful if you extract something from it, or if think of something else either directly or indirectly related to it.
  • And two, that when you stop looking at the big picture for a while, and focus on small chunks of something, you reorganize your brain to new perspectives and new expectations. And it can turn out to be extremely beneficial.

And I thought, What if I apply that to other areas of life? Any big thing can be as boring as a 90-minute bad-played soccer game. And like the players that make me find soccer dull lately, we can fall into the bad habit of being mediocre and just get things done to finally see the big picture painted.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing lately. We’re entering the game to fill the 90 minutes of it, instead of playing the game. Does it make any sense?

So, what if we break that into small chunks with a new view, and give more attention and care to these extracted or disassembled pieces. Each time we have the ball, we put some effort into it, and we only pass it when we do what we have to do.

The big picture then turns into a natural and consequential outcome, and not the actual goal anymore. We can change everything in our lives with that, like making time for good habits.

Yea, make time. Because it’s easier these days to accommodate 10 minutes of our day to sit and do something mindful instead of dedicating a whole 90-minute block to it. You’re reading this post, you might go scrolling social media later. You have these 10 minutes. How do you use them depends on you.

I’ll give you some examples of what I’m talking about. You must know we can break a high project into tasks, right? That’s the most common thing in our jobs.

Think of a house for instance. The building project is made of small projects that have to be perfectly executed in a certain order and timeframe. First, there’s the foundation, there’s a time for the water pipes, the electricity, the walls, the ceiling, etc. and if those small chunks are not well executed, well built, we won’t have a house at the end of the house won’t stand.

So my idea here is that we don’t think we’re building a house, but work to build the parts that will make a house at the end. Just that. So, here’s what else we can do:

  • We can break a 600-page book reading into scenes or ideas. It gets even more immersive. We can also break it into 280 characters, I don’t know. Isn’t that how we read tweets? Read small meaningful chunks.
  • We can also break a movie into acts, or minutes. When we watch a series, each episode is usually 20, 40, or 60 minutes long. But isn’t a series a huge movie after all if you put everything together? What if we pause the movie at the end of the first act and watch the second act later?
  • We can break writing a whole book into just writing scenes or ideas at each session. Then pause it, do life things, and go back later.
  • We already break learning into topics. That’s another idea.

And you might think that you can’t do that because you won’t remember where you were or you’ll lose the train of thought. But you won’t if you do this right. And I’d say it can increase the quality of those things.

So my point here is that we tend to see everything like a giant daunting machine. But if we focus mindfully on each part, on each piece, and we figure out a way to find enough completion and absorption in small chunks, we’ll see the whole thing assembled the same way at the end but better.

By doing that, we can avoid mediocrity. We might change our minds about the machine in the end. Like a dull soccer game that can turn into an interesting topic after all.

What do you think?

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