This year I’ve noticed something within me compelling me to slow down. It may be age, for my like-aged friends agree.
It’s not that we want to stop working or being exuberantly involved in life. Rather, we want to cling to, be immersed in and more fully savor each passing moment.
I want to feel life, not just race through it. My internal compass is begging me to stress less about the future and get lost in the doing of things.
Yet there is a strong and contrary ethos in our society: We do many things not for the sake of doing them but so that we can get something else or be somewhere else.
We are told to get good grades, not for the sake of learning, but so that we will get into college. We aspire to get a good job, not necessarily for the pleasure of the work or making a contribution, but so that we can afford a big house and nice things.
When I thought about it, I saw that we are also instructed to manage our diabetes this way. We are told to control our blood sugar so that we don’t get complications. To eat less and exercise more so we lose weight. To lose weight so we become less insulin resistant and our other vitals improve.
Yet countless studies show that doing things for their own sake — as opposed to seeing them as a means to something else — makes us happier and more contented.
Social scientist George Leonard calls this oneness with our actions in his book,Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment, “getting lost in the practice.”
According to Leonard, bringing our mindful attention to our actions and appreciating what we’re doing for its own sake, is a path to mastery. In other words, we will improve and get where we want to go by being more present in whatever we’re doing.
Imagine being encouraged by your health professional to do your diabetes tasks as caring and nurturing acts and without judgment. I believe managing diabetes would be less freighted with guilt, shame, fear and failure — and, we would become more masterful reaping better management and better outcomes.
Being “lost in the practice” doesn’t mean being forgetful or inattentive. Quite the opposite. It means being fully present, being one with what you are doing. In this space, or lack of, there is no room for berating, judging and criticism.
By eating mindfully you begin to notice what you eat, how it tastes and how it makes you feel. Quite naturally you are likely to begin making more healthful choices.
Taking a walk, mindful of the activity, you feel the breeze and your body growing stronger. You see something notable along the path.
Checking your blood sugar “lost in the practice” becomes an act of cherishing yourself. Your numbers offer helpful guidance only.
I would encourage you to “get lost in the practice” when you perform your next diabetes task. Slow down, take a deep breath, focus on what you’re doing, smile and tell yourself you are happy to be taking care of yourself, that there is no pressure and no need to be perfect. Be singularly absorbed in the task for the sake of the task, the act of loving yourself and nothing more.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the founders of positive psychology, describes being one with what one is doing as “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi discovered that when we are completely absorbed in an activity we feel stronger, in complete control and at the peak of our ability.
Performing your diabetes management in “flow” or “lost in the practice,” your senses are heightened. And while your thoughts aren’t on creating future positive health, your management and your health will almost assuredly improve.
It is in “getting lost” that we actually find a doorway to greater strength. It is in the slowing down that we actually end up going faster.
Originally published in The Huffington Post.