Sometimes You Have To Use The Little Towel To Get It Right
In my creative phase, I am a wonder to behold. A whirlwind of activity, my brain whizzes from one project to the next, coming up with solutions, insights and next steps, always way too quickly for me to keep up. Frustratingly, I always leave these phases exhausted and annoyed, wishing that I could capture or remember even half of what I have produced.
I’ve always been an easily distracted person. On school report cards year after year, my academic “A” grades were always marred by “C”s and “D”s for “attention to detail”. The constant refrain of my teachers went something like this, “Janeka is a very intelligent child but needs to focus more in class” (with focus frequently double-underlined, circled, written in caps, etc.)
My head-in-the-clouds nature has followed me everywhere, even in the bathroom. I constantly perform my morning and evening ablutions in a cotton-headed daze, my active mind too busy grappling with solving the world’s problems to pay attention to what I am doing. All too often, I leave the bathroom only to find my entire back, a leg, and half an arm remain dripping wet, causing me to have to go back to finish the toweling job.
One morning, in the grip of just such frenzy of thought, I used my time in the shower to give my mind free reign. Drying off in that abstracted state, I suddenly snapped back to the present with the realization that I was busily dabbing myself with my small face towel. Annoyed at my addle-headedness, I sentenced myself to finish drying off with the few square inches of terry-cloth the small towel afforded me. And something wonderful happened.
Because I did not have much towel real estate to work with, I found myself having to put forward more effort to ensure that I dried the entire landscape of my body. As I worked from head to toe, I found my thoughts also flowing in a more orderly fashion. No longer did they push, shove, and scramble over each other in a fight to be noticed, but rather I could see, process, and dispose of each one in correspondence with my attention to detail in the task at hand.
For the first time in ages, I stepped out of the bathroom and into my clothing without the disconcerting feeling of a swampy back. When I sat down in my home office to work, I noticed something else. All the ideas that would otherwise be running riot through my mind flowed from brain to pen neatly and politely – in no time I had scheduled out my entire week, complete with a starter pack of notes as jumping off points.
I idly thought to myself “Wow, I should use the small towel every day!” Then I started to understand what had happened. By making myself take a close-up view of the job at hand, I was able to eliminate distractions and become more efficient. Using the big towel allowed me to just throw it over myself and hope for the best, but downsizing to the small towel forced me to narrow my focus and really apply myself to what needed to be done. It made me more mindful of my current task, and also helped my brain process other information in a more methodical and meticulous way.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve attention, and there are many, many techniques out there for improving mindfulness in everyday life. I’ve done many of them myself – meditation, yoga, silent retreats, etc. But all of these activities only lasted for a little while before I slowly got sucked into the whirlwind of everyday life.
What my unexpected towel success showed me is that I don’t need to “gear up” for a specific “mindfulness activity”. I don’t have to rely on any of the traditional methods for being mindful. Mindfulness can be applied to any mundane activity, once you can narrow down your focus enough to concentrate on just the task before you, without being overwhelmed or distracted by the entirety of the mountain of tasks.
I’ve been testing out this theory in the days since my revelation. When writing this article, I actually took my laptop under the covers in a darkened room. I turned off the WiFi from the router out in the living room, physically shutting out as many distractions as possible. I tore out a blank page from my notebook to outline the article so that the only notes I had access to were for this piece and this piece alone. I wasn’t 100% successful in staying focused, since along the way I could not help opening up additional documents I’m working on for quick skims and edits, but I did manage to go from concept to first draft in one writing session, instead of stretched over two days of flitting from topic to topic.
If you, like me, struggle to keep your creative brain on the straight and narrow path to productivity, why not try the small towel after your next shower? I’m not guaranteeing that it’ll work for you, but it sure beats flailing around like a mad woman, doesn’t it? If you have an unorthodox approach to mindfulness that works, I’d love to hear about it!