When you join Toastmasters you get a book called “Competent Communicator.” In this book there are prompts for ten speeches, and it’s a good thing to get all ten of those knocked out.
Each speech has a purpose, the first was just to get you up there (the icebreaker). The second is to focus on organizing (in case you just rambled the first time up, I suppose), and the third is called, “to the point.” In this speech you have a general and a specific purpose (not as in The Jerk’s special purpose).
I think I feel more comfortable when I start talking and no one expects to leave feeling as though they have a purpose, because that means I can jabber endlessly without a purpose – and I clearly enjoy doing that.
Today on my drive into work I didn’t really notice the mountains. I didn’t really notice the sky. I didn’t really notice my house, the neighborhood, or just how short and nice my commute is.
That’s kind of disappointing, isn’t it?
Just a few months ago, when I moved out here, every day I drove into work it was practically a gift. My commute here is MUCH shorter than it used to be, and on top of that, it’s about as beautiful a backdrop to a commute as someone could ask for.
And yet here I am, already taking all of that for granted.
My speech today is supposed to have an objective. ‘What do you want the audience to be able to do after listening to your speech?’
When I was trying to think of what to talk about, I realized that I didn’t have any particular purpose that I wanted all of you to leave here with – but I did know something that I wanted to work on. And that’s to be more mindful, because it is far too easy for amazing and beautiful things to become normal, to become things that can be taken for granted or seen as normal.
If any of you also want to try and be more appreciative of the present, I’d like to share three things that I’m going to try to help achieve a little more mindfulness.
The first thing is a trick to put myself in a better state of mind.
It’s almost summer now, and with that we will soak up those rays of sun, enjoy warm weather, being outside, maybe getting to work on some outdoor project. One thing I’m excited about is being able to take a kayak out on a lake with a little packed lunch. I could paddle out to a spot where I’ll feel isolated on the water and stare at the mountains as I chomp down on my food.
During those times, life is good.
But I know myself. I know that not long after it’s continuously warm I’ll be thinking, “all right warm weather … that’s a BIT much. Let’s take it down a notch, eh?” Soon I’ll be fantasizing about fall, the colors of fall, pumpkin-flavored everything, heck, pumpkin pie itself composed of about 60% whipped cream, the return of long sleeves, and crisp air that cools my face as I jog.
And then from there I’ll think of winter. The walk from my house to the mailbox and back is the perfect distance to put you in the right mood for hot chocolate.
There I’ll be, baking in the sun daydreaming about the nice parts of winter. Which is fine, but it’s not making me appreciate the fact that I’m in the middle of the kind of daydream I was having only a few short months ago.
The trick, then, is to take myself to the past, but not to fantasize it. I want to think about the past where I was hoping and wanting this very moment. I’ll think about the bad parts of the opposite season – and then it makes me appreciate what I have in this moment. I need to remember that biting cold of winter – waking up in a cold house, the sky being dark at 5:30 pm, and my hands were dry and my feet could practically be ice packs when I get in bed at night.
And that could be applied to so much more than weather. Don’t focus on where you are now and compare that to where you want to be next, focus on now and where you’ve come from to get here.
Next up is mealtime. Talk about an easy thing to take for granted.
Think back on the last meal you had. After you took a bite, what were you thinking about? The news? Conversation? The next bite? What you need to get done? Did you put your utensils down?
One trick for appreciating your food more is to put your utensils down between each bite. If you keep the fork, or whatever, in your hand, you’re thinking about your next bite. The meal is not something you are enjoying and appreciating, but something you are getting done. Putting the utensil down also gives your body time to realize that you’ve already had enough to eat – you don’t need to go for it on those last ten bites.
Vegetables are one thing I should be more appreciative. When I was a kid I assumed the only reason grown-ups liked them was because all their taste buds had died.
There was one time, my whole family was at the dinner table. I only had broccoli left on my plate … this was the only thing keeping me from desert. When I was sure no one was looking I snagged the broccoli off my plate and started to slouch down in my seat. I was being pouty so this was just emphasizing my mood. As I slouched further and further I was finally able to reach the floor – I quickly shoved the broccoli under the leg of the table then sat back up. “I’m ready for desert now, please!” My WHOLE FAMILY saw me do that! They ALL knew I was lying!
And now I actually request broccoli with dinner. I really ought to be more appreciative of how far I’ve come there. If you had similar feelings toward vegetables – enjoy them more! Appreciate where you are!
Slow down at meal times, put your utensils down between bites, and the meal will be better.
The last, but certainly not least, trick for appreciating the life you have is to help others. This doesn’t even need to be volunteering – help can be given everywhere you go.
And you’re surrounded by people who need help. Is there someone relatively new to work around you? Smile at that person. Recognize how scary and new everything is. Do you have some hobby and someone you know is trying to learn that? Make it known if you’ve got advice if they want it. Helping people can make you appreciate what you have – skills, kindness, patience, whatever it is, you’ve got something.
I can tell all of you who were here when I joined – that you certainly helped me. I’m going to let you in on a secret – software engineers are not the most socially engaging, welcoming, warm crowd. I was new here and missing my friends from back in Texas and I came to this club and everyone was smiling, and friendly, and nice. That was great, and I bet all of you did it without a second thought.
The next time you’re kind to someone, or you help, even if it’s in the smallest of ways, take a moment to pat yourself on the back, and think back on a time when someone showed you some kindness, and just appreciate how, despite it being such a simple thing, helping people can generate such a great feeling.
Mindfulness. It’s tough. Living in the moment, all the time, would be incredibly draining. It’s somewhat of a shame, but we’re simply too busy to be appreciative all the time.
But that shouldn’t stop you, or me, from taking time to be appreciative.
Think about your past self, and how much you looked forward to the point where you’d be where you are today. Take time to think about that, instead of always where you want to be.
The next time you eat – slow down. Put the fork down, close your eyes, and focus on that bite.
Think about helping others, in big or small ways, recognize that help, and seek opportunities to continue to help.
Hopefully everyone will leave here today remembering at least one of these little tricks to help with being mindful of the present, and you can be a little more appreciative and happy.