Living in the moment

Everything seems to be about metrics these days. In the name of prosperity, we are encouraged and pushed to continuously time, weigh, and assess ourselves and our accomplishments. And I have to say while I find it quite fascinating, I frankly also find it a bit off-putting.

It first struck me many years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. I was constantly being weighed and measured during my prenatal check-ups, which I of course understand. We want our children to be born healthy and the prenatal care in Finland is among the best in the world, and Finland also boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates globally. However, I found it slightly irritating at the time because it was always followed by a discussion that invariably made me feel inadequate. If the baby had a growth spurt since my last check-up I would get a talk about how I shouldn’t eat too much and how soft drinks just make the baby fat, and if the baby hadn’t put on a lot of weight I would get a talk about needing to eat properly. It seems to me that nothing in this world naturally develops in a neat linear progression, babies certainly don’t; and as for my pregnancy, I felt good, I didn’t gain too much weight (I never drank soft drinks because I just didn’t want to), and at the end of the pregnancy I gave birth to a healthy baby. But I felt frustrated to be so scrutinized by health officials, even though everything was fine. And for my baby, it seems little has changed. In school her height and weight is constantly followed up (as it is for all students) and is accompanied with a discussion of her eating habits. Public health care in Finland is of high quality and this is of course an admirable and important attempt to capture bad habits and possible eating disorders, of which my child by the way has neither, but it just strikes me that in this case these discussions make an issue of something that is not.

However it isn’t only about health care. In today’s society we are so obsessed with the concept of efficiency and growth that we measure everything ad absurdum. We do it at work and we do it in our free time. We measure the minutes of the day and the week and how often or how much time we spend doing or consuming different things. We measure how far we go and how fast we move. We count our friends and connections and how many likes we get. It goes on and on and every additional little thing we are told to measure adds a bit to my stress levels because it is just one more thing to follow up.

But it’s interesting, because while we are obsessed with becoming faster, better, and more efficient, research tells us that this constant streamlining actually defeats its purpose. According to scientific studies, it turns out that efficiency comes from slowing down, reflecting, and being in the moment. For example, the other day I read research conducted by scholars from Princeton and the University of California that shows that taking notes by hand is, contrary to popular belief, much more efficient than typing them electronically. The reason is that when we type on a computer, we are so fast that we often copy things down word for word, and when we do that we don’t really think about what we are writing. When we take notes by hand, on the other hand, the going is so slow that we need to listen, understand, think about, and formulate our own interpretation and summary of what the speaker is saying. When having to reflect over what is said, our understanding is greater and we also remember it better. In other words, in this case, slower is better.

I also recently read about Emma Seppälä’s research on happiness and success. Seppälä, a Stanford researcher, argues that by slowing down and being in the moment we can be more productive than if we are constantly focusing on the future and striving to become bigger and better. Apparently we are more creative if we aren’t under constant pressure to be top performers, and as a bonus, staying in the moment and being present is also found to increase feelings of happiness. You can read about this in her book The Happiness Track, although ironically the book’s selling point is that if you read the book and apply the science of happiness you can be more successful. See what I’m saying; we live in a culture of constant striving and streamlining.

So no, I’m not personally very interested in measuring my work efforts or my free time – although I do have plans and dreams, don’t get me wrong. But I try to live in the moment simply because if I don’t, I feel like time just slips through my fingers. If I don’t pause and reflect over where I am and what that feels like, it’s almost as if I lose chunks of time that I barely remember experiencing.

On that note, what a beautiful day it is; I think I’m going to enjoy this moment and go for a jog. I don’t really care how far exactly I will run nor how fast; I’m not training for anything specific. I just need to get up and move after sitting glued to the computer screen and I want to be outside in the crisp autumn air. Just that, and knowing that I will break a sweat and be somewhat out of breath when I get back, is good enough for me.

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