One of my favorite movies from years ago is City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. Billy Crystal plays the burnt out, disillusioned city guy who goes off on a trail ride with three of his city slicker friends. On their trip, they meet up with Curly, the tough but wise trail boss played by Jack Palance, who pushes the foolish foursome to get out of their heads and pay attention. His reminder throughout the movie was the message: “One thing.”
At the time I saw it, like plenty of people, I kept trying to figure out which “one thing” he was referring to. Finally after years of letting that movie marinate, it occured to me like a blinding flash of the obvious! The “one thing” Curly was referring to was “right now.” He was challenging these city boys to stop letting themselves be carried along by a thousand things, planning, ruminating, remembering, nursing grudges and disappointments, and get into the one thing they could actually experience and influence: this moment—right now. That’s how Curly lived—in the moment, focusing on what was immediately in his experience, whether it was helping a cow birth her calf, rounding up an errant cow that had wandered off and needed to rejoin the herd, sitting around the campfire at night, or something else. By the time Billy Crystal and friends returned to the city, their lives had been transformed by their experiences with Curly.
You might argue that Curly’s life was an incredibly simple one and because of that it was easier for him to be in the moment. After all, he had the luxury of focusing on pretty much one thing—his herd and getting it safely back to the ranch. But you would be missing the point, I think. No matter how simple or complex our lives, the biggest stealer of our peace of mind and focus is not living and being present in this moment. I see it everywhere around me. Millions of people talk on cell phones while driving because a conversation seems much more important than paying attention to the road and their driving. People are so busy they insist they must eat lunch at their desks while they continue to work. Many more decline to take breaks because they have too much to do and too little time. We distractedly engage in conversations with loved ones, even our children while we attempt to juggle multiple activities at once. And then we wonder why nothing seems satisfying or even real. It’s like having a gourmet meal set before us, but having our taste buds suddenly stop working.
Right now, I have no fewer than a dozen “priorities” I need to accomplish today. I have to get ready for our tax appointment coming up. I really need to clean off my desk. I have details to wrap up for coaching appointments, trainings, volunteer commitments. I’ve just returned from a training to prepare me to serve as president of my Rotary club and have a head full of “to do’s.” But, right now, I am doing my best to focus on one thing: the priority of writing this message and having it mean something—not just to you, but to me as well!
And I am going to do my best just for today, to focus on one thing at a time. I am going to make a plan for how to spend the precious hours of this day and remember, whether I’m exercising, walking my dogs, giving a speech, doing a coaching call, getting my documents and receipts together for our CPA, the more present and focused I am in the moment, the more I can actually enjoy what I’m doing, and the more effective I’ll be. This is the ever present challenge for all of us. When studies show that 72% of people have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time (The Energy Project) it is time for a change!
So how do you learn to focus on “one thing”? By practicing focus. By training your mind to be present. By turning off your email for a least an hour a day and using that time exclusively to focus on the “one thing” that absolutely must be done and done well today. I find meditation to be the most useful and beneficial tool available for helping me to focus on one thing. Start with just five minutes a day of quieting the mind, using a simple word to settle the mental gymnastics your mind goes through the moment you decide to sit and get centered. Recognize that when you live in a 24-hour world, there will always be something else screaming for your attention. But in the end, you and I get to decide what is the “one thing” we’ll devote our time and attention to in this moment.
Put City Slickers on your movie list to watch sometime soon. Begin each day with the intention of being fully present in more moments; of focusing on “one thing” to help you stay steady, focused and productive. Cultivate the habit of mindfulness. Learn to focus your mind in the present and give this moment your undivided attention.
What is your one thing right now? Here’s to a week where you stay centered, one day at a time, one project at a time, one minute at a time!
Quote of the Week
"The present moment is the substance with which the future is made. Therefore, the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment. What else can you do?”