Just Do One Thing

If there is a number-one rule for mindfulness it’s this: Just do one thing.

One thing at a time.

There’s an old Buddhist story where a student asks a Zen Master: “How do you practice Zen?”

The master says: “When hungry eat, when tired sleep”

Student: “Well, isn’t that what everybody does anyway?”

Master: “No they don’t. When they eat they entertain all sorts of desires. When they sleep they dream all sorts of dreams.”

There are other translations to the “When hungry eat” story, but they all have the same essence. The point is that we are almost never fully present with our activities. It is only possible to be completely, utterly present with something when that thing is the only object of your attention.

We multitask often for the sake of getting things done. Sometimes, we may be able to do multiple things well, and get a lot done. But we are always robbed of our full presence when trying to entertain multiple thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Even when we don’t multitask, we often daydream. We may be cooking, but we’re thinking about our plans for later tonight. We may be walking to the bus stop, but we are thinking about work later.

Right now, I’m eating breakfast as I write this XD I’m violating the rule at this very moment. Hopefully my practice of presence is better when I walk to the bus stop, which now I’m thinking about. Staying with one thing at a time is one of the most difficult arts.

Another aspect of Buddhist life which serves as a reminder to focus on one thing is the practice of carrying something with two hands. To drive the point home to themselves, some Buddhists will make the effort to never carry two things at once. They will always carry one thing with both of their hands. They are fully present with the act of carrying something. That’s it.

We can fully give ourselves to an act if we choose to only participate inΒ that one act for the time being. I try to do this after my yoga practice. I mindfully walk away from my mat. I pick up my clothes. I take them into the bathroom. I turn on the shower. I wash my body. I try to reduce my experience to each individual thing during the moment it’s happening.

Practiced enough, this mode of being can seep into the rest of our lives. We may spontaneously remind ourselves to be present for the moment; for the one thing being done.

Orient yourself to one action. For the moment, just do that one thing.

4 thoughts on “Just Do One Thing

  1. I find it cosmically amusing how sometimes you come across an idea or thought that resonates with you, and suddenly you find references or interpretations of it everywhere.
    Lately I’ve been seeing interpretations of this idea everywhere and have been trying to incorporate it into my life, but specifically my job. It’s a physical job that becomes easier when I plan movements ten or so steps in advance. However, I’m still learning the ropes so this approach makes me prone to errors, which cost time, which I counter by rushing, which leads to more errors etc. I’ve found by doing ‘just one thing’ that the subsequent actions flow together more easily and my error rate drops.

    How exciting it is to use an idea and see immediate results!

    I’ve found that it’s slightly more difficult and complicated to apply this to other areas of my life, as I often get lost in my own thoughts. But as you say, it’s just a matter of practice.

    1. Glad that you’re finding this idea works for you Rob!
      It’s definitely going to be a work-in-progress no matter what. It probably always will be. I’m far from always doing 1 thing at a time, but in certain moments I remember to and it grounds me a lot. Helps me stay present.
      And yeah, the beauty of it is that it’s more pleasant to just do one thing, but also that you’re way better at doing everything if you take it just one step at a time! Everything gets easier and more fun πŸ™‚
      I hope you find plenty of places to apply this idea, and I hope you find some of the other ideas on this blog useful. Let me know how it goes!

  2. Love this! Great blog πŸ™‚ The mind is so often galloping about and planning what we’re doing next that we utterly miss the simplicity (and basic joy!) of simply being in the moment. ‘Just do one thing’ is a great reminder and trigger to living a more mindful life. I also like the mantra ‘This moment is enough’. It always makes me stop in my tracks and all the nonessentials and ‘mindstuff’ just melts away. It does take practise and persistence as we recondition the mind, but I believe it’s so important.


    1. Thanks a ton Rory! Sorry its taken me a while to get back to you, but I do really appreciate your comment. You’re right it’s so easy to miss just being in the moment, which in and of itself is one of the best gifts of life. I love your mantra, sounds like it really works for you. Hope your practice is going well πŸ™‚

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