I read something this week that I thought was interesting and perfectly applies to our martial arts training and mindfulness.
Now I don’t know if this is true or not, but the principle is sound, so I want to talk about it.
The suggested idea is that people who walk in crosswalks are less aware than people who are crossing the street at random and therefore unprotected by the structure and rules of crossing.
The idea in your mind that you are in a safe environment can cause you to let your guard down and actually be less safe.
There’s a similar example that claims one third of all car accidents happen within a mile of the drivers’ home.
Same idea. You think you are safe, so you ditch the awareness. You don’t put your seat belt on right away, you don’t look around as carefully because you are familiar with the area, etc.
So how do we increase our actual safety? By increasing our awareness.
We can train ourselves to have a habit of observation. The more we keep our eyes open and try to notice things, the better.
Making sure we don’t get into patterns is also important.
This is not to say we shouldn’t make certain things in our life automatic. We should. But there is a difference in the type and importance of the things we set as automatic and those that we should be consciously in control of.
Things like crossing the street should not be something we are not consciously aware of.
OK. You know what? I think there’s a better way to go through this.
I was going to try to make a short list of some things that you shouldn’t do without being aware while you’re doing them, and some things that you can be more automatic about.
But it’s not easy to assign things to one list or the other.
Why? Because it’s not the activity itself, but the skill level of the person combined with the environment of the activity that determines the need for awareness.
Let’s take skateboarding as an example.
Let’s say you’re good at skateboarding, have been doing it for years, and feel balanced and in control when you’re on a board. And let’s say you are at a skate park that you’ve been to a hundred times and you know each dip and turn pretty well. And you are the only one there.
Well, I’d say you can get on your board and ride without much thought. It will be automatic and you can be relatively unaware.
But now let’s put other people in there with you. Or put you in a skate park that you’ve never been to before. Now, it would not be wise to not be aware.
Whenever any part of the experience is dynamic – meaning it can change – you need to add awareness.
When you cross a street, you may be very good at walking (or running), you may know the street very well. But if there are any cars on the road, then you can’t set that task (crossing the street) in the back of your mind somewhere while a game on your phone, a conversation with the friend walking next to you, etc becomes or remains your focus.
So the way to know which activities you can set to automatic is to assess how dynamic it is.
There are things you can practice, practice, practice until you get so good at them that you can do it with your eyes closed. But those are only the things you have full control over.
Anything with a dynamic element needs your attention.
That being said, you should work on making things automatic every day. Every day you should practice something that you will someday be able to do without being aware.
Then you free up your focus more more and better dynamic things. Then you can work on becoming a master in life.