Surpass the Goldfish and Quiet the Monkey with Tai Chi

Our ability to pay attention may be one of the most basic and important cognitive abilities we have. Unfortunately for many of us, it seems nearly impossible to focus our attention for very long. We go through our day at the office, in school or in a meetings being tempted by today’s 10,000 distractions such as notifications on our phone, Twitter, Linkedin, text messages and that next great sale on Amazon. And to make it even worse, our minds tend to race around on their own— jumping from thought to thought—unable to focus on any one thing for any length of time.

According to Statistic Brain Research Institute as of 2015 the average human attention span is less than an average goldfish! And it’s only getting worse, this statistic is down 4 seconds from the year 2000.

Monkey Mind

In Tai Chi circles this is known as monkey mind. This monkey represents the endless chatter and constant racing thoughts, jumping around from thought limb to thought limb—leaving us feeling tired, unfocused and fragmented at the end of the day. And with all of that chatter and noise from this monkey in our minds, it’s nearly impossible to be present and focused on the moment in front of us. Concerns, fears, pressures, yesterday, the future, all make up the internal noise. We lose focus, our productivity decreases and it just doesn’t feel good. In order to find some peace and the ability to focus on what is in front of us, we need to surpass the goldfish quiet the monkey.

There’s a reason why companies like Adobe, Facebook, Google, and Hubspot have all started their own meditation groups. Also, companies and corporations such as Sprint, Hallmark, Inc., Black and Veatch Corp., Associated Wholesale Grocers, BMA (Financial), and Columbia Hospitals are increasingly turning to Tai Chi as a solution to stress. Corporations all over America are bringing the powerful health and personal growth tools developed in practices like Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, Meditation, etc. into the workplace. Some of the many benefits of practices such as Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga and Meditation is the calming and quieting of the monkey mind, and increasing the ability to focus and be present in the moment.

Meditation in Motion

Tai Chi is often called meditation in motion. The flowing gentle movements allow the body to relax, but the somewhat complex nature of the details of the choreography keeps the mind focused on our own body and how we feel, leaving no room in our minds for that pesky monkey. The focus is on ourselves, not the grocery list, not the kids, not what happened at work today—but what is happening right here, right now.

This focus is the type of skill that can ripple out into the people around you too. Have you ever had the experience when you’re running around like a crazy person, pushing to get everything finished, and you meet someone who’s grounded, present, and calm? You can actually feel it.

Those are powerful moments, right? They tend to make you pause for a moment and reflect on your own manic pace. A little bit of that person’s calm demeanor rubs off. In those moments when you encounter someone who’s calm and focused, you realize that you will be more effective if you simply slow down and focus on one thing at a time (you may not always be able to do it, but you do realize it).

Developing focus and relaxation requires training both the brain and the body. Many people start a Tai Chi practice to develop this kind of training. It doesn’t take very long for it to start to become noticeable. I have students tell me all the time that in just a few short weeks, they can start to see a difference. Little by little what you practice in Tai Chi will start to flow into every aspect of your life. Allowing your attention span and ability to focus increase with a quieter, calmer mind and more relaxed and healthier body.

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