6 Simple Ways to Break the Cycle of Mindlessness & Start Engaging with the World Around Us

“Our world is desperately in need of lovers – people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about.” – Shane Claiborne

Whatever the reason, our lives have taken on a mindless pace. We’ve stopped noticing what’s important. Our days, our habits, our errands become a blur. Interactions between people have become methodically, causing a sea of loneliness that overwhelms our hearts and communities.

The Cost of Mindlessness

The last time I bought groceries my brain was functioning on auto-pilot. After I swiped my debit card and pushed in my usual pin number the cashier looked up and said, “It says the card is denied.” Odd. Swipe. Pin number. Denied. The pin number I had used was for a different debit card. If I can’t even remember which pin number to use when, how can I engage in the stories of others?

Mindlessness diverts our attention away from what’s really before us.

In her book, Mastermind, psychologist Maria Konnikova puts it like this, “We’ve decided, on a certain level, that mindful attention is just not worth the effort, we’ve chosen efficiency over depth.” And don’t we often treat others like this? We see without observing. We look without deep awareness. We converse without making connections.

This costs us authentic relationships and leaves loneliness in it’s path. 

“Nice day out there. Sunny.”
“Definitely. I hope it doesn’t rain.”

“How are you?”
“Good. You?”

But are we really good?

The Difference Mindfulness Makes

Before going about my errands last week, I spent a little time in the kitchen. While I whipped up a batch of oatmeal and washed a few dishes, I prayed that my trip into town would be different. That I’d have the awareness to see what was really before me. That there’d be opportunities to infuse joy. And because I was intentional about it, this is what happened:

  • I gave away a coupon for a free sandwich to a gas station cashier who didn’t have the money to buy lunch.
  • An elderly lady gave me her famous ‘sweet dumplin’ squash recipe at the grocery store after I smiled at her at the squash bin.
  • A frazzled store cashier shared with me her stress over of traveling 100 miles to work each day.
  • A grocery bagger opened up about the fear of his car dying, and that he didn’t really have anyone to call if he became stranded.

It’s amazing what people will share when they know you’re listening, when you’re asking to know them. These interactions and wouldn’t have taken shape had I sped feverishly through my errands.

6 Simple Ways to Break the Cycle of Mindlessness & Start Engaging with the World Around Us

“We must delight in each other, make others conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.” – John Winthrop

  • Disrupt your daily habits and patterns. Take some time to do a few things differently this week, you’ll be surprised how quickly it awakens your mind.
  • Note your actions as you make them.
  • Take time for reflective. When you’re in the kitchen, scrounging up dinner or throwing a few forks into the dishwasher, ponder the things happening in your life, and the ways you can reach out to those around you.
  • Don’t just see what’s in front of you. Observe. Pay attention to the details and engage. Like a child, wonder at the world you’re a part of.
  • Take in the people around you. Treat each with the care they deserve.
  • Look for opportunities to know and care for others. Take them.
What will you do differently this week?


13 comments… add one

  • Deborah Penner October 24, 2013, 5:39 pm

    This week (as in this morning) I began working with the concept of asking myself at the beginning of the day what I would do if I could do today over again BEFORE I entered into it .. I got that from a productivity process shared by Donald Miller, (StoryLineBlog.com) There are several other components and this one for me is the most powerful because it sets the tone for mindfulness throughout the day … it brings me to this key question today: “How do I want to be in this day when all is said and done?” Blessings, Alyssa <3

    • Alysa October 24, 2013, 6:06 pm

      That’s such an incredible concept Deborah! So grateful you shared it, since it dovetails with the thoughts above. Glad to meet another who admires Donald Miller’s work. I took a look at your website and was so encouraged to see snippets of your journey into intentional wellness. Thankful that you’re a part of this community – we’re kindred spirits for sure!

  • Kristi Lynn October 25, 2013, 12:35 am

    Being an introvert, I have to make a real effort to get out of my head and engage with the people in my life, be it my family, friends, or the clerk in the store. I do love to extend a kind word, a smile, or a squeeze … you just never know how badly the other person might need it!

    • Alysa October 25, 2013, 10:53 am

      Aw – definitely. I can be a tad introverted at times. Thanks for making the effort to reach out, Kristi – I’m sure it means wonders to those on the receiving end of your joyful personality!

  • Merritt | LiveSimplyLove October 25, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Alysa – This is beautiful. Mindfulness has become more important to me lately. I don’t always do it well–sometimes I just don’t FEEL like it (yesterday was one of those days).

    I would LOVE to know if you have specific questions you ask the people you meet along the way or if you just go with it in the moment. The grocery store–or other places I buy things–are usually the places I think about this most. I’m curious, how did you have a meaningful conversation with both the cashier and the bagger (unless these were different interactions)? I am generally not sure which one to engage with, and the person taking my money usually wins out. Then I feel bad because I only said a few words to the person bagging my groceries.

    Great post! I’m excited to be on this journey with you!

    • Alysa October 25, 2013, 4:46 pm

      Love your honesty Merritt. Some days my feelings get the best of me too.

      I always try to ask, “How’s your day going so far?” That has a tendency to open people up because it’s different than the usual, “How are you?” If they simply reply, “It’s going alright,” I’ll come back with a sympathetic and genuine, “Just alright?” For some reason that question really helps people open up.

      If you’re feeling daring:
      “What’s the best part of your day so far?”
      “Looking forward to anything tonight?”

      Our tiny-town grocery store baggers actually carry our bags to the car so that gives us a bit more time to talk to them. If you don’t have a lot of time with your baggers a sincere, “I really appreciate your help today,” goes a long way. Caring compliments have a way of helping people feel incredibly valued, seen, and known.

      So glad you’re here.

      P.S. Hopefully there aren’t too many errant commas in this article. 😉

  • Trina October 25, 2013, 4:08 pm

    Love everything about this post and this community your growing! Definitely gonna put more effort into my awkward smiles and gestures this week :)

    • Alysa October 25, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Thanks so much Trina! Awkward smiles and gestures are my favorite. I’m hoping you get some high fives out of the deal. :)

  • Sheila Carder November 1, 2013, 8:01 am

    Hello Alysa, My cousin Deborah turned me onto your website. It’s so sweet to know that there are others who feel the same way. One of the things I enjoy is to smile at anyone come I see. Say hello, bless them when they sneeze, ask how their day is going & engage them in conversation & if they mention in passing that their day isn’t going well, ask them why? Or if they mention that something exciting or wonderful has or is happening; rejoice in it with them. I’ve discovered that this is part of my purpose on this earth , part of the path I’m to travel that God has set before me. Because I’m there to say let me add this to my prayers. I can’t say that it happens
    every single time I’m out & about, but thats my goal.

    • Alysa November 1, 2013, 7:45 pm

      Hi Sheila! So glad you’re here!! That’s so true – walking along side people in sorrow or joy is just so meaningful. So glad you’re walking that path and pursuing that purpose. It takes a lot of courage to let complete strangers know you’re praying for them. Thankful for people like you in this world of ours.

  • Suzanne Lytle November 2, 2013, 2:38 am

    I too, am Deborah’s cousin, and followed her link to your blog. This topic is how I live my life, reaching out to others happens naturally for me. My family likes to tease me because I talk to strangers like we are friends. For example, tonight after work I stopped at a consignment store in our area to check it out, and quickly learned that the owner (a stranger to me) is worried sick about money, lost her husband a year ago, and got bad news from her son while I was there. I asked her if I could hug her, and she came right to me for a hug. I sat with her and listened while she talked, and talked and talked. It’s not a skill that I have, to listen, it’s just who I am, but I am thankful that I have the ability. I rarely get to know how my listening and comforting impacts others, but I’m pretty sure it does in some small way. I admire you who are introverted, yet you leave your comfort zone, for others. That is true sacrifice. You and they will be so blessed.

    • Alysa November 5, 2013, 6:59 pm

      Welcome Suzanne!! Glad to connect with more of Deborah’s cousins. Super fun.
      Hugs are SO important. I can remember a friend telling me a story about after her mother died. The greeter at the grocery store said to her, “It looks like you need a hug.” Right there in the middle of Meijer. Strangers hugging. That’s fellowship and restoration.

      Thankful that you’ve been gifted with an innate ability to meet others in their sorrow and troubles. There’s NO doubt in my mind that your listening and blessing of comfort speaks volumes to others.

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