Full-screen living


Leo Babauta has a great post at Zen Habits (a site I must remember to visit more often) on Full-Screen Living.

Many of us who write, he points out, use tools that simplify our computer screens. My last book, and most of my blog posts, were written in an application called WriteRoom, which presents me with a black screen, green plain type, and no formatting options, toolbars, or any other distractions. When I’m reading news articles on the web I often use Readability, which is a browser plugin that reformats the screen to make reading an undistracted full-screen experience. Babauta mentions these options, and more, and this may be new to you, but it’s something I’m already deeply into. (Readability has announced since I wrote this post that it’s closing down, but here’s an alternative if you use the Chrome browser.)

But where he gets really interesting is when he takes “full-screen” as a metaphor for life. It’s a brilliant metaphor, and along with many other writers I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think of it myself. Here’s the juicy part of his article:

That’s fine for computer work, but what about life in general? You can live exactly the same way.

If you’re going to spend time with your child, don’t switch between the child tab and the work tabs in the browser of your mind. Put your child into full-screen mode, and let him take up all your attention, and let work and everything else you need to do later fade into the background.

You’ll still get to the work, when you’re done with what you’re doing with your child, but for now, be fully in this one activity, with this one person. When you’re done with that, you can bring your work into full-screen mode, and let the rest of your life go into the background for the moment.

If you eat, let the food fill up the screen of your attention, not your thinking about other things. If you’re showering, let that fill your attention, instead of planning. When you’re brushing your teeth, let the “conversation” (read: argument) you had earlier fade away and just brush your teeth.

When you work, do one task at a time. And don’t just do one task at a time, but do that task with all your attention (or as much as possible), and don’t be thinking about the other tasks.

But how do we do this. Babauta has some advice on this too, but I’ll let you read that on Zen Habits.


4 Comments. Leave new

  • I have this theory about one-thing-at-a-time. What we really mean is “don’t add a narrative”. I just cut my finger in the kitchen. Reflecting on why I did it I realise I was chopping salad whilst keeping one eye on the stove and another one on each of my kids but I was also listening to something on the radio about personal finance. I wasn’t really present so even if I hadn’t cut my finger I would have been missing out on the pleasure of preparing the food. Perhaps my cut was a good thing! It brought be back.

    My point is, even if I had turned the radio off I would still have been doing a whole load of different things simultaneously. Cooking a family meal is just like that. But that whole bunch of things actually has some unity and can be done mindfully. So the instruction just to do one thing is a little misleading. It is actually adding narrative, either internal or external (or frequently both) that really rob us of the experience.

    I notice this when I am sitting. There is a richness of experience but, when it is ‘good’, very little narrative.

    The advice should be: If you are involved in narrative (conversation, thinking, reading, even listening to music) just do that. Otherwise be aware of the myriad of things that make up your experience and drop the stories. But that sounds too complex. One thing at a time is a simpler message I guess.

    • I think it’s more to do with finding contentment in what we’re doing. Whether or not we’re preparing a meal with one ingredient or juggling three or four pots and pans, we can either choose to give the task our full attention, and thus see it as a completely satisfying thing to do in its own right. When we’re also listening to the radio, there’s an assumption that cooking is incapable of being satisfying, and that we need “more.” But of course what happens is that more (objects of focused attention) means less (actual contentment), whether or not we injure ourselves.

  • […] of my fav blogs, Wildmind, which doesn’t usually have any connection with Zen Habits, went and linked to Leo’s post like it was some sort of original and excellent idea. Now I enter the whole self aggrandizing mode. […]

  • Thanks Bodhipaksa. I like that. Maybe the key is that when one is not satisfied the first thing one looks for is a narrative. The thinking mind says “feed me” – and we are off. Instead we need a mindfulness trigger to stop and tune into the subtler levels of satisfaction that are already present.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.