The Practice of Doing One Thing at a Time

March 23, 2017 Updated: March 23, 2017
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There’s a Japanese term, “ichigyo-zammai,” that basically means having full concentration on a single act.

Zen master Sunryu Suzuki described the practice of being fully in the moment in his book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.”

“Instead of having some object of worship, we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment,” Suzuki wrote. “When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”

When we aren’t present in the moment, our true nature cannot fully express itself. Conversely, when we are doing an activity with heart and focus, we start to express our true selves. But it’s easier said than done. How often are we not in the moment?

Think about times when we are doing the following:

  • Jumping between tasks in a browser
  • Checking our phones while doing other things throughout the day
  • Rushing to do the next thing while still doing the current thing
  • Thinking about other things when someone is talking to us
  • Irritated by someone when they interrupt whatever we’re doing
  • Taking whatever we’re doing for granted, because it’s dull or routine

It turns out, we are very rarely fully in the moment with any single activity. How can we access the enlightenment of full concentration?

How to Do One Thing at a Time

Set an intention. When you start an activity, turn to it with your full attention and set the intention to be present with the act—to do nothing else but this activity. You might think “Just walk,” or “Just read,” or “Just drink tea.”

Be engaged. You might open up a wide-open, sky-like, panoramic awareness as you do the activity, being fully engaged with the entire moment.

Be aware. When you start thinking about something else or getting your attention pulled away, or following a pattern of judgment or resentment … just notice. Then return to being fully present with the activity.

Be curious. Empty your mind of preconceived ideas about the activity and just be curious about what the activity is actually like, right now, as it unfolds. Allow yourself to be surprised.

Have respect. Treat every object with reverence, as if it were your own eyesight. See the brilliance of each moment, of each activity, that underlies everything around us. 

As we give each activity our full, loving attention, we start to appreciate each person, each object, and each thing around us as being something worthy of respect, love, and gratitude. We start to take up the opportunity to fully engage with life—with a smile and a bow.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net