If you're anything like me, doing the dishes is not something you particularly look forward to. Sudsing up your dirty dinner plates might be a daily necessity, but (a few clean freaks aside) it's pretty much no one's idea of a happiness booster. But according to new science that just might be a missed opportunity.
The benefits of focus
The study out of Florida State University asked 51 participants to get scrubbing, but before they picked up the sponge, researchers asked them to read one of two passages. The first was a simple description of dishwashing. The second, however, explained that dishwashing should be viewed as an opportunity for mindfulness.
"While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes. This means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes," reads an excerpt from this second passage.
It might sound silly to spend so much concentration on such a minor household chore, but the scientists saw a significant impact when the study subjects paid closer attention to what they were doing. When the dish washers focused on the feel of the soap, the temperature of the water, etc. they reported that just six minutes of dishwashing actually reduced nervousness by 27 percent and increased inspiration by 25 percent. I probably don't have to tell you that doing the dishes the usual distracted way was neither a stress buster or inspiration booster.
"It is interesting to note that a task potentially construed as unpleasant or a 'chore' can be experienced as reducing nervousness and being inspirational by simply shifting one's approach to the task and quality of attention," the study authors conclude.
Just drink the cup of tea
This might sound wacky -- plus, the study size is very small and so should be taken with a grain of salt -- but the idea actually jives with the advice of other experts on mindfulness. Meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg suggested similar "stealth" meditations to Inc.com readers, for example. "Maybe don't drink the tea while you're checking your email while you're on the conference call while you have the TV on mute reading the crawl underneath. Maybe just drink the cup of tea," she advised, stressing the importance of focusing completely on small, everyday tasks.
Which just might be the right takeaway here. I remain unconvinced that anything is going to make me truly like doing the dishes, but I can see the benefit of applying this principle to whatever activity suits you best. Choose some small, currently tedious aspect of your day and see what happens when you apply your full attention to it -- you just might turn a chore into a stress-busting, inspiration-enhancing exercise in mindfulness.
Give it a try and let us know how it goes in the comments.