Daily Stretch #20: turn chores into a meditation.
“Work is love made visible. The goal is not to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” — Kahlil Gibran
If you are reading this, either you missed the headline or you want to know what’s the catch.
Sorry. But there’s none.
Scheduling meetings, printing copies of a presentation, setting up the room, the workplace is full of chores too. And no one wants to do those meaningless tasks.
We believe small tasks are a burden. Just like doing the dishes.
Reframe your daily chores into something meaningful. Enjoy doing them rather than feeling you are wasting your time.
You are skeptical, and that’s okay.
But here’s the deal: I promise to help you reduce the burden of daily tasks, you just need to spend three minutes reading this piece.
Or jump to the exercise at the end.
How we do anything means everything
“Wax on, wax off.” — Mr. Miyagi
The movie Karate Kid contributed to one of the most viral memes on chores. If you haven’t heard about Mr. Miyagi’s “wax on” training method, no worries. Check this video.
Its storyline focuses on how an elderly Japanese master teaches Karate to an impatient teenager.
The only caveat is that Daniel, that’s the boy’s name, never asked to be taught. Even worse, the training was disguised as a set of painful chores.
Anything we do should make us proud. But, unfortunately, the social hierarchy made some activities cooler than others. If not, check the definition below.
Chore/noun: “A routine task, especially a household one.” “An unpleasant but necessary task.”
Daniel suffered doing chores.
“Wax on, wax off” turned into a nightmare for our protagonist. The repetitive tasks felt unpleasant.
Mr. Miyagi was slow-paced but anything but soft. He was determined to make skeptical Daniel do those chores over and over.
Every night, after long hard work hours, the kid was exhausted.
Until, later in the movie, Daniel realizes he wasn’t just doing chores. He was learning Karate skills and moves. The master was teaching him the foundation of a martial art through the repetition of mundane and tedious tasks.
Why does this matter? Because it can help us reframe our daily chores as lessons in disguise.
Let’s approach them with an open mind and joy. Not because of the chores per-se, but of what they can teach us about ourselves.
Today’s daily stretch: turn chores into a meditation
“Before enlightenment, carry water and chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water and chop wood.” — Buddhist saying
Chores can be a burden. Or a way to build your foundation.
Kids run because they want to. Adults run because they want to stay healthy. Running has become a chore for many.
We are always anxious and busy of doing nothing. Because we turned everything into a chore. Small tasks feel like a lot of work. But they are not.
Let’s recover the value of doing small things.
Chores nurture our patience.
Daniel didn’t just learn Karate moves.
Like most teenagers, he was impatient. He wanted to understand why he was doing chores. Daniel wanted to master Karate before learning the basics.
We all want to achieve immediate results. But becoming good at something requires method and practice. And you can’t accomplish that without patience.
Shortcuts are anything but cheap, as I wrote here.
Chores help us fight laziness.
The brain is a lazy muscle.
If you don’t stretch it often, it will default to the most comfortable position. It will either choose to do nothing or take the easiest route.
Six years ago, my cholesterol went crazy all of a sudden. My doctor asked me: “Do you have someone who shovels the snow for you? Do you hire someone to mow your lawn? Well, start doing it yourself.”
While I didn’t exactly follow his advice, I learned the lesson. We delegate smalls tasks to others, but then we pay the price.
Now, I always walk from and to the train station instead of driving. Not only my cholesterol has gone down. I’ve turned a trivial task in a moment to clear my mind.
Walking to the train station helps me organize my day and wind down on the way back. It’s also when my best ideas show up uninvited.
Chores help us recover the pride and joy of doing.
I love cooking. People get impressed by the looks of the dishes I prepare. What they don’t realize is all the small chores required to get there.
I have all kind of appliances. But nothing can beat the joy of kneading with my own hands. Same happens with cutting vegetables. Sounds trivial but I do it faster and nicer than with a food processor.
Give me mushrooms, and I can spend hours slicing them. I appreciate the precision of the knife when I’m focused and enjoying a simple activity.
Chores help us build resilience.
Daniel had to wax a car multiple times until he learned how to do it well and fast.
He was beaten many times until he learned how to win a combat.
No one becomes a Karate master overnight.
The moment when you feel you should abandon something but you keep trying, that’s when your resilience is built.
Overcoming the burden of doing chores, makes you stronger.
Chores are a form of meditation.
“We never noticed the beauty because we were too busy trying to create it.”
Most of us think that meditating is about sitting with our legs crossed and breathing slower and slower.
Meditation is the training of the mind. Not just relaxing and slowing down our thoughts.
It prepares our mind to be more adaptive and less reactive.
Stop worrying about the chores that you have to do.
Train your mind to be more appreciative of what you have rather than suffering from unfulfilled expectations.
Appreciate doing small chores.
Two exercises to turn chores into a meditation
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” — Buddha
1. A Warm Up
Here’s a simple trick that you can use to reframe how you talk about chores.
The words we use impact our brain. They can either inhibit or promote positive behaviors. That’s precisely what we will practice here: how to reframe our conversation about chores.
I borrowed this exercise from Bernie Roth, author of The Achievement Habit.
Choose a partner. You start by sharing a chore that you “have” to do. The other person will reframe it replacing “have” by “you want”.
“I have to do the dishes” — you say.
“You want to do the dishes” — the other person replies.
Hearing someone reframing your story into a positive one is very powerful.
Continue doing this exercise for 2–3 minutes with different chores. Then switch turns and repeat.
2. Turn doing chores into a meditation
This exercise requires practice to change a behavior. Its purpose to help become more appreciative of small tasks.
Choose a chore that you want to master or one that you usually do but dislike.
- Set-up the scenario and remove distractions (phone, TV, etc.).
- Mise-en-place is a French term that means “set in place”. It’s one of the first things that is taught to aspiring chefs. It’s much more than having all the ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking.
- Mise-en-place is not just about saving time. It’s a celebration — by setting up the scenario — before starting an activity.
- Focus on the activity. If you are going to do the dishes or clean the kitchen that should become your only priority.
- Start by taking a couple of deep breaths. Focus your energy on the activity. You want to do it. And to enjoy it.
- Focus on the chore. Capture every detail of what you do. How can you improve the outcome? How can you make it feel less repetitive? Try new ways of doing the chore.
- If you feel distracted, try to re-focus on the chore. You are not just doing something. You want to become the best at doing the dishes or chopping the onions.
- Once you are done, clean the space (if needed). Wrapping up the scene with care increases appreciation.
- Take a second to appreciate your “art.”
- Repeat and monitor your improvement. You are on a journey to master a chore. Compare how it feels when you appreciate chores versus approaching the same task as a burden.
If you’d ever need motivation, remember Miyagi’s mantra: “Wax on, wax off.”
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