Spending more time in the highlights of life

The link between mindfulness, efficiency and happiness.

Half an hour after I arrive at the destination of my dream holiday I’m thinking about lunch. Where should I eat? It’s really hot in the sun. Did I really bring enough sun screen? Isn’t there some shade somewhere? I need to pee. Where is the public restroom? These rocks are so uncomfortable to lie on. Should I really pay to rent an expensive sunbed? How shall I spend my day tomorrow?…

I am stuck with this chatter in my brain and I realize that my present never quite seems to live up to the future or the past.

Even when I make a point to be mindful and really focus on the moment, the time in between those moments is often filled with background noise, with the inevitable transportation from one moment to the next. In the present reality, I am stuck with… well, reality. And in reality, we get hungry, tired, cold and warm. We get sick of things, we have bad moods and feel uncomfortable in different situations. And we have things we need to get done.

In the future and in the past though, all that is removed and photoshopped. It’s improved with filters and stories. I remember the awesome dinners from my holidays. I remember how warm the breeze was and how gorgeous the views were. I remember the romantic sunsets and the pretty architecture. But the sunburn is gone, the uncomfortable hotel bed, the mosquitos, the blister on my foot, the slow waiter, the overpriced sandwich, the dull standard breakfast at the hotel, the sand in my underwear after a day on the beach – it’s all gone. I seem to even have forgotten all the work I had to put in to be able to go on a holiday in the first place.

The entire experience has been compressed to snapshots of beauty and snippets of reality. And it was exactly the same when I was still at home, looking forward to the trip.

This is of course not just applicable to trips, it could be work, relationships, events or a weekend. In real time, we can’t filter out paying bills, arguing, working late, being sick, sitting on a bus or subway, standing in line, buying groceries or cleaning the house. No matter how good we get at mindfulness and at really enjoying the present, the spaces in between, the transportation from one highlight to another will be there too. And they need to be.

But what if we could make the present more like the past and the anticipated future?

Let’s take a look at the two parts of the present; the highlights and the necessary transportation between them. With highlights, I don’t just mean the big stuff like changing jobs, buying a house, starting a new relationship, going on a trip, etc., but also smaller things like admiring a sunset, enjoying a great meal, working on a creative project or talking to a friend. Basically, anything we would like more of in our lives. And the transportation is all the necessary things we need to do in order to make those highlights happen. They are anything we would like less of in life.

Most of us give these two different parts of the present equal attention in our daily lives. And quite often, we are spending more time in transportation than in the highlight moments. But maybe meeting a close friend for coffee and buying toothpaste shouldn’t be on the same to-do list? To maximize our long-term happiness, as well as the joy in our daily lives, the highlights need to get more time, attention and energy from us.

The way I see it, there are two paths to getting there:

  1. Make more of the transportation into highlights. Waiting in line doesn’t have to be annoying or stressful, but a great time to meditate. Taking the bus to work doesn’t have to be an inevitable pain, but a perfect opportunity to write that short story or listen to that podcast, and so on. There are plenty of moments in life that we could learn to enjoy more and transform to small highlights of our day. But let’s face it, not everything is going to be an Instagram-worthy, blissful moment that we will treasure for eternity (and not everything should be!).Which leads us to…
  2. …planning, optimizing, compressing and automating as much as possible of the transportation between our highlight moments. There are plenty of annoying parts of our lives that we can remove, reduce or handle more efficiently.

For example, if I would had planned to stay on the beach all day, I would have rented a sun bed at the bar with the best facilities and with a restaurant where I could get lunch. I wouldn’t have spent valuable time in the middle of a highlight moment, worrying about or planning for the next transportation. I would have been able to ease smoothly between different highlight moments and fully enjoy them. This may be a silly example, but it applies to our lives in general.

If we plan ahead and minimize any kind of non-necessary decision making during the day that is not a part of a highlight for us, we can spend a lot less time in transportation.

We can:

  • Sort out our closets and plan our outfits in advance
  • Cook meals and make shopping lists for the entire week or even month
  • Make use of wasted time to do other things (see no 1)
  • Automate payment of recurring bills and expenses
  • Make schedules beforehand instead of deciding every day what to do and when to do it
  • Buy services from others if we can afford it and if not, remember that our transportation may be someone else’s highlight, so we can go ahead and trade favors
  • Take turns with the neighbors to pick up all their kids from school which means we can pick up six kids once a week and spend one hour on that, instead of picking up two kids thirty minutes every day.
  • Etc.

It’s not about scheduling our entire lives, which would be dull, but actually the opposite. If our need-to-dos are planned out in advance, we are freeing up time for any spontaneous want-to-dos.

That’s what I am working on now. I’m getting better at focusing on expanding the highlights of my days. If I want to sit on my balcony and savor a glass of wine and read a book for three hours, I want to be able to do that without falling behind on bills, laundry, work or other things. I don’t want my time for highlights to be only whatever is left when I am done with my chores, but the other way around. I want to plan my chores so that I can have the time I want for my highlights.

In business, there is something called the 80/20 rule, which usually refers to that 20% of your efforts or clients should lead to 80% of the business’ results.

I am setting an 80/20 rule of my own:
My life should be at least 80% highlights and at most 20% transportation in between.

I think I’ll start practicing with another day on the beach…


I write stories about fear and how it often holds us back in life. I am on a quest to befriend fear and to grow my own comfort zone. My stories are published here on detoursandshortcuts.com, on medium.com/detoursandshortcuts and on facebook.com/detoursandshortcuts. To get new stories first, sign up for the newsletter here on the page.

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