True Story: Years ago, I attended a Detroit Symphony performance of the Nutcracker. At a certain point, there are 12 chimes meaning it’s midnight and all the magic is about to happen. So, the chimes start and right in the middle of it, there’s a very loud voice saying “EIGHT! NINE! TEN! ELEVEN! TWELVE!”.
During intermission, I walked over to the stage. The orchestra played in the “pit” below. I asked a friend in the the orchestra what that was all about. He laughed and told me that the percussionist playing the chimes would count to himself softly to get the chimes total right. But by this performance, the orchestra had done the piece so many times that some of the musicians were completely bored. So for amusement, they would deliberately try to screw up the guy by calling out random numbers. He finally got totally pissed and the entire hall heard his response 😉
The Value of Counting: Focus and Relaxation
“Mr. Chimes” above counted out loud so that he wouldn’t lose the count. In other words, it helped him to stay focused. It sounds crazy, but this simple “trick” really works. I use it for all sorts of things.
Brushing Your Teeth
Dentists recommend that you divide your upper and lower teeth into quadrants and brush each for 30 seconds. My electric toothbrush signals 30 second intervals but I would get impatient and cheat. So, I turned it into a game by counting to thirty, the goal being to see how close I got to counting exactly 30 seconds. It worked, and I was able to brush for the appropriate amount of time just by counting.
Ok, not very life changing. But here’s something that gets a little closer to that. I practice guided mindfulness meditation using an app from Plum Village founded by the late Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. Mindfulness means to be fully conscious in the present moment. To fully understand what that means might take a lifetime. But, as a start, I think of it as paying attention to the present moment without judgement.
The folks at Plum Village suggest that you begin by concentrating on your breath. One approach is to count how long each of your in-breaths and out-breaths are, without caring how long (or short) they might be or whether the count differs, while paying attention to how each breath affects your body. Another approach is to pick a specific count for each in- and out-breath (e.g., in for five, out for five).
I try to do walking meditation on my daily walks. The focus of walking meditation is on the act of walking itself. I sometimes count my steps while paying attention to how my hips and knees are behaving and how my feet feel on the various surfaces I’m walking on. For some reason, the counting helps keep me focused on the present, which also helps prevent trips and falls!
Counting When You Cook
I find that I also get impatient when I cook and don’t always give food sufficient time to properly develop. (Yes, impatience is a thing with me). When that happens, I count to slow myself down. But remember that it can be just as bad to overcook as undercook (e.g., I counted to 10 last time and the onions burned). I also need to pay attention to temperature, smell, and sound. Getting in the habit of counting actually helped with all of that and helped me to relax and enjoy cooking more.
These are just a few of the ways in which counting may be able to help bring more focus and relaxation into your life. Give it a try. On the count of 3..2..1..
And here’s some added motivation: 🙂