Mindful Healthcare #3: What Makes “Occupation,” Therapy?

One of the fundamental principles of Occupational Therapy is that engaging in purposeful activity improves both physical and mental health. But have you ever considered why? And what makes one activity purposeful, and another not?

I’ve asked a number of therapists this question and very few (if any) could come up with a clear answer. Just last week a friend/OT replied, “that’s a really difficult question!”

As David Foster Wallace beautifully illustrates in this related video, the answer to is so obvious that it is difficult to see.

When we dig a little bit deeper, what becomes apparent (as Eckhart Tolle teaches) is that the most satisfying element of any purposeful activity is our attention to the present moment, NOT the activity  itself.  Being focused isn’t just psychologically enjoyable – it’s been scientifically proven to create healthier brain activity.

This is why activities we typically enjoy aren’t satisfying when distracted. Consider these examples.

  • How meaningful is a nice warm shower when you’re thinking about your long “To Do” list?
  • How satisfying is cleaning the house when you just can’t wait to be finished?
  • How fulfilling is your job when you’re counting the minutes to the end of the day?

Again, this is so “obvious,” right?

But what isn’t so obvious are the infinite ways in which we distract ourselves from the present moment. In fact, it takes a great deal of courage and vulnerability to admit just how “all over the place” we can be at times. I heard a statistic that goldfish have one second more attention span than human-beings. Truly, we are living in a culture of ADD.

It’s no wonder we are living in an epidemic of stress – we have become addicted to splitting our attention. Perhaps the most common example is mindlessly browsing through the phone while in “conversation” with someone in person.

The secret ingredient in “occupation” is focus. Anything we do, while unfocused, is essentially mundane, meaningless. On the other hand, even the most seemingly “mundane” activities like washing our hands or brushing our teeth become incredibly meaningful, purposeful, when we are truly focused.

People often mistake Mindfulness as “alternative.” Given this understanding, nothing could be further from the truth.

By incorporating mindfulness (which improves self-awareness and attention), we are addressing the core what makes healthcare effective. We are also teaching our clients to find incredible purpose in the seemingly most ordinary moments of life.

While there are infinite ways to incorporate mindfulness into your practice, if you’d like a little support, check out Mindful Healthcare. It is a practical guide that summarizes the evidence supporting the use of mindfulness and offers twenty simple but powerful exercises help you get started.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *