Let me take you to Washington, DC.
It’s a cold winter morning in January 2007.
In a subway station like any other, a violinist plays a Bach sonata in front of the thousands of passers-by who rush to their destination.
Only three minutes after he started playing, a middle-aged man notices the musician.
He slows down and stops for a few seconds.
He looks at his watch and starts to hurry away.
After four minutes, a woman throws some coins into the violinist’s hat without barely stopping for a second.
It’s the first dollar the violinist receives that day.
Six minutes after he started playing, a young man leans against the wall to listen to him, but in a matter of minutes he takes out his cell phone, looks at what time it is and starts walking again.
Ten minutes into his performance and a 3-year-old boy wants to stop to listen, but his hurried mother pulls him away.
The boy insists.
He stops again and looks at the violinist.
The mother pulls him angrily.
The boy keeps turning his head to see the violinist.
Other children show the same curiosity for the musician.
All parents, without exception, force their children to keep waking.
The musician keeps playing for another 45 minutes.
He stops playing, collects the $32.17 raised that morning and walks away.
Silence takes over the big station’s hall.
Of the 1,097 people who passed by the violinist, only seven stopped and briefly listened to his music.
Twenty people gave him money without stopping to listen.
No one realised that the violinist had finished his performance.
No one cheered.
There was no recognition.
But what no one knew was that this violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world, playing one of the most complex musical compositions ever written with a violin worth $ 3.5 million.
Two days earlier, Joshua Bell had performed at a theatre in Boston where viewers had paid an average price of $100 for listening to the same music that Joshua played that day on the Washington D.C. subway.
Do humans have the ability to appreciate the beauty in our environment?
I just told you a true story.
You may have seen it being shared on social media.
This is a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities designed by The Washington Post which, asked Joshua Bell to play incognito at the Washington subway station.
The objective of the experiment was to know if we humans have the ability to appreciate the beauty in a common environment such as a subway station, at an inappropriate or unexpected time.
Do we stop to appreciate it?
Do we recognise talent in an unexpected context?
If we don’t have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing one of the most beautiful musical compositions ever written, with one of the most delicate instruments ever created, how many other things are we missing as we hurriedly go about our business?
Think about it.
Is your attention fully focused on reading this article?
Has it allowed you to understand the implications of Joshua Bell’s story?
Or have you become distracted by a notification from WhatsApp?
Perhaps my words have triggered some memory of the past and you’ve abandoned me halfway through the story?
Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert state that, unlike other animal species, we human beings spend a large part of our time thinking not about what happens around us, but about past events or possible future events that may they never happen.
In fact, the authors of the report “A wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind” are convinced that “the wandering mind” is the “factory” mode of the human being.
And, although this unique ability allows us to learn, reason and play, that “nomadic” mind ends up costing us a lot from an emotional point of view.
How can they be sure?
How can these scientists affirm with absolute certainty that our mind’s tendency to wander and get lost in other points of our timeline is not the ideal state of the human being?
How do you know that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind?
Killingsworth and Gilbert developed an application for iPhones with which they created an extremely sophisticated database that generated reports, in real-time, on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of many people who participated in a whole series of daily activities.
The smart application contacted the participant through the iPhone at random times of their day and saved their responses in the database at www.trackyourhappiness.org.
In November 2010, the database had almost a quarter of a million samples from some 5,000 people in 83 different countries, ages 18 to 88, representing 86% of all major professions categories.
To find out how often these people’s minds wandered, what kind of issues they had a tendency to think about, and how those ramblings affected their levels of happiness, the authors analysed samples from 2250 adults (58.8% men, 73.9% residents of the United States, with an average age of 34 years) chosen at random to respond to:
1. A question about their happiness: “How do you feel now?”, having to indicate your their on a scale where 0 indicated “very bad” and 10 “very good”,
2. A question about their activity: “What are you doing now?”, to which they responded by indicating one of 22 different activities.
3. And a question that identified their wandering mind: “Are you thinking of something other than what you are doing?”, to which they could answer with dive different options: No; Yes, I am thinking something nice; Yes, I am thinking something neutral; o Yes, I am thinking something unpleasant.
Human beings are not present half of their awake hours
These authors’ surprising analysis revealed three different facts.
First: the participants’ minds wandered frequently, regardless of what they were doing.
The wandering mind made an appearance in 46.9% of cases and at least 30% of all activities except for lovemaking (as you would expect!)
The frequency with which the wandering mind appeared in this study is much higher than what it’s usually observed in laboratory experiments.
Surprisingly, the type of activity in which the person was participating had nothing to do with the distraction of the participant or whether the subject to which they wandered was pleasant or not.
Second: a multilevel regression revealed that participants in this experiment felt less happy when their minds wandered than when they were present.
In addition, this happened in all kinds of activities, even the least pleasant ones.
Although it was shown that the tendency to ramble towards pleasant subjects was greater (42.5% of the participants) than towards unpleasant subjects (26.5%) or neutral subjects (31%), people did not seem to be happier when thinking of nice topics instead of thinking about the activity they were doing at that time, and they were considerably more unhappy when thinking about neutral or more unpleasant topics than their activity at that time.
Third, what people were thinking more accurately predicted their level of happiness than what they were doing.
The authors thus reached the happy conclusion that the human mind is a wandering mind by nature, and that wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
The ability to think about what is not happening in our environment at that precise moment is a cognitive achievement for which we pay a very high emotional cost.
That is, we will be happier, as surprising as it may seem to us, washing the dishes and thinking fully about that activity, than washing the dishes and thinking that we are on a white sand beach in the Caribbean.
Calculated in real hours, this experiment shows that we are not present for almost half of the hours we spend awake.
Or in other words: we spend half of our lives without being fully aware of the work or activity we are carrying out!
We live in a state of “unconsciousness”, victims of our own natural state exacerbated by the frenzy of our lives that force us to attend useless meetings, respond to endless emails, fill out unnecessary forms and feel guilty when we are “doing nothing”.
The consequences of this innate wandering in humans are not just simple errors caused by lack of focus and distraction or loss of productivity.
The consequence, as we have seen, is imbalance and unhappiness.
So having seen what we’ve seen, let me ask you:
Don’t you think this has to end, my fellow Nomad@50?
Don’t you think that the time has come to stop living in “autopilot” without being aware of the details of our experience at a precise moment in time, or of the intentions that motivate our actions?
Travelling and living fully at 50 – incorporating intention into your actions
Incorporating intention into our actions helps us create purpose.
Having the purpose of living our experience, whether breathing, eating, writing, listening to our partner talk about a football game (tell me about it!), and especially traveling, means that we are actively working the mind on the present.
Incorporating intention into our actions helps us recognise what is happening at the moment that is happening, actively accepting the flow of the experience while it is happening.
If throughout the day we verify that we are present, every hour, every minute, every second, we are present, whether we are in Kathmandu, in Siem Reap, or in Bhutan.
How do we travel with intention at 50?
The following tips will help you become a more present, connected and respectful adventurer at 50.
It all starts with a simple intention.
Like a seed sown in the ground, the intentions of your trip will grow and flourish to become something you never imagined.
Any intention is valid.
The day you miss your family, remember your intention.
It will remind you why you’re travelling.
Without purpose, without intention, your trip can become just an empty way to spend your time, or just another experience to consume.
How can you be connected to your intentions?
Write them down!
What are your hopes for this trip?
What are your fears?
Express your intentions out loud, either before your trip, or while traveling.
And remember, traveling is embracing the ephemerality of life.
To travel is to leave behind what we are accustomed to.
It is saying goodbye to stability.
And making deep friendships with people we may never see again.
By living with intention, we learn to overcome any storm and absorb it as a wonderful part of our temporary experience.
Because it doesn’t matter how long or how far your trip takes you: at some point, it will come to an end.
Traveling with intention will help you be more present in every second…
To slow down the speed of time…
To detect every detail…
And to navigate the ups and downs that will undoubtedly appear on any type of trip.
2. Sit down and observe
How often do you allow yourself to sit in a cafe or on a park bench and simply observe people?
As Nomad@50, that activity occupies one of the top positions on my list.
Sit in a café, in a busy corner, in a square, in a park …
And look at someone (without staling them or being creepy, of course!): What could that person’s story be?
Where do they come from?
Where are they going?
Write everything you can think of!
You never know if that person could be the protagonist of your next best-seller!
If you are going to spend a week or two in a certain location, look for your preferred spot and try to spend some time every now and then deeply connecting with that place and with the experience!
3. Incorporate gratitude to your trip
Speaking from experience, I know how easy it is to feel exhausted while traveling around the world.
Or how easy it is to complain when the plane leaves an hour late.
But the important thing – and a really difficult one at that – is to feel grateful for the privilege of traveling. Think about those thousands of people everywhere who would love to be in your place!
Traveling can really help us (and should help us) feel more grateful.
You can show your gratitude in a “gratitude journal” where you list every day everything for which you are grateful.
Or you can do the same in a more visual style, creating a gratitude album where to keep a picture a day of something for which you feel grateful.
It’s up to you how you decide to practice gratitude.
But when you do, you’ll see the world transforming around you.
4. Place technology on hold
I understand technology is a vital part of our lives.
I’m not going to deny it, I’m a lover of all that technology can do for us.
It allows me to share my travels and perspectives, and stay connected with incredible people from all over the world.
However, how often do we allow ourselves space outside of this technological world in which we live?
Being focused on your screen could make you miss the opportunity to meet someone wonderful on your trips!
When traveling you have the incomparable possibility of redefining your relationship with technology and being more aware of your surroundings.
Again, you decide how you prefer to use it and limit it during your travels.
5. Establish certain routines when travelling
Yes, even nomads follow certain routines!
You can start the day with a small ritual that includes those little actions that help you get energised and prepared for the adventures that await you: be it going for a run through the streets of the places you’re visiting, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, a gratitude ritual, a tea, an email to your family …
It can be anything you want.
It’s also lovely – if you spending quite some time in the same place – to visit your favourite cafés and shops with a certain frequency.
You’ll notice how the owners start recognising and chatting to you.
You never know where a good friendship can come from!
Your routines will help you know the rhythms of a place and its people.
What time does the market open?
What day of the week is everything closed?
At what time is lunch? Dinner?
What are the morning rituals of a place?
Rituals and daily routines will give you a beautiful feeling of calm and stillness, even if you find yourself in the hustle and bustle of places that seem to go at a thousand miles per hour.
6. Slow your speed right down
If you like a place, and you can afford it, enjoy that place.
Forget about that fast tourism style focused on getting selfies and photographs for Instagram.
I’m pretty sure that like the good Nomad@50 that you are, fast tours in a ridiculously short time no longer give you any sort of satisfaction.
If you only have two weeks, go to a unique place and absorb it to the max.
Don’t try to cram (consume) experiences.
Reduce your speed.
Discover with intention.
Commit to this place.
In How to finance xxx I share some of the platforms that can help you pay for longer trips and deeper experiences.
This is travelling with intention.
That’s what traveling with intention looks like.
It’s about incorporating intention and “respect” towards the experience that life presents to you in that moment.
It’s about creating an attitude of love towards the person, animal, action or discovered object, developing a commitment to ourselves and to the observed experience.
It is to live Nomad@50.
Is there anything better?