Daily Stretch #20: turn chores into a meditation

The value of things doesn’t depend on what we do but in our appreciation. Pic by Anton Darius

“Before enlightenment, carry water and chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water and chop wood.” — Buddhist saying

If you are reading this, either you missed the headline or you want to know what’s the catch.

Sorry. But there’s none.

We all hate doing the dishes. And we believe small tasks are a burden. But it hasn’t to be like that.

Scheduling meetings, printing copies of a presentation, setting up the room, the workplace is full of chores too. Even though they don’t consume much time, no one wants to do meaningless tasks.

Just like doing the dishes.

I will show you how to reframe your daily chores into something meaningful. To enjoy doing them rather than feel you are wasting your time.

You are skeptical and that’s okay.

But here’s the deal: I promise 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 you do things is what matters

“Wax on, wax off.” — Mr. Miyagi

We established a hierarchy. Something activities feel cool. Others are just chores.

Chore/noun: “A routine task, especially a household one. An unpleasant but necessary task.”

The movie Karate Kid contributed with 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.

The movie 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 is disguised as a set of painful chores.

“Wax on, wax off” turns into a nightmare for our protagonist. A reminder of repetitive tasks that feel insignificant. Mr. Miyagi was slow-paced but anything but soft. He was determined to make skeptical Daniel finish several 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 new skills and Karate moves. The master was teaching him the foundation of a martial art through the repetition of mundane and boring tasks.

Why does this matter? Because it can help us reframe our daily chores as lessons in disguise.

And 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

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

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 learn to recover the value of doing small things.

Chores help us become more patient.

Daniel didn’t just learn new 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 are all impatient and want to achieve immediate results. But becoming good at something requires method and practice. And you can’t achieve 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 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 and the looks of the final dish. What they don’t realize 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. I love slicing onions with my knife. 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 feel focused. I enjoy the precision of the knife moving in and out.

Chores help us build resilience.

Daniel had to wax the 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 we should abandon something but we keep trying, that’s when your resilience is built.

Overcoming the burden of doing chores makes you stronger.

“We never noticed the beauty because we were too busy trying to create it.”

Chores are a form of meditation.

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 slow down our thoughts

It prepares your 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.

Embrace 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

There’s a simple trick that you can use which is reframing how you talk about chores.

As I explained in a previous post, 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 the words we use

I borrowed this “trick” from Bernie Roth, author of The Achievement Habit.

Two participants. One says “I have to do something and the other person will reframe it replacing by “you want”.

“I have to do the dishes” — you say, for example.

“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

Choose one chore that you want to become more appreciative of. Learn the proper method. Practice and master it.

  • Set up the scenario and remove distractions (phone, TV, etc.).
  • Focus on the activity. If you are going to do the dishes or clean the kitchen that should become your one and only priority at this time.
  • Start by taking a couple of deep breaths. Focus your energy on the activity. You want to do it. You want to enjoy it.
  • Focus on the chore. Capture every detail of what you do. How can you improve the outcome? What movements or things can you change? Try new ways of performing the chore.
  • If you feel distracted, try to re-focus on the chore. You are not just doing something. You are learning how 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 to dedicate to doing something versus approaching the same task as a burden.

If you’d ever need motivation, remember Miyagi’s mantra: “Wax on, wax off”.

Before You Go

Change happens one stretch at a time. Don’t take the shortcuts. Invest in improving your change fitness: