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It Really Doesn’t Matter What You Order: My 2020 Resolution to Waste Less Brain Time

I spend an inordinate amount of time considering food. I scour blogs and reviews to select restaurants we will visit in each city we travel to. I read menus with slow, careful attentiveness to each side dish and preparation. I reflect on my workouts to consider what treats I’ve “earned,” and the variety of dishes planned for the upcoming days. And–almost always–I agonize with regret as soon as the order is placed, in consideration of all the other possible dishes I could have selected.

In fairness, I am a foodie, and enjoy enjoying my meal. However, as 2019 came to a close, I realized that I’d like to be more mindful about where I am devoting my mental attention.

I came to this decision in New Zealand because it is a very British country. There’s a lot of fish ‘n chips. A lot of pub food and personal-sized savory pies. In southeast Asia, I took cooking classes and savored the bun xiao and bumbu bali I was tasting because they were foreign and complex; the flavors and spices were vital aspects of the culture I was trying to soak in. While New Zealand’s milk really does taste like the cows are frolicking in rich green fields, the rest of its cuisine brought into stark relief the truth: not every meal needs to be the world’s best.

In New Zealand, I also experienced the bliss of consistently being in mountain mode. While we enjoyed some great restaurants in Queenstown and Aukland, we have spent most of our time driving and camping in the glorious National Parks here. When we are hiking 11 miles a day, lunch is usually peanut butter and jelly, and dinner is a freeze-dried meal. We eat whatever we have packed from the supermarket (cucumbers, bars, trail mix, candy), and don’t give thought to gustatorial options that don’t exist at the top of a mountain. This setting reminds me that while humans have evolved to create delicious, complex food, sometimes it just needs to nourish the body and keep you moving forward. Simple eats free my mind to spend more time contemplating the motion of the clouds and the ridges on the distant horizon.

So, this year, I’m breaking up with my foodie obsessiveness. Food choices will no longer command my attention. And how freeing!

Consciously stopping myself from obsessing about sticky topics for me–topics that spiral my attention down narrowly, instead of allowing it to fan out beyond myself–opens me up to observation of culture and the natural world around me. In meditation, I’ve been guided to let my thoughts be like clouds: drifting into my field of vision, grabbing my attention momentarily, and then gently drifting away, never lingering unduly. Clouds that linger block my vision, and stick around far too long. In this mindset, you are the master of your thoughts, not the other way around. This is how I want to approach obsessive, small-minded thinking like selecting what to order at a restaurant.

Like an app that takes inventory of your phone’s battery or data usage, and encourages you to “clear out space,” my new year’s resolution is to clear out space in my own thinking. I’m using this shift on food as an example of other micro-decisions that I’ve decided to give less attention to in the year to come.

What too-small, too self-centered, too-ephemeral areas of your life command undue attention?

In 2020, I challenge you to clear out unnecessary angst and regretful doubt, and spend more time in observation of bigger, more distant vistas.

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