This is my first attempt at writing a post using voice recognition software. For the past week I’ve been “training” Dragon Naturally Speaking. Or maybe Dragon has been training me.
You would think that voice-recognition software would be as simple as speaking (although that statement in itself may be an oxymoron for many of us). But the software is sophisticated enough that there’s a fairly steep learning curve–both in learning the commands and in learning to “write” by speaking. So far, I’ve primarily been using it for work tasks, which are straightforward and often scripted in nature.
Curiously, I’m finding that voice-recognition software makes the writing process both faster and slower. Faster, because my typing and in particular my ability to spell is hampering my writing considerably. Slower, because before dictating each sentence I have to pause and compose the words in my mind in a way that is very different from typing.
There’s always been something about typing that has felt like a direct connection between my brain and the words. Now, something is short-circuiting that connection. I’ve reached a tipping point where the effort to put the words into speech in order to create text is less than the effort required to type those same words. And this new process–both the relative ease and the slowness of it–has me thinking a lot about things like mindfulness and intentionality.
Is This Mindfulness?
I’m a pretty in-the-moment person. Sometimes I’m so in the moment that I forget other moments–like the past or the future–exist.
But being in the moment feels different from being mindful. In Zen Buddhism, there is the concept of mushin or no mind. It’s a state of mental emptiness, free from distractions or preoccupations. I suspect it’s quite similar to that feeling of being completely immersed in a favorite pastime or interest–those moments when time seems to stop and we forget the world around us momentarily.
I spend a lot of time in that place, perhaps because so much of what I do for work and in my free time is related to things that intensely interest me. The problem is it’s not a very practical place to be for long periods. Or perhaps I’m just not doing it right.
Mushin, in the martial arts, is often viewed as an ideal state of being. It’s that place where everything flows, without the sort of mental friction that slows us down or causes us to struggle. That’s ideal in a life-and-death situation but maybe not so much when you’re so free of distraction that you don’t register the need to eat or sleep or attend to other basic bodily functions.
While writing by typing has often brought me close to that feeling of mushin, training Dragon has been what feels like the opposite–an exercise in mindfulness. It’s been interesting to think about how the two concepts intersect and yet how very different they are.
Mindfulness feels like it requires an extra step, in the same way that writing by speaking requires an extra step. To act mindfully I need to be both in the moment and able to observe myself in the moment. There is an additional layer of awareness that I find difficult to hold on to.
The Scientist has been helping me out by “checking in.” Each morning he asks me how many spoons I have and throughout the day, whenever it occurs to him I guess, he asks for an update. The point, is not really for me to tell him how I’m doing but for me to check in with myself, to intentionally bring awareness to my spoon level. By being prompted to do this throughout the day, I’ve started to pay more attention to my internal condition at other times of the day too. The result has been a new set of rules based on emerging patterns.
For example, I’ve recognized that the last few Tuesdays have all been terrible horrible no good very bad days. The one thing each has had in common is that I was trying to do cognitive tasks that exceeded my available resources on that particular day. It may have been a series of coincidences or there may be something about Tuesdays that are cognitive wastelands right now. Either way, I’ve decided to plan my weeks so that on Tuesday I do work that is neither unfamiliar nor cognitively challenging. I’ve also decided that I need more frequent check-in’s on Tuesdays so that I can put the brakes on the train before it’s ever in danger of jumping the tracks.
It feels almost novel to be doing this–to intentionally think about how I feel and to make small adjustments, trying to optimize that feeling. Sometimes I imagine that I’m a Sim and visualize what my comfort, hunger, sleep, and other ‘bars’ look like. And much like playing the Sims, I’m discovering lots of new tricks. For example, using Dragon is a lot like unlocking a career reward that gives a character the ability to increase their skills at a much faster rate.
The result, in very tiny increments so far, is that I find myself giving more intentional thought to what I am doing throughout the day. Much like Dragon forces me to compose my thoughts in chunks before committing them to the page, I’m stopping more often to think before I act.
In this way, I feel like I’m practicing mindfulness on a miniature scale. There is no meditation, no breathing exercises, no greater emotional or spiritual goals. Perhaps this feels like a more useful approach for me because I seem to have the opposite problem with being mindful that most people have. Being present is relatively easy for me; being aware of myself in the present is much harder.