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On the contrary, I'm playing close attention

I got busted the other day.

‘I’m sorry, is my meeting interrupting your knitting?’

Luckily, I have an answer to this, as a lifelong doodler, crocheter and meeting detester. Meetings drive me cray cray. The majority of the time, when there’s more than two people present at least 50% of the participant, just sit and listen.

Are they really listening?

Chances are they aren’t.

When we’re in a situation (meeting, lecture, presentation) where we aren’t actively engaged, we tend to daydream, this means we’re thinking about anything but what’s happening in the room. We’re thinking about buying milk, weekend plans, the amazing encounter with a new love, the holiday we’re planning, or our sick loved one. Pretty much anything else that actually involves us.

Unlike a counselling session, where both parties are actively engaged: client is speaking while the therapist actively listens and responds accordingly.

A selection of doodles (by author)

When we engage in doodling or, in my case, crochet, we are engaging just enough of the mind to stop it wandering off too far and it enables us to stay in the moment and in the room. There has been at least one study and countless articles like this one, this one, this one, and this one about how beneficial it is to the retention of information, keeping you in the moment, and helping productivity.

I discovered crochet works for me one day by accident when in class a few years ago. We were having a particularly heated conversation about a very emotive topic when I needed to zen for a moment before I called ‘bullsh*t’ on a comment that went against everything we’re taught about being non-judgemental. So in an attempt to do just that; I reached into my bag and grabbed my yarn and hook.

I found, as I sat there, listening and hooking away, that I was able to listen to what was being said, really listen. I wasn’t looking around the room, at note jotting hands, or that others where surfing Facebook. I was just listening. I don’t need to really concentrate when I crochet because I don’t follow patterns, so for me, it’s the same as doodling. I was engaging just enough of my mind to focus on the voices and what they were saying.

During the break the lecturer asked me if I was OK, and I was. Completely. I had resolved my issue with the terrible comment from the class mate, and I had been able to take part in the remainder of the conversation, calmly, from a fully informed basis because I had heard and digested every word, from both sides of the argument. It was possibly the first time I had heard so much. I had been able to focus on nuance, tones, underlying messages and I heard complete sentences.

This was different to when I’d spent time taking notes. When I’d hear something I liked, start writing it down and miss the next thing as I wrote. I started crocheting in every class.

My grades went up. I would hear so much more in class, I was able to recall it when it came to writing the essays. I hadn’t spent the lecture looking around the room at someone picking their nails, or fiddling with their phone. I watched the yarn flow through my fingers and the hook create as I listened, it helped my recall and remember what had been said so I was able to bring topics back that had been talked about weeks ago.

At the end of the trimester (and after grading) I gifted the scarf I'd crocheted (shown to the right) to the lecturer of the difficult class, for understanding and helping me in my personal development.

At work, when in meetings, I generally doodle. It’s less obvious than crochet. I was crocheting the other day because I had to attend a three and half hour branch update with over 70 people in attendance. After half an hour I was really uncomfortable. The chairs in the auditorium were wooden Ls with no shaping and very little padding, and despite having ample padding of my own, I could feel my bones. All I could hear was my body complaining about how long we’d have to sit in these chairs. I couldn’t stand up because I was in the middle middle. There was no desk on which to lean for doodling. So I took out my crochet.

Suddenly I was able to hear what was being said. My focus had shifted to the speaker and not the little voice in my head telling me my arse hurt.

When called out for my ‘disrespectful behaviour’ during the break I was able to answer that I had heard every word, that I was in fact doing it so I was able to give the speaker my full attention, rather than focusing on my sore bum and back was for the next three hours. Now, whenever I attend meetings or training I always have a chat with the person who'll be doing the most speaking to ask them if it's OK if I crochet and how it helps me understand and process their content. I've never had someone refuse.

Next time you see a member of staff and perceive them to not be paying attention to you because they are doodling or doing some other mindful* activity, consider that they could be paying you the most heartfelt of compliments by really wanting to listen, and hear, to what you have to say.

What do you do during meetings to stop your mind wandering?

*Other mindful activities include (but limited too): doodling, fidget spinners, Rubik's cube, hand spinning, knitting, colouring-in, stroking hands or thighs, and stretching.

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