How Stopping To Smell the Roses Rewires Your Brain

Home Life Lessons How Stopping To Smell the Roses Rewires Your Brain

How Stopping To Smell the Roses Rewires Your Brain

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Anyone who follows cricket knows that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is one of the most prolific players of the game.

Dhoni was a larger-than-life figure who ironically stayed almost invisible on the field and off it. But he had his fair share of struggles as a captain. One of them was slow-over rates.

When a team is slow to bowl its overs—when it takes longer than the allotted time to complete them—players and the captain of the side get fined. If such offenses get repeated, the captain receives a one-match suspension.

Dhoni was a repeat offender, struggling to get his bowlers to complete their overs on time. Sometimes, he got fined 60 percent of his match fee.

One such incident occurred when India played a Test match in Cape Town. Pace bowler S. Sreesanth would take double the allotted time to go through his overs. As a result, Dhoni was fined for a slow over-rate.

After the match, the umpires went to the Indian team’s dressing room and had a chat with Dhoni. They reminded him that one more offense could lead to a one-Test ban. But Dhoni was his usual relaxed, witty self.

Umpire Simon Taufel reminisced the incident.

“We told him if he breaks it [the over rate] again in the Test match in Durban, he is likely to have a holiday. He said, ‘that’s okay, I need a holiday, I would like to have a game off. But Sree is not playing this game so don’t worry.’”

Taufel also vividly remembers Dhoni’s interest in a chair he was sitting on. “He was sitting back on this black leather chair,” Taufel said. “And he is more interested in the quality of the chair and thinking ‘I would like to take this chair home’.”[1]You can watch Simon Taufel’s full speech here.

Think about it. The weight of a billion Indian expectations on his shoulders. Match officials telling him he could get suspended after the next Test match. But Dhoni was soaking in the comfort of a chair.

This wasn’t an attempt to change the subject. It was typical Dhoni enjoying the small things in life.

This trait was important to help him remain in the moment and choose positive thoughts over negative ones, the pay-off of which was that he was one of the game’s most successful players and a role model whom billions admired.

Smelling the Roses Leads to Better Self-Control

This is not shallow make-believe stuff; it’s genuine neurology backed by research. In her bestselling book Rapt, acclaimed behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher noted:

“The tendency to focus on the seemingly minor delights of a good, crisp apple or your favorite song on the radio is an important element in the construction of an optimistic, upbeat personality and corresponds with a greater overall satisfaction with life. Conversely, a chronic inability to focus on small opportunities to cheer up and enjoy yourself correlates with depression and its dour worldview.”

If you can pay attention to minor delights, your brain develops a strong neural executive network. This means you can focus on what’s important and respond aptly to it despite distractions.

For instance, rather than giving in to instant gratification like gorging on dessert, you can think about what’s important—your weight—and pass up the dessert bowl without much fuss.

Rather than feeling FOMO each time you get notified about a new email or text, you can put your notifications on silent and focus on the meaningful project.[2]Another benefit of getting better at smelling the roses is that you become aware of your surrounding. You’re more likely to notice something that might fly under the radar, or something others … Continue reading

This self-control often appears in high achievers’ personalities, while its opposite trait of impulsiveness often appears in a self-defeating person’s behavior.

Dhoni could exercise self-control even when he felt a game was slipping away or a bowler wasn’t executing a plan well. He wouldn’t lose his cool and give his team an earful on the field. Instead, he would simply ask himself, “What should I do next?”, and then go about applying his ideas.[3]A strong attentional network also meant he could hold off giving feedback until a few days after the game when the player was in a receptive frame of mind.

Stop and Smell the Roses

It’s not easy to experience tiny joys in today’s life. But the good news is that you can get better at it with practice. A simple gratitude journal is a great place to start.

I’ve maintained journals for the last four years. I’m not as regular as I’d like, but I keep noting down tiny things I’m grateful for—my guitar, multivitamin capsules, chocolate donuts, a bed to sleep in, silly conversations with friends—things we often take for granted.

Writing in this journal has coincided with an improvement in focus. I enter a flow state faster, am productive at meaningful tasks, and feel happier at the end of the day. (And I have more notes for my gratitude journal.)

But this practice has led to an unexpected positive side-effect: I can notice more roses.

Last month, for instance, I was vacationing in the mountains. One evening, I was chatting with the host of my homestay. Silence descended on our conversation a few times. My initial reaction was to get up and walk away like we often do nowadays, assuming the conversation is over.

But here’s the thing. The silence wasn’t awkward; it was comfortable. I took a while to notice it, but I’m glad I did. Then I asked myself, “Where do I have to go?” “Nowhere but here,” came as the answer.

So we sat there, talking, keeping quiet, talking, keeping quiet. Their handsome dog joined us, curled up, and lay at my feet for 20 minutes. Neither of us moved. The hostess brought me a cup of tea while I stared at the starry night, listening to the lazy hum of the Beas river a few miles away. It was bliss!

I’ve got better at noticing other tiny things too, like a genuine smile from a barista, a child’s innocent cackle of laughter, and the warmth of the morning sunlight. I can root myself to the moment better than a few years ago. I’m still not as good as I’d like, but I’m getting there.

Final Thoughts

Most of our time gets spent living in the past or the future at the expense of the present. We always assume we have someplace to be or something to do.

The reality is that there’s no place to hurry to, no task to rush through. There’s just this moment to truly experience.

The present is a bouquet of roses. Take your time to smell them.


1 You can watch Simon Taufel’s full speech here.
2 Another benefit of getting better at smelling the roses is that you become aware of your surrounding. You’re more likely to notice something that might fly under the radar, or something others might consider insignificant, but could have a huge impact on the larger scale of things.
3 A strong attentional network also meant he could hold off giving feedback until a few days after the game when the player was in a receptive frame of mind.

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