We’ve all done it—walk into a room with the intention of doing something, go through the doorway, and forget why you were there in the first place. It’s a pretty common thing, and don’t worry—it doesn’t mean you’re losing your mind.
Psychologists believe that passing through a doorway and entering a different room creates a mental block in the brain—it’s kind of like your brain turning the page to log new information, and it’s called the doorway effect.
The doorway effect can be amplified when you get distracted in the process of walking into that room, too. If your phone happens to ring while entering the room, and you check it quickly, this tends to increase the chances of the doorway effect happening.
You could compare our screens and devices to a doorway of sorts.
When we pick up our phones, we’re entering another dimension with apps, information, and notifications. It’s like we’re going into a different space completely as we peer into the pixels. It’s practically a digital doorway we walk through hundreds of times per day.
This is a major problem, especially with our increasing dependence on devices. Not only do these distractions waste time, it means our actions aren’t aligning fully with our intentions. We intend to give our attention to one thing, and it gets stolen away and used for something else.
If we don’t fully own our attention, that means we aren’t directing it in the ways that are most meaningful to us. And if we can’t do that, then we’re not as aware of and able to create the type of change in our lives we desire.
There’s a quirky mindfulness practice that will instantly improve your attention, already being used in the Japanese rail industry, called ‘pointing and calling’.
The practice of pointing and calling (called shisa kanko in Japanese) is where a conductor will point to a sign, an object, or a situation while calling out the name. It’s used by the Japanese rail industry to improve accuracy and reduce mistakes due to inattention.
Pointing and calling has been shown to substantially reduce accidents and improve safety conditions. A study by the Railway Technical Research Institute showed that pointing and calling reduced mistakes by almost 85 percent when doing a simple task.
So how can you apply this mindfulness practice to your own life?
Instead of just seeing or thinking about something and then doing it, you would point, call out what you’re seeing, and then take action.
For example, while getting something from another room, you can state it out loud and point on your way to go get the item. If you’re at a red light and the light turns green, you’d point to the light and say, “green light.”
If you’re looking for a specific email, point to the email app and say, “I’m going to check that email from Jeff,” so you’re less likely to be distracted by something new sitting in your inbox. Before you sit down at the computer, audibly call out what you plan to do on it. It may be a little hard to point at a digital task, but adding a physical gesture can improve your effectiveness.
Now, you don’t have to take this literally. You may get some odd looks if you point to a pint of ice cream at a grocery store and loudly proclaim, “I’m going to buy that ice cream.”
But there’s something magical that happens when you point and call.
The reason this mindfulness practice works so well is due to something called co-action and co-reaction. You’re aligning the thoughts in your mind with your eyes, hands, mouth, and ears.
The practice of pointing and calling reinforces multiple senses with your intended action.
You’re saying what you’re thinking, hearing what you’re saying, pointing to what you’re looking at, and you’re looking at what you’re pointing to.
It’s harder to get distracted when you’re aligning all your senses around your thoughts.
Pointing and calling isn’t just about not forgetting little tasks. As a busy entrepreneur, I often feel like I can never have a satisfying feeling of having “done enough” at the end of each day. There’s always more to do, and it can be a struggle to deal with this feeling on a regular basis. So now, I use pointing and calling to help with this.
At the end of the day, I hold my bullet journal and say “I’m proud of the work I got done today.” It feels very different from when I just try to “think” that thought. It feels much less real.
But when I say it out loud, touch my journal, and announce out loud that I’m proud—it sits better. It’s no longer just words bouncing around in my head, but out there in the open world being affirmed by my different senses.
When it comes to food, whether healthy or indulgent, you can make intentional choices by pointing and calling it out. If you want to eat ice cream, you can point and say, “I’m choosing to eat this ice cream right now.” When you’re making a clear choice, you can more fully enjoy it without feeling any shame or guilt.
When you make active choices more consistently, you own your attention more fully.
Instead of “twitching” from discomfort or going on autopilot, you’re making intentional choices—even if you make a choice that might not be seen as “beneficial” (like the ice cream). It’s better to choose actively and still do it, versus choose passively and regret it.
Who would’ve thought the hottest new mindfulness practice would come from the Japanese rail industry?
I sure didn’t. But I’ve been trying pointing and calling for the past couple months and it makes a difference.
Taking advantage of the co-action and co-reaction effect can help align your intention with your attention. So go ahead and try this mindfulness practice for yourself. Remember, you don’t have to go full throttle when you’re out in public. But if you do, it’ll probably be a good laugh for you and your friends—which doesn’t hurt either.