“Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?”
I’ve recently completed a course in how to be mindful — specifically bringing greater mindfulness to my coaching techniques and also helping clients build greater mindfulness into their day.
I suspect some of you reading this are thinking “mindfulness is just the latest buzzword,” or “sounds too touchy-feely to me.”
I thought that too but, in fact, the idea has been around for centuries in some form or another, and more recently has been recognized in helping business people centre themselves and reduce stress and anxiety, while achieving their goals with greater success.
You might also be thinking mindfulness is meditation — perhaps you’re picturing Buddha, cross-legged, chanting, and smelling incense. In fact mindfulness, includes some components of meditation, some would say it’s a form of meditation, but it’s also more easily accomplished in our busy modern lives.
You could think of mindfulness as awareness. Self-awareness, in particular, and how you’re reacting to and engaging with the world around you. Becoming aware of not just everything around you but also what’s going on inside you and how you are reacting to it.
I’ve always been a pretty skeptical guy — wary of fads and easy fixes. But as I have dived deeper into mindfulness, I’m more and more convinced of its value in the office.
There are a few things I’m sure we can agree are not the best approach to a fulfilling life;
- flying through our days on autopilot;
- not living in the moment;
- focusing on past mistakes and/or future anxieties;
- reviewing our mental checklists, or
- worrying about how we’re going to fit it all in.
Not only are these not helpful for achieving a fulfilling life but they often are not even serving our needs in the present moment – or our needs at any time.
It is a method of calling attention to and observing the “monkey mind,” or the mind that spins without purpose and letting those thoughts go as we would a car passing by.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much mindfulness helps me achieve the success and business growth I’m aiming for — you might be surprised how it can help you too.
Here are four ways you can bring greater mindfulness to your days:
Pause for a few moments before you start your day
Depending on when things get going for you, this could be while you sip your cup of coffee at home — savouring the flavour, noticing the steam, the feel of the mug in your hands. Noticing the sounds around you. Feeling your feet on the floor. Just taking a few moments, possibly even with your eyes closed to “notice.”
Or, if you carpool, or ride the bus, try checking in with yourself as you travel — close your eyes, breathe in slowly until your lungs are full, let the breath out slowly until you’re completely out of breath. Do this a few more times, feeling the breath enter and leave. Notice the sounds. Notice the feel of the seat. Notice your body, starting with your feet and moving slowly up to your head — are you sore or stiff anywhere? Are your muscles tense, or relaxed? if your mind wanders, bring it back to noticing your body.
If you don’t take the bus, I don’t recommend trying this in your car until you get to your parking spot! You could also do it when you get to the office, before you start your computer. But, let’s face it — that one is risky — is there a chance someone else barges in, anxious to alert you to the day’s crisis? Perhaps centering yourself for a few moments at home, would be wise.
This doesn’t have to take long, and it doesn’t have to be a full meditation — but take some time to P A U S E and to notice.
Notice how you react to things throughout the day
The next time you have a bad experience at work — a dispute with a colleague, some difficult feedback, a lost sale, make a mental note of how your body reacts. Are your shoulders tense? Have you got a pit in your stomach? Are you clenching your hands or your teeth? Is your face flushed? Has your heart quickened? Has your breathing tightened-up?
Take time to notice how you physically react. Then take a moment to notice how you emotionally or mentally react. What thoughts did you have? Do those thoughts recur? Did your mind continue down a path even after the incident? Jot it down.
Then when something good happens at work — you nail it on a sales call, your boss recognizes your good work, a colleague invites you to lunch — take a moment again and notice your physical reaction. How do you feel? Is the tension gone? Are you smiling more easily? Do you notice any pain or soreness? Do you feel lighter or brighter? What about emotionally and mentally? What’s your outlook like? Are you seeing the world through a happy lens? Are you feeling more empathetic? caring? Do THOSE thoughts recur? Does the feeling linger? Jot it down.
The more you do this, the more you’ll instinctively become aware of how you’re reacting to the world — you’ll become self-aware.
You may then be better able to manage your day — if your colleague Lucille causes you to tense up, you can start to stretch a bit before a meeting, you can notice your physical reactions and let them go — un-tensing your neck while listening to Lucille. If nothing else, you can recognize what has occurred, and do something helpful after your meeting.
Anticipating negative reactions and helping ourselves manage our response, helps us feel much more in control and helps us stay present.
You may notice something else that a lot of us find through mindfulness — we let bad things linger longer than the good things. Mindfulness helps us shift the balance on that.
Practice Non-judgemental stance…
… (of yourself, and of others)
This follows immediately on the last point — we want to observe our reactions, but not beat ourselves up about them. Self-evaluation is good but self-talk that blames and shames isn’t.
When you notice in the previous step that your reaction to something is self-criticism, remind yourself to observe it and then let it go. When you make a mistake – observe it, but don’t judge it. Do the same for the wins — take a moment to observe them — don’t just skip past them. Observe the success. Observe how you’re feeling.
There are several methods for learning to take a non-judgmental stance, but the most fundamental one is to become aware of your judgments.
For many of us, judgments are so ingrained that we don’t even notice them. Observe what thoughts, emotions, and sensations emerge within your experience as you imagine taking off a heavy pair of glasses through which you have viewed your experience. Imagine these glasses having thick, cumbersome, and cloudy lenses that result in a skewed, distorted, and judgmental view of yourself, other people, and events.
Try keeping track for a week of the times you make judgments, noting the date and time, place and specific judgment (it’s highly unlikely you’ll catch all of them, and that’s okay).
Jot them down on the note app on your phone, or in a notebook you carry with you. I’m talking here about things like:
- When you make a mistake: “Why did I do that? I’m so stupid.”
- When you’re on the road and somebody cuts you off: “What an idiot!”
- When you’re at the office: “My boss is such a jerk!” or “This meeting is going to be so boring.”
Once you’re aware of the kinds of judgments you make, you can start to catch yourself making them in the moment, before you have a chance to react. It’s surprising how quickly this change can start to happen. Then you can respond to the situation differently such as taking a few deep breaths and visualizing the judgment floating away.
One of the few times that mindfulness advocates will recommend stepping out of the present, is to visualize success.
You’ve no doubt heard this term used about elite athletes. Whether a swimmer or hockey player, a rower or a decathlete — all elite athletes learn to visualize success in their sport. Not in a general way but specifically — what will it feel like as they hit the ball? How will the ball travel to the outfield? How will their muscles feel as they pull on the oars? What will they hear? What will they smell? Taste? They train themselves to live in the moment of success. Why? Because visualizing that success translates into delivery on the field or pitch or diving board.
A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.
In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone.
These realities hold true in all aspects of life, including your career and your business. You might start visualizing not responding when someone treats you badly at work (see non-judgement section above!).
Then you might practice visualizing success in a difficult conversation, visualizing being direct and clear in a difficult conversation with an employee, for example.
When I speak at conferences I picture myself stepping onto the podium, I picture the audience in their seats, I picture how I’m going to say things and how the audience is going to react. I picture myself delivering a flawless presentation, full of emotion and excitement, I picture the audience reacting with enthusiasm.
Remember — mindfulness isn’t about perfecting any of these steps and techniques. It’s a process, a journey. Try some of these. If your mind wanders when you meditate at the start of the day, observe that this happened, without judging, then come back to it.
When you’re trying to be non-judgmental and realize you’ve just been critiquing something, or someone, in your head — congratulate yourself for noticing you’re doing it, and let it go. NONE of us are perfect at this, but the more you practice each of these tips, the more success you’re going to see.
What’s holding you back from trying these steps today? What if it works, what could you achieve?