Mindfulness seems a little intangible – immeasurable even.
It isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind in leadership circles and it is often an afterthought in workshops and continuing education events.
But, that’s changing.
Leadership and mindfulness actually go hand-in-hand and more and more organizations are embracing the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into their leadership practices.
Wait, what is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”
It’s the learned ability to focus 100% on what is happening in the present moment and choosing to apply all of your attention on a particular thing or person.
It’s conscious and focused attention. It’s being present. It’s channeled intention. And, it’s something that I highly encourage you to get behind.
How does that apply to leadership?
It’s easy to see myriad ripple effects within an organization with leaders who embrace mindfulness. Not only does practicing mindfulness lower stress and improve our ability to focus and manage our time, it shifts neurological patterns in our brains that can impact overall health and wellness.
The culture of multitasking and juggling all the balls in the air all the time is slowly becoming a thing of the past and for good reason. Multitasking is simply divided attention – the exact opposite of mindfulness and it’s no longer serving us. I’d argue it never was but we’re just now realizing it. We have enough demands on our time and attention. Applying mindfulness at work (and other areas of our life) is a relief from the chaos of the blinking and beeping of notifications that beg for our attention.
Mindfulness also fosters self-awareness and leaders who are self-aware are able to clearly see their role, their strengths, and how to best apply themselves to serve their team and their organization.Mindful leadership is a way to take care of yourself and your team at the same time.
Four ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day:
If you’re not used to practicing mindfulness, there are some excellent tools and techniques that you can use to get started and gradually build your capacity as you find (or make) space.
1. Headspace and mini-meditations
Yes, the Headspace interface is a little bit, well, um, cute. But, I assure you – it’s very effective. I’ve been using it and loving it.
You can download the app onto your smartphone and you’re given 10 days of 10-minute guided meditation for beginners. Over the 10 days, you practice being completely present and it guides you, in stages, to increase the amount of time you spend with focused attention. I continue to be completely surprised at how effective that 10-minute investment is in turning my day around.
2. Body scans
Our days get away on us. Phone calls, emails, and meetings can completely take over and before you know it, it’s 4pm and you’ve barely looked up.
Set a reminder on your phone for a few times a day to stop what you’re doing and move your attention from the top of your head to your toes, one bit at a time.
This can take two minutes or ten minutes (or as long as you’d like, really) and will quickly bring you into the present moment. Notice how you’re feeling. Part of practising mindfulness is recognizing how you’re feeling and how things are affecting you — recognizing the often unconscious reactions we have.
I know you may be thinking that it’s hokey, maybe a bit hippy-ish, but what can I tell you — it works.
3. Deep breathing
Do you always take the same route from your car to your office door? Or walk by the same bookshelf a few times a day? Make a mental association between a physical thing that repeats throughout your day and mindfulness. Every time you see that thing, take three big deep breaths. Check in with yourself and notice what’s around you.
4. Predetermined phrases
I had to resist using the word mantra but, yah, that’s what I’m talking about. Do you have negative thoughts or limiting beliefs that auto-play in your mind when you’re not paying attention?
Take a day to simply observe which thoughts repeat.
What is your self-talk? Do you criticize yourself? Do you use harsh, judgemental words? Do you presume you won’t be good at things?
Once you’ve identified one or two thoughts where you are negative, choose an opposite statement that you can repeat to yourself whenever you catch yourself on auto-play.
Instead of thinking, “oh, that was stupid,” when you forget something or you make a mistake see if you can get yourself in the habit of thinking “oops, that was a mistake — good lesson learned for next time.” This simple mindful practice does two things: it keeps you present in the moment because you’re aware of what you are thinking and it disrupts negative patterns at the same time.
Coach’s Questions: Where or when would you like to be more present in your day? Where would being more positive boost not only the moment but the rest of your day? What are you committing to do, today, to accomplish that?