In our ever-busier world with new distractions and technology pulling us in every direction, it can be hard to manage stress levels and remain focused, efficient and happy. This is certainly true for business leaders, where a lack of clear direction or making a decision based on emotion may have consequences that affect many people adversely.
Most people tend to squander a significant amount of life becoming attached to unproductive thoughts. These might be about the past, which is useful for context but otherwise no longer exists. Or they might be able the future, which is beyond our control no matter how much we worry.
We also tend to waste time by piling and mixing up tasks, believing we are capable of multitasking, which we are not. I know I often think I can do this because I am good at faking it by switching rapidly back and forth between tasks. But as I explore the slower pace of mindful awareness, I’m realizing that completing one task at a time well actually saves me time overall.
For the past few weeks, I’ve attended A Mindful Course™ offered by Dr. Chris Johnson of Q4 Consulting, one of Astek’s clients. It’s largely based on the decades-long work of John Kabat Zinn and his work to develop the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in his own clinic, where he sees consistent first-hand success helping people handle life and pain more effectively.
In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Zinn discusses the seven attitudinal factors of mindfulness. They are:
- Beginner’s mind
- Letting go
As Dr. Chris puts it, mindfulness is an intentionally focused awareness — a way of paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally. I won’t go into detail about these since there are multiple resources for you to explore if you’d like, including the book itself, which I highly recommend.
So how to we pay attention in the moment rather than reaching for our smartphone every two minutes?
Meditation is an important aspect of the practice. Your mind is a muscle like any other that can be strengthened through practice. Meditation, starting with being aware of your breath, is a way to practice how you can stay calm when dealing with a more stressful moment. Your breath is a grounding resource that can center you to the present reality at all times. Once you are facing reality, rather than what you may wish is happening, you’ll be better equipped to move through it with focus, balance and grace.
And what does this have to do with business?
In the short few weeks that I have engaged in a daily meditation practice, as well as other exercises, I have noticed an increased ability to handle stressful situations and sidestep communication patterns that I may historically have been drawn into. I have focused on completing one task at a time. This translates to stronger mentoring and communication with my team; setting clearer expectations and boundaries with clients; and creating focused direction for the company.
Writing this blog is a good example. I haven’t blogged in months since it always falls to the bottom of my to-do list. In my experience working with clients to set up blogging programs, this is a very common pattern. A mindful approach asks the question, “why is it on the to-do list if it’s never going to get done?” Either do it or simplify by removing it. So I made time for it.
Of course I’m not always great at doing this. That’s not the point. We are human after all. It’s more about practicing and not judging yourself when you make mistakes and go awry. Mindfulness practice focuses on developing the ability to be aware of emotions while they are happening so that you can make better choices about what to do with them. Emotions are a wonderful part of being human, but they can be their own distraction if we let them take over.
Here’s a simple meditation exercise:
Try sitting still, in an upright yet comfortable position, for five minutes. See if you can focus on your breath for that time without altering it. If that’s too much, just try two minutes. I can promise you will get distracted. Once you realize you’ve stopped focusing on your breath, take note of the thought and its intensity, and then return to focusing on your breath. The mere act of practicing this repeated return to focus helps strengthen your awareness and focus.
Then try it every day for a week. Then a month. You get the idea. I hope that you’ll start to see the clarity that this practice is bringing to me in my daily life. If you like it, Q4 Consulting is a wonderful resource to get more information about a formal study of mindfulness.