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Getting out of my own way; How I learnt to think clearly, act mindfully and not lose my edge — Part 2

As mentioned in part 1 I conducted a series of experiments to work out how I could improve my sense of well-being, reduce my anxiety…


As mentioned in part 1 I conducted a series of experiments to work out how I could improve my sense of well-being, reduce my anxiety levels, improve my relationships and feeling of being at my best.

Probably no surprise is that there was no one single answer. What I did learn was that a more system-based approach has started to work for me.

What do I mean by system-based approach?

To feel and perform at my best needed 3 things to be aligned

  • Clear mind
  • Clear intent
  • Personal practices

What I found was if I did one thing well e.g. regular meditation but I didn’t have a clear intention for the day or for a meeting I would not be at my best; I would lose part of the value of the meditation. If I went into a meeting with clear intent on what the desired outcome was and become distracted by pings and dings then the outcome may not be achieved.

Clear mind

This was the first step for me — my normal mind is cluttered and full of NUTS (nagging unfinished things), overly-negative self-talk, worry and anxiety.

What I learnt was my cluttered mind negatively impacted my behaviours — I was constantly distracted by trying to recall things I needed to do; when my mind was pre-occupied with random thoughts or running through the doomsday scenarios I was not present in the moment; I was certainly not acting with any clear intention.

My clear mind strategy is two-fold:

  1. Capture everything
  2. Choose my mindset

I carry a notebook to capture anything that I may need to recall later — I don’t want to have to think about it again; I may not have decided exactly what it means or if I will actually do it I just don’t want to have to think about it.

I learnt how critical mindset is — I wish I had been more aware of this years ago. I always let my view of the world be influenced by external events or people. I now realise that I can determine how I show up, how I see events, I have more control over how I will feel and behave than I had thought — this was a game changer.

I learnt that I can choose how I interpret situations and events.

I can plan for events where I have some control and let go of those that I cannot control.

I have had to learn to deal with uncertainty and not assume that the worst will always happen but learnt that accepting I cannot know the certainty of every outcome

All these have contributed to a more calm mind and one that is easier to clear for good quality thinking.

Clear intent

When I have clear space I am much more likely to think about what I want from a call, a meeting, project, day or week. I was very inconsistent at being clear what my intent was — I would just let things happen — and that would often have me feeling less than happy.

Mindfulness may be an overused term however I have found when I have set a clear intent it’s a more mindful approach.

If I set an intention to have a relaxing Saturday, to recharge from a hard week. I will do things that will relax, refresh and rejuvenate me.

Then I’m far more likely to feel energised and refreshed than if I just let the day happen.

Also if I’m setting my intent with a clear mind I’m more likely to set positive intents — my mind won’t be distracted by noise and clutter.

Personal practices

A clear mind and clear intent are all very well but real life can come at you 100MPH and quickly throw you off track.

What I learnt again was there is no one approach, tool, app, skill that will solve this. Having a toolbox at the ready was for me a better approach.

These are the day-to-day practices that help me get things done — they work together to help propel me towards more positive outcomes.

  • Visualise: Personally and in groups I find that simple visuals help clarify situations, align people and support action. They are not art, they are functional and disposable but they move you forwards — job done.
  • Listen: No not just listen, really listen — listen to understand not just as the gap before you reply.
  • Question: No-one has all the information they need, there are assumptions, interpretations, beliefs and judgments being made all the time — use questions to explore, to understand, to clarify. If you listen well you will ask better questions, you will understand more.
  • Externalise: Get stuff and information out of your head and into a second brain. Use a notebook for the immediate information you need now but use a digital solution for reference materials. Make sure your filing system is simple to use. If you have to think about where something is or you have to spend too long looking for things you will create unnecessary mental clutter. Ask yourself “If I needed to find this again in an emergency what would I look for” — be good today to your future self. This is a key area for reducing mental overload — complex filing systems may sound great but if you have 2 minutes before a meeting find something it needs to be quick…
  • Be present: Be present with full attention, no distractions. I learnt that I can do all the other clever stuff but if I’m not present and I get distracted I may miss something important, I may impact the relationship with people and it will impede progress. I always ask myself the question

Given that I won’t get this moment again will this be the best use of my time right now…

This gives me the hint to manage any distractions, and focus on what I’m doing right now. Monotasking rules!

This also extends into being present in any moment to take advantage of whatever that moment presented to me — be it a business opportunity, a new personal connection, a glorious sunny morning…a cluttered negative mind never left any space for these moments.

  • Keep an inventory: Have a complete inventory of commitments I have given and others have given me. Again I don’t want to have to think about it. — use what tools work best for you digital or analogue or digilogue.
  • Batch routine tasks: Whilst everyone wants to focus on the important added value jobs there are always routine tasks to do — email responses, bills to pay, calls to return — batch these tasks and do them at the time of day that best fits your style — for me that’s late PM — I do important stuff in the morning and routine batches in the later afternoon.
  • Pause: I’m always tempted to do everything at pace. But I found that taking time to pause before doing something stopped the unintended consequences of a reaction rather than a response. For me, the pause is the opportunity to check my automatic reaction, to check my interpretation of a situation, the opportunity to clear my mind before a meeting or a call. This has been a critical change for me. I have incorporated my own pause practice into my day including short meditations. I had always struggled with meditation as a practice. Once I got the value of the pause I found that meditation became an extension of that practice.

The secret for me was doing these consistently. As soon as I stopped being consistent I found mind clutter built up and set a chain reaction that meant I stopped being effective, I stopped being intentional, I stopped being present…

Ultimately I’m the same person, I just got the ineffective version of me out of the way. Getting clear space to think, to be mindful in intention and action has made a huge difference. And I don’t think I have lost my edge, in fact, I think it’s the opposite being more intentional, present and mindful has made me more effective.

Just goes to show…

Does this resonate with you?

Originally published at medium.com

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