What is mindfulness? It’s such a buzzword, and for good reason, but what does it actually mean? And how do you practice it?
If you are anywhere like where I was, you may be thinking that this has something to do with gracefully performing yoga poses, and going on silent retreats.
You (like I was) could not be more wrong.
Mindfulness is simply awareness. And not just the everyday awareness we halfway give to our surroundings, but a moment-by-moment commitment to noticing everything. It’s about being gentle with ourselves and giving ourselves permission to live in the present moment without relaying the past or stressing about the future.
So much of our lives isn’t lived in the present; we think about the future, what needs doing, deadlines, kid pick up times, business needs, and more. It’s important to also be grateful for the lives we have and take some time to just exist. Whether that’s alone or with loved ones, mindfulness can help ground you in a world that is whisking us every which way.
You may not find me meditating (something I should do actually), but I do make the conscious effort to stop and take in where I am and what I am doing. As I work with people I need to be able to focus on them and not be distracted by anything going on in my life.
Hence my proactive engagement of mindfulness as a leader, coach and mother. We can engage with the tenets of mindfulness. I do this when I’m with clients, when I go for walks, and every morning when I get up.
Mindfulness allows a broader perspective.
As business leaders we need to separate ourselves somewhat from embedded belief systems and initial reactions that lie in the subconscious from lived experiences; and take time to truly view the landscape before us. This may sound somewhat removed, but having an overview rather than a small focus can give you the broader insights you need to mindfully make better decisions, be present and do good.
Now, it sounds simple, but many that try to be ‘mindful’ may find it difficult knowing where to start. A few strategies:
- Go on a walk in nature, notice all the plants, breathe in the air, just be there
- Focus on your breathing, notice when you take pauses and what the air feels like
- Take mini breaks throughout the day to focus on being still
- Take one thing at a time – productive and mindful!
- Create a journal – jot down things or take time to really write and be connected to what you’re thinking and feeling in the moment
Elise Bialylew has written a brilliant article titled 6 Ways Mindfulness Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur. It this article she identifies these six points about mindfulness in business –
- Tap into deeper creativity and innovation
- Communicate more effectively under stress
- Manage self doubt
- Manage the discomfort of uncertainty
- Sharpen your focus
There are even apps to help the beginner start to practise mindfulness:
But you can take the first few steps right now. Sit back from the computer or put down the phone or tablet, and really just take 5 breaths and check in with yourself. It can be that simple!
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the present-moment reality.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Why Mindfulness is Good for Business tells us that mindfulness epitomised all the elusive elements of life we seek. Having less stress, being more productive, having healthier relationships and being more fulfilled as a human being.
Have you ever been in a room where the stress in the air is palpable. Of course you have, we all have. It is uncomfortable and you don’t even know what you walked in on. Smile, crack a joke, break the ice. But how? How do you know that what you say to try and ease the discomfort won’t just make it worse. Escape. Get away. Get out. Damn, you were in such a great mood until you walked in here. Should you ask what’s wrong? Should you pretend you don’t feel it?
You might want me to quote you some scientific research to support the effect mindfulness can have on the people around you, but do I need to? Haven’t I just said it all? The environment you create will affect others, so be careful and considered with it.
Let’s be clear here, busy and productivity are not the same thing. I am busy every day, but have I been productive? Productivity is results driven. Busy is activity driven. Activity does not necessarily mean you will get results. In fact, your activity level can see your goals drift further away. Activity can burn you out. Activity can lead to resentment.
“We can’t do it alone. We really need each other. Our lives are busy and full, yet we’re still struggling with the individualism that’s promoted through capitalism.” Mirabai Bush
We want them and yet they are hard to find. We are told that relationships are hard work. Should they be though? Don’t you have people in your life that are just easy? Easy to talk to, easy to listen to, easy to be present with. Aren’t they the healthy relationships you need? Or does healthy mean honest? The relationship you have with that one person you go to for real feedback.
Critiques not criticism.
If you want real feedback you need to play your part in it. Being open to being critique means not allowing emotion to overwhelm the conversation. Step back and listen, it is how you will learn. Find that person you know will give it to you straight up, from the heart. Not the friend that will always have your back. Always be on your side. No matter whether you need a kick up the backside or not, they will placate you, sympathise and stroke your ego. Is that a healthy relationship?
The truth is that you have probably collected all of these friends over time. Sometimes a friend might be a few of those things wrapped up into one. But we tend to go to the friend we know will give us what we need at any given moment. When we are wounded we don’t go to the truth teller, we go to the ego stroker. When we want truth we go to the straight talker, not that you are amazing, everything you do is a miracle friend.
So being mindful and choosing to be around the people you need as opposed to the people you want is a much better practice.
The emotional energy you bring into your business will influence all transactions you have. In my recent blog Top 10 Movies about Women in Business, I talked about Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly. Note the energy she brings to a room.
Practising mindfulness gives you the opportunity to change your landscape. Imagine not berating yourself for a mistake, but allowing yourself to be open to learning from it and talking positively to yourself about it. Instead of dwelling on things that have happened, being more present and focused on doing things right, right now.
Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter write in Harvard Business Review: “When you get to the office, take 10 minutes at your desk or in your car to boost your brain with a short mindfulness practice before you dive into activity. Close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Place your full focus on your breath. Simply maintain an ongoing flow of attention on the experience of your breathing: inhale, exhale; inhale; exhale. To help your focus stay on your breathing, count silently at each exhalation. Any time you find your mind distracted, simply release the distraction by returning your focus to your breath. Most important, allow yourself to enjoy these minutes. Throughout the rest of the day, other people and competing urgencies will fight for your attention. But for these 10 minutes, your attention is all your own.”
I admit to not having a history of practising meditation, yoga or any other peaceful activity in my life. In fact, as part of Fempire training programs we start with a meditation which was very new to me. However I now appreciate that it brings everyone into a space of focus and being open to learn.
For me the practice of letting go and releasing negative thoughts and energy comes from physical exercise. My bootcamps. The total concentration it takes to just do one more rep. The fatigue my body feels means that all my attention must go here, not anywhere else. But, in suffering with heart palpitations, I have had to start using my own breathing as a technique to centre myself and slow that thumping in my body down. Breath in, count, breath out, count. Just do that. One breath at a time. Slow it down. Relax.
I used to sing to my children when they were babies. The same little chorus. Over and over. It kept me calm as they screamed. My calmness helped them feel safe and settle. It gave me something to focus on apart from the cries. When you are all alone at 2am and you can’t get your baby to just go to sleep, when your body aches everywhere and your brain hurts from keeping your eyes open so long, these songs made me breathe. In and out, in a regular pattern.
As a leader in any capacity do you bring mindfulness with you? Whilst singing to your staff in the midst of a crisis may not be the best idea, hopefully you will consider ways in which you can practice mindfulness.