Becoming Mindful of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a hot topic. Just in the last three months, articles abound in The Guardian, Business Standard, Huffington Post, New York Times and Reuters. What is it and why would we want to exhibit it?

Mindfulness is a practice of focusing on the present rather than dwelling on the past or ruminating on the future. When we focus our attention in this way, we become calmer, more productive, and engaged. Many studies are beginning to show that the benefits to us as individuals, organizations and society, are large: reduced anxiety, prevention of addiction relapse, minimized food cravings, reduced attention deficit, decreased stress, attuned engagement with others, and increased peak performance.  If these aren’t worthwhile enough, I think it is most valuable to be mindful because we live a fuller and truer life, whether that comes in the form of the actions you take, the relationships you cultivate, or the experiences you create.

Many Fortune 500 corporations agree, such as Apple, British Airways, Deutsche Bank, Google, HBO, Procter & Gamble and Yahoo to name a few, and have brought mindfulness programs into their companies. Rather than a new-age shiny object that has distracted some C-level Execs, these companies have found an antidote to the otherwise unrealistic demands that individuals place on themselves and that many organizations are all to willing to encourage or exploit.  Let’s be honest, in the rapid-paced, highly technological world we have created, it can be extremely difficult to mute the noise and suspend the expectations because instant access by you and to you is so ingrained. Like an electrical system that gets overloaded in certain conditions, our bodies and our minds need optimal conditions or our judgment and decisions are compromised. However, when we live in the moment as much as possible, we empower ourselves to experience ourselves as we are.

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“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.”

Henry David Thoreau

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So if you want to be more mindful, how would you do so? One of the easiest practices to begin is to take a few minutes each day to sit silently or with soft instrumental music and with your hands at your sides or in your lap, close your eyes, and follow your breathing. In this meditative practice, when you start to have a thought, let it go by, and return to following your breathing. Some people prefer to have a simple mantra to keep the focus on the breath such as “I breathe in; I breathe out.” Repeating such a phrase allows for more easily letting go of any thoughts and focusing on the moment. As you let thoughts go, try not to self-criticize or judge yourself, and rather move on to the next breath.

In the beginning, you may feel fidgety, distracted or busy-minded. Start with 5-10 minutes only and with practice you may easily expand to 15-30 minutes or more. The sense of relaxedness, freshness of your mind, and new energy after taking this time may motivate you to more consistently practice mindfulness on a day-to-day basis. Different times of day work well such as after you wake up in the morning, before work, before bed, or on a lunch hour for afternoon rejuvenation. Any time that works in your day is fine. I sometimes take time after working on a rigorous project, writing a lengthy document, or after managing a tense meeting or conversation. In fact, if I know an interaction may have some tension, I use this tool beforehand to help me enter the discussion in a calmer, peaceful, and focused manner.

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“To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Other mindfulness practices for stepping away from past- or future-focus or relieving stress and becoming present are taking a walk in nature, listening to and recognizing the sounds around us, or noticing physical sensations such as scents, colors, or the temperature of the air. Especially if you feel emotional or bodily tension, another helpful practice is to take several deep breaths and repeat a statement such as “What is most important to me right now is ________________” or “In this moment, I feel ______________, and that is alright. I will not always feel this way.”

Whatever you choose to do for yourself in the spirit of mindfulness during your day, know that a little goes a long way. Be open and receptive to the positive results of productivity, calm, and resilience when you re-direct your attention, focus on the moment, and refresh your mind and body. When you have become mindful, how have you been successful? Share more ideas with us.

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