In a recent Huffington Post article, Ford Motor Company chairman Bill Ford and former Google.org director Larry Brilliant are described as “business leaders who advocate mindfulness.” The article then goes on to list ten executives who meditate regularly. It’s easy to assume mindfulness and meditation are the same. No wonder there’s confusion.
With the increased interest in mindfulness in the workplace, many companies now offer classes in yoga, meditation, and stress reduction, and endorse activities such as spending 5 minutes each day doing nothing and taking time out for reflective reading.
These are all excellent activities, but they will not automatically create mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a way of being, not an activity.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present with the experience of each moment.
Meditation, reflection, and yoga are activities that help you experience being present – like helping you develop a muscle. But you need to use the muscle for it to make a difference.
For the real value of mindfulness to work for you, you need to develop an orientation of being mindful in each moment.
3 ways to experience mindfulness in each moment.
1. Pay attention to what’s happening. Slow down. Did you ever finish a meal and realize you never tasted it? Chances are there’s something delightful that you’re missing out on if you are busy multi-tasking or preoccupied. What’s actually going on right now? What do you see? What sounds do you hear? What do you taste or smell? Simply notice what is happening, without jumping into your analytic judging mind.
When someone is talking, give them your undivided attention. Really listen, instead of thinking about your response.
It’s impossible to be mindful when you are rushing from activity to activity. In his new book Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, Scott Eblin explains how to meet the challenges of creating a lifestyle that supports being mindful in a world that asks you to do more with less and provides tools, like smartphones, so can can be always connected to your work.
2. Pay attention to your experience. Your mind can live in the future but your body can’t.
Pay attention to your physical experience. Be aware of your breathing. Is it shallow? Be aware of how it feels when your lungs expand. What are your physical sensations? Does breathing feel pleasurable?
Be aware of your feelings. Where is that sensation located in your body? Notice your experience without judging it.
3. Be intensely curious. A good question can take you a lot farther than a quick answer.
As you notice what’s happening and what you are experiencing, are you making assumptions about what it means? Suspend judgment, and be willing to live with “not knowing.”
Quick answers and short-term solutions will relieve immediate pressure, but will not necessarily get you where you want to go over the long-term.
If you are feeling angry, be curious. What story are you telling yourself? Do you think you’re being judged by your teammate? Question it. Are you sure that’s true? Maybe he’s frowning because he has indigestion. Were you really slighted by Alice when she walked past and didn’t smile? Maybe she was preoccupied and didn’t notice you. Maybe she’s shy. If you remain curious, if you don’t make snap judgments and if you are willing to live without knowing, you won’t get trapped by the wrong answer.
Mindfulness allows you to discover the truth of each moment.
As you develop an orientation of mindfulness, you will become a wiser, kinder and more effective leader. And you will experience more pleasure in your life.
Each moment has its own inherent beauty and possibility for joy. You don’t have to hike to the top of a mountain to experience it. You can find it in a board room or simply walking down the hall.
Totally agree that mindfulness is more than meditation, Jesse. Science has shown that a meditation practice will help develop the brain strength to pay attention in the moment as you’ve noted. I know a lot of people who say they don’t have time to meditate. I suggest they try a minute or two a day – that’s all. Or they can do a quick mindfulness (meditative) practice several times a day by focusing on one or two breaths, or even use a quick somatic exercise (grounding and centering) to become more aware of the moment. Enough to bring them back into the present. Both will have an impact on the ability to do the things you suggest in your great post.
Thanks for sharing your helpful tips for beginning meditation and focusing practice. People ask me if you have to meditate regularly in order to learn how to become more mindful in your daily life. My answer is, no, but it really, really, really helps. On the other hand, meditation alone will not make a big difference unless you also intentionally focus on being present in your daily life.
Jesse, thank you for pointing out this distinction. It is true that meditation is an important part of being mindful, but as you point out – being mindful is much more about the way we approach the world and the people around us.
Very appreciative of your work –
An important point – mindfulness is about how we approach the world and the people around us. Thanks, Carl.
Have you ever read something that is so well written, such a contribution, that you think, “I wish I would have written that!” Well, I just had that fantastic experience! This is a keeper; a book of great value the size of a blog post.
I’d like to add a technique I learned from my Buddhist mentor, Tara Brach (tarabrach.com): the idea of a “sacred pause”. I use that as a path to stop and notice my experience in the moment. Just notice with curiosity, not judgement.
The other point you remind me of is the value I find in my simple belief that having a more conscious and effective life begins with my level of awareness; on what is my attention focused right now – if anything? Am I running on automatic?
Thank you once again, Jesse, for the gift of helping me contribute to my friends and clients.
I appreciate the term “sacred pause” -stopping with the intention of being present to the moment is sacred because it has the potential to connects us deeply with what is real and true. It’s all about being intentional, as you point out.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your kind words about my post, Lowell
This is an excellent concise post about a very helpful way of approaching life. I found mindfulness extremely helpful while working in jobs that were less than ideal but which I could not leave for financial or other reasons. Mindfulness enhances pleasant experiences and helps us endure or even appreciate unpleasant experiences or difficult situations.
So true! I have discovered that I love chopping vegetables. When I focus entirely on the activity, without thinking about getting through it as quickly as possible so I can get onto the next activity, it is quite a pleasant experience.
Great post Jesse! What you have written is oh so true. For me mindfulness helps me recognize when my mind is just busy with thoughts, feelings, and reactions. When I slow down enough, and pay attention, I see that my immediate reactions are often not really very useful in the moment. These thoughts are from the past, just habit. Old, conditioned, responses cause me to judge, pull back, and manipulate my thinking, feelings and actions. (Hate to admit this but it’s true.) I find that true inspiration and creativity come when my mind is free and “listening” to the actual moment. Then there can be a lot of information that is quite surprising! Mindfulness is not easy to develop, but when that muscle is activated–all sorts of doors can open.
A very helpful description of how to recognize and disconnect from our habitual patterns and reactivity. Thanks for sharing your experience, Barbara!
Another great post. Last year, I had 18 global leaders assemble for a 2-day executive retreat in India. These folks are involved in high pressure, intense work. I went out on a limb and gave them an option to join me at 6:30am around the pool where they would be given yoga mats and lead through a mindfulness exercise. All but one person came! At the end of the retreat, I was gratified to hear how many expressed a desire to take “mindfulness” back to their respective offices. Now, the trick for them -and me- is to remember to stop, breathe, and slow down. Ahhhhhhhhh.
It’s gratifying to hear the amount of interest in these exercises. And as you point out, the real trick is to integrate them into daily life. Your comment reminds me of the rules children are taught before crossing the street – stop, look, and listen. Being mindful in the moment reduces your risk of getting hit by a bus, literally and metaphorically.
Excellent post Jesse. I keep joking (must be at LEAST half serious about it) that I need to escape to France, go to Plum Village to be with Thich Nhat Hanh, where the most complicated thing I need to do is learn to mindfully walk and sip my tea! : )
As simple as mindfulness sounds, being truly PRESENT really is a challenge for many of us. I’ve shared before on a past post (long time ago) about the problem some of us have with dissociation as a coping mechanism. (may not have been those exact words…perhaps more of my own experience) The problem many of us have with jumping into our head to ‘think’ instead of staying with the experience in our bodies. Due to my background, to this day, I STILL have to consciously remind myself to get back into my body when I catch myself in my head, etc. The only way to get back IN to the body is to be mindfully present.
Thanks for sharing.
You’re not alone, Samantha. It’s a challenge for all of us. It’s why they call it a practice – we have to keep practicing.
It’s so much easier to do when you sit down to meditate or take time out for yoga, especially in a group with others, or when you go off on a retreat. We need to be kind and gentle with ourselves. There are many reasons it’s difficult to stay present. The best thing to do is when you do notice you’ve gone away, simply stop, take a breath and notice what’s here now, without judgement.
Jesse, thanks for such a succinct summary of the benefits and some “how-tos” of being fully present. When first popularized by Ram Dass a few decades ago, the idea of “Be Here Now” seemed a bit airy-fairy to folks in the mainstream. How far we have come that mindfulness is now advocated by Fortune 500 executives.
It’s fascinating indeed, Shari. Especially as you point out, these ideas were popularized in western culture over four decades ago. It seems like this current interest is due to a sudden shift in recent years. Which leads me to contemplate what’s different now. Two things immediately come to mind. One is there is a growing interest in the overlap of fields of study, especially between the hard sciences and soft sciences – for example leadership with physics, and psychology with biology, and spirituality with neuroscience, and therefore, mindfulness with business is another natural overlap. The other issue that comes to mind is the increased pressure workers are under these days to be always available, and the need to counterbalance it. The problem is, learning some mindfulness techniques is not going to solve the bigger problem of external pressure. We need to be able to set boundaries. My blog post Tune In and Turn Off took a look at this issue.
To my surprise, I co-taught a class we call Mindful Leadership to all the Team Leaders at a large unionized manufacturing plant and the message resonated.
I think your blog title nails it … it took a lot for this downriver Detroit guy to learn that mindfulness is more than meditation – that’s for sure!
Keep making the abstract more accessible. Wonderful and valuable post!
Thank you for sharing your experience, Ron. And thanks also for your comment about “making the abstract more accessible” – it’s a prefect way to describe my objective in blogging.
Jesse,thank you so much for making complicated topics for me easy to understand and think about it.I see many people running from one topic to another with a question what’s next on the agenda ? I think the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness makes you keep running all the time without reflecting and thinking things around us.
Thank you Guvenc. I’m reminded of the saying, “Go slow in order to go fast.” Taking time for reflection actually helps us go faster, smarter and stronger.
The U. S. Marine Corps is also experimenting with mindfulness and meditation – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/marine-corps-mindfulness-meditation_n_2526244.html
Hi John, Great to see you here. Thanks for the reference. It’s an interesting article. It’s good to see that meditation and other mindfulness practices are becoming more mainstream. But as you know, mindfulness is not an activity you can check off the list like exercising in the morning. As it becomes more and more mainstream, the challenge is to make sure people are not confusing these techniques with the ongoing practice of being present in each moment.