What is mindfulness and why do I need it?
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Mindfulness is a natural state of being that we all experience to some degree, but which is unfortunately often absent in our daily lives. Instead, mindlessness predominates, leaving us feeling disconnected and overwhelmed. The good news is that we can train ourselves to be more mindful, improving performance, relationships and wellbeing. Being more mindful helps us to navigate the complexity, uncertainty and change which faces almost every business and society.
Mindfulness is a state of awareness that naturally arises when we intentionally pay attention to what is going on in the present moment, in a particular way: without judging or overlaying conceptual analysis on what we observe. It is the act of simply noticing, before we form opinions and attempt to categorise or analyse our experience. It has a feeling of curious, friendly attention that is completely different from conceptual thinking. Mindfulness is also the act of catching ourselves when we default to mindless states of rumination and automatic patterns of thinking. We can train ourselves to prolong this open, accepting awareness, creating a stable attention that sees clearly without comparing, assuming or judging.
In training ourselves to be more mindful we choose an object of attention, such as the breath, and gently return our attention back to that focal object every time it wanders. By strengthening our mindfulness in these practice sessions, we become more mindful during our everyday activities and interactions.
It sounds simple, and it is. But it is not easy. This is because the mind is built to wander. Our incredible evolutionary advantage, the ability to imagine the future, make plans, and analyse the past, which has brought us to our dominant place on the planet, is also our Achilles’ heel. Untamed, the “monkey mind” leaps from thought to thought, often without our even being aware that we are thinking. And it forms deep grooves, repetitive thought patterns which are often unproductive and hold us back. It takes great patience to gently keep bringing the attention back to the present moment, and kindness to not spiral into self-recrimination, which is really just another way of disconnecting from the present moment.
So why would we bother to perform this difficult and seemingly boring procedure? It turns out that even a relatively small dose of mindfulness meditation (15 minutes per day) actually changes the physical structure and functioning of the brain, as seen in fMRI scans. These effects are associated with a host of beneficial changes in our thinking, emotions, behaviour and physical well-being. The longer you train consistently, the greater the benefits. Studies show that meditators make better decisions, are happier and more resilient, have better relationships, are more ethical, sleep better, are less prone to some chronic illnesses, maintain their cognitive abilities better as they age, and are less likely to resort to harmful coping mechanisms such as drinking excessively.
What’s the catch? You have to do it. Just as reading a book about running will not get you fit, no matter how many articles about mindfulness you read, it won’t make you more mindful. It is an experiential practice and it only works if you do it. It is also, paradoxically, counter-productive to try too hard, or hold on too strongly to any particular outcome. You have to just do the training and approach what comes up with an open mind.
It is best to get some support, an ethical trainer who emphasises the attitudinal and intentional components of the practice. Mindfulness is not a panacea for every workplace issue. Not everything that comes up is pleasant and a kind, gentle approach is required. A community of practice can be a helpful way to stay accountable and to find support if the going gets tough. Mindfulness is also not recommended for people with severe mental/emotional challenges or trauma, unless they are working with a qualified professional with experience in these areas.
Intuitive Ocean was founded to help leaders and their teams implement effective, authentic mindfulness practices to support workplace performance, team work and wellbeing.
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