Mindfulness for #Success: It Takes Three Simple Steps and No Meditation

Did you hear about executives taking up mindfulness for success?

I learned about mindfulness at University. From day one I was hooked and proceeded to spend all of my time into pouring over journal articles on the topic. The more I did, the more value I saw in it — it bolsters up your immune system, improves concentration and productivity, and relieves stress. It could even be one of the keys to longevity.

However, there is a problem when it comes to pitching mindfulness to modern people. The modern person is more data-driven than heart-driven. So what’s the first thing you imagine when you hear mindfulness?

meditation

You’re also thinking there’s no way that could help your day-to-day routine, right? Don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for: to break the association. 

There has been a misconception about mindfulness — that it is a spiritual thing, which is not entirely true. While you can make it whatever you want it to be, data-driven people tend to steer clear from heart-driven practices.

If you have heard of the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, you probably know that he’s been consulting a bunch of high-profile tech companies in Silicon Valley. CEO’s have spent a lot of time and money on “turning towards their inner selves and realizing the truth of our inner-connectedness”.

That’s a beautiful concept but… it’s definitely a good way to lose a skeptic. Not to mention, there are wildly inaccurate definitions like:

Mindfulness is a form of meditation rooted in spiritual teaching in which people focus their full attention on the present moment.

This is why you might think mindfulness is bullshit — because it sounds so far removed from your modern values. But let’s see…

What mindfulness really is

The best working definition is:

the ability to cultivate a focused, non-judgmental awareness on the present moment

It’s not about connecting to your inner self or your spirit animal or God. It doesn’t even require you to meditate! It’s about being present. Simply, mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Examples of mindlessness:

  • Rushing through activities without being attentive to them.
  • Breaking or spilling things because of carelessness, inattention, or thinking of something else.
  • Failing to notice subtle feelings of physical tension or discomfort.
  • Forgetting a person’s name almost as soon as we’ve heard it.
  • Finding ourselves preoccupied with the future or the past.
  • Snacking without being aware of eating.

How often do you experience those? Yeah, me too.

When it feels like everything is vying for your attention — the media, the family, the boss, the past, the future — you split yourself in so many ways that you don’t even realize what the consequences are — lower productivity, shorter attention span, inability to enjoy a pleasant moment, etc.

This is why you need mindfulness to anchor you to the present moment.

undivided attention

Wouldn’t that be something? Anything you’re doing right now could be enhanced into something magnificent.

If you recall, there’s a powerful read called Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who talks about this wonderful state of consciousness where you’re immersed in the moment, completely satisfied by what you’re doing. And while that usually happens when you create things, it could be achieved in other contexts, too. Mindfulness can take you there because it makes you an active participant in the process, as opposed to a distracted one that only does a half-ass job.

Not to mention… when you make decisions and assign tasks, you’re always hung up on all the details and people involved. It’s a good break for the brain to simply look at something as it is, as opposed to how you see it — sometimes creativity and innovation depend on it.

How can you become more mindful?

Now we’re getting to it. I’m not really a fan of meditation, so it’s good news that I don’t have to do it to achieve mindfulness. Sure, there are mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) and loving kindness meditation, but you and me can learn to be present by following three simple steps:

  1. Noticing
  2. Accepting and —
  3. Practicing

What are you doing right now? Stop. Look around you. Smell the air. Is it fresh? How does it feel against your skin? How does breathing feel?

Focus on those questions and the answers that come naturally. Don’t get distracted. The moment your mind starts veering off into its previous routine of round-and-round thinking, pinch yourself and go back to feeling the air and seeing your surroundings. Right now, you’re aware of everything — you’re noticing things without the interruptions of your mind, and noticing is the difference between looking and seeing.

Whatever you’re seeing or feeling right now, I want you to accept it.

This is the tricky part because we are all a bit of control freaks. But when you accept things, you feel like a huge weight has been lifted. This is because you’ve been carrying the weight of judgment. When you remove judgment from seeing, it’s just experiencing. Nothing more. And it feels light because your mind is unencumbered by something it wasn’t built for.

programming

Finally, if you want to be able to be mindful at will, you have to habitualize the process. They say it takes 10,000 kicks and 30 days to internalize a process, but that’s a number’s game. Instead, try with a trigger and routine. (Borrowed from The Power of Habit and Hooked.)

The trigger might be a yawn during the day or a headache at the end of it. It could a time of day or someone saying a particular word. The trigger will act as an alarm to wake you up from your default autopilot program.

For example, it could be blue buttons you stick around you, and you have to pause and be mindful when you see them. (But that could be quite often.)

Whatever trigger you chose, you have to always follow up with your routine — which can be anything involving noticing things and suspending judgment. If you can be mindful for one minute every day, you’ll get the hang of it, and the results will last you a lifetime. The rest is just practice.

Personally, I have benefited from mindfulness in two instances:

  1. When I have to wait in line and —
  2. When I’m enjoying good time with friends

In the first instance, my trigger is queuing up on a line. While I’d usually get worked up and impatient about it, not I’m just quiet and calm.

In the second instance, it’s helped me to stop and connect to a happy moment. I mean, there’s all this wonderful energy around me and I’m reminded of work or checking my phone or thinking about what I’m going to say next. Now I have to stop and look around —marvel at how perfect my life is at this moment in time. It’s a much-needed treat.

Do you have your trigger and routine in mind? You can wing it, but it would be even better if you took the time to write them down now. I’d be super-happy to see them in the comments below. 🙂

Why Walking Meetings Are Good for Your Brain, Your Life, and Your Job

What are you doing right now?

I bet my butt that you’re sitting. You might think I’ve gone bonkers, thinking ‘how is my sitting any of her business’. It’s not my business.

It’s your problem.

We sit for about 9.3 hours per day — that’s more than the 7.7 hours we spend sleeping. Sitting has also been found to increase the likelihood of developing some diseases like cancer and diabetes. Horrific, really.

In the words of Nilofer Merchant (from her TED talk):

Sitting is the smoking of our generation.

This is why people all over the world have been thinking of solutions like the standing desk — remember when that was trending? Another simple enough solution is: just stand up and walk about a bit. It’s a common practice at Wellness & Prevention, where employees are required to do so for one or two minutes every half hour. It was found to increase productivity.

Nilofer herself adopted the practice of walking in her busy schedule: by turning one-on-one coffee meetings into “walking meetings”, which were also popular with tech giants like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

So let’s see why you should add walking to your busy schedule.

A change of scenery

Context shapes behavior. You’re like a walking reflection of your surroundings, and the more you stay inside the stuffy office or board room, the more you’ll feel stuffy and closed up.

If you’re looking for a re-charge or new ideas, walking outside can literally boost your cognitive function and even your memory. Furthermore, changing the scenery makes you snap out of your “work stupor”.

But beware, if you walk out into a busy street, you’ll probably start to feel stressed, so it’s better if you find a park. Stepping into Nature provides immediate relief, acting as a “reset” button. And because we spend our lives in artificial environments, our brains become even more eager to reconnect with Nature. This is why some people surround themselves with green — to trick the brain into believing it’s there, but the real thing is better.

A blast of fresh air

How many times have you taken a deep breath today?

Your brain needs tons of oxygen to operate properly. While breathing is mostly an unconscious process, you must remember that you CAN control it.

Like, for example, when you’re stressed. When you’re stressed your heart rate goes up, pumping blood like there’s no tomorrow, making you take shallow breaths. If you want to de-stress, you need to take deep breaths. Then the heart goes back to its normal rate, the adrenaline subsides, and the brain calms down, ready for the rest of the work day.

Obviously, the quality of air you inhale is also important — the stale, recycled air of the office is not good enough —  so I suggest taking a walk in the park (don’t forget the sandwich on your desk). And breathe deep.

A dash of creativity

Research shows that walking enhances creativity. In a study of students completing tasks, those who walked showed greater creativity than those who sat. When you walk, your mind naturally wanders and comes up with new ideas. Perhaps this is why so many famous creators of the past took long walks in Nature — to get their creative juices flowing.

It’s an amazing discovery, especially now that the bulk of our working lives is sedentary, both for office workers and remote workers. Also, this changes the game for brainstorming sessions. They shouldn’t take place inside the office, after hours and hours of work, they should follow a power walk!

Granted, I’m not impartial on this subject — I am an avid walker. Which is why this article — Why Walking Helps Us Think in The New Yorker — sparked the idea for my own. Give it a read if you’ve got the time.

A bit of perspective

This is where things get interesting.

Your brain makes powerful associations. For example, your desk screams work and your bed screams rest, right? Right.

What happens when you walk side-by-side to someone?

They become your equal. The brain automatically throws away the hierarchy, the prejudice, and just assumes that the person sweating and puffing next to you is someone who is working with you.

Perhaps this is why Mark Zuckerberg likes to walk new hires around Facebook Headquarters. Maybe this is his way of bonding with them. Whatever the reason, if you want to meet with someone face-to-face and drop the corporate mumbo-jumbo, try a walking meeting.

Just remember, walking too fast or too slow might not produce the best results. The perfect pace is your natural pace. Hopefully, your walking buddy will have one that’s similar to yours.

A few considerations

First of all, if you’re considering to pick up walking meetings, you know that they’re most effective when it’s just you and somebody else. A whole group of people walking together will never reach any consensus because they’ll have to out-scream one another and make a scene on the street.

Secondly, I have found that if you’re considering to taking these walks alone, the process itself is not only beneficial for creativity, but it can also act as an incubation period when you’re solving a problem or making a decision.

Finally, you need to stop making excuses — I’m not fit enough, I don’t have enough time, people won’t like that — and start taking care of your health. You don’t have to compromise your health for the sake of your job.

So start today. Set an example. And stay healthy. 🙂