Most self-help books focus on how you can achieve more. How can you do more, be more – and do it all faster.
This article takes the opposite tack: how and why you should simply sit and be still. The practice of mindfulness – being fully present and aware of the here and now – leads to successful living and greater fulfillment in all aspects of work and life.
The happiest and most successful people are those who have developed their social and emotional intelligence. They have finely tuned self-knowledge and self-awareness.
- The ability to connect with personal values and principles
- The ability to imbue actions with meaning
- The ability to align emotions with goals
- The ability to keep motivated, focused and on purpose
Honing the skills of awareness requires mindfulness – becoming aware of what’s going on inside and around you on several levels. Mindfulness leads to living in a state of full, conscious awareness of one’s whole self, of other people and the context in which we live and work.
Before you dismiss mindfulness as New Age rhetoric, pay attention to the research. Recent studies in management science, psychology and neuroscience point to the importance of developing mindfulness through the experience of meditation.
Mindfulness and Busy People
Mindfulness meditation has long been practiced by those seeking calm and peace of mind. A Buddhist-trained HR professional, Michael Carroll encourages stressed-out executives to meditate to become more open and, consequently, more effective.
In his book, The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation (2008), Carroll explores the key principles of mindfulness.
- How to heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance
- How to cultivate courage and confidence in spite of workplace difficulties and economic recession
- How to pursue organizational goals without neglecting what’s happening here and now
- How to lead with wisdom and gentleness, not only with ambition, relentless drive and power
- How a personal meditation practice develops your innate leadership talents
Many workplaces are adopting mindfulness meditation:
- Companies like Raytheon, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nortel Networks, Comcast and law firms offer employees classes in mindfulness meditation.
- Executives like Bill Ford Jr., Michael Stephen, former chairman of Aetna International, Robert Shapiro, ex-CEO of Monsanto, and Michael Rennie, of McKinsey & Co., consider meditation beneficial to running a corporation.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Recent research highlights the many benefits of mindfulness meditation:
- 1. Repaired immune system
- 2. Heightened emotional intelligence
- 3. Reduced anxiety and depression
- 4. Sustained levels of joy and satisfaction
- 5. Greater resilience
- 6. Improved cardiovascular health
- 7. Fewer days lost to illness and stress
But practicing mindfulness requires much, well, practice. It demands vulnerability and heart, rather than ambition and achievement – a tall order for many hard-driving, results-oriented people.
How to Practice Meditation
In brief, mindfulness meditation is a friendly gesture toward ourselves, in which we take time to sit still and focus on breath for 10-25 minutes or longer. You can meditate in your office, sitting in your chair. Here are some essential guidelines:
- Sit upright – relaxed, yet alert.
- Close your eyes or maintain a soft, relaxed, downward gaze.
- Place hands palms down, resting gently.
- Tuck in your chin.
- Breathe normally.
- Observe your thoughts gently, without judgment.
- Label your thoughts as “thinking” and dismiss them. Let them go.
- Return your focus to your being, breathing and bodily sensations.
- Be still.
- Experience being you in the moment – in the now.
The Restlessness Experience
At some point in meditation, we experience our mind’s restlessness – a strong desire to be somewhere else, doing other things. You’ll be reminded of matters that need your attention.
When you experience restlessness, you’ll come to realize how you shut down your sense of “here and now” – your own presence in the world as it really exists. It’s easy to become distracted, and hard to sit and be still with ourselves.
- As you begin to meditate, focus on nothing more than your breath. Shortly, you might find that your mind has wandered off or has distracting thoughts. Simply acknowledge it, and return to your breathing.
- You may struggle to simply observe thoughts as they arise and to let them go. This is because the judging mind kicks in. We find it difficult to not think of problems, opinions, and “things that need to be fixed.” Worse yet, we begin to judge the thoughts themselves, and judge our judging.
- This is when we begin to discover how we interact in the world: When we shut off the here and now, we distort our sense of purpose and miss opportunities to appreciate our reality. The ensuing anxiety prevents us from being open.
To become mindful, you must understand the distinction between trying to improve yourself versus experiencing who you already are:
- To be mindful, you acknowledge you’re already open (not trying to be more open).
- You acknowledge the wisdom and kindness you hold within (not trying to be more wise or compassionate).
- You don’t strive to achieve a better, improved you. Rather, you meditate to get in touch with who you already are. Discover your basic sanity and true qualities, as they already exist within you. You turn off the inner judge and critic.
The Art of Non-achievement
Practice mindfulness meditation with non-achievement in mind. Meditation’s benefits are attained by exercising unseen “mindfulness muscles” as you sit still. Focus and concentration improve with each practice of meditation. Eventually, you learn to turn off the part of the brain that judges.
Mindfulness skills develop with practice and are then applied with a natural ease and familiarity to your thinking, feeling, and expression as you go about your day.
When you slow down, you gain a realistic picture of what’s going on instead of speeding through your day – or worse, speeding through your life.