Mindfulness at Work
This past winter, I randomly tuned into Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes reporting on self-awareness and mindfulness. While I usually prefer Dateline’s non-mysterious murder mysteries for my broadcast news magazine pleasure, I don’t usually click away from the Silver Fox. Cooper was interviewing Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT neuroscientist who is leading a movement that encourages people to lead a more mindful life — whatever that means.
Kabat-Zinn says it is about being “present”, which is a growing challenge in today’s hyper-connected world. Despite the irony of watching this show while checking my email, reading articles posted on Twitter and stalking old classmates on Facebook, I’d been thinking a lot lately about mindfulness and contentment. After 12 years of fast-paced, East Coast living, I recently moved to Texas, where people talk, move, eat and drive…slower. I moved, in part, exactly for this reason. Was Anderson Cooper confirming that I should be more mindful? Naturally, when later in the broadcast he did a segment on the Wisdom 2.0 Conference that takes place every year in San Francisco, I signed up.
Wisdom 2.0 is a place for techies and dreamers and hippies and life coaches and politicians and engineers and business executives. Think about a room full of young Steve Jobs, Dali Lamas, Albert Einsteins and Stuart Smalleys, then add in some yoga teachers for good measure. That was the scene at Wisdom 2.0, and it was amazing. After two and a half days of lectures by neuroplacicity experts and business leaders, small group discussions with tech industry executives and dinners with monks, I was so mindful I could barely Uber a cab to the airport.
So What’s the Deal with Mindfulness?
After reaching new levels of inner enlightenment, what did I learn? Am I more mindful? The short answer – a lot and maybe… someday. Mindfulness is really f*ing hard and that in itself makes me want to head to Facebook instead of practicing it. Here is the secret though; mindfulness is just that – a practice. I kind of thought I would just come out of the other side of the conference like it was a spirit cleaning carwash; all Zen-like with inner glow and an insatiable appetite for world peace. I lasted until the man next to me on the flight hogged the armrest (typical) and I wished ill-will and harm to him and all his offspring.
One of the key ideas I learned at Wisdom 2.0 was that mindfulness, at the end of the day, is the pursuit of well-being. I especially liked what Richard Davidson, world-renowned neuroscientist thought about well-being; that it is a skillset. According to him, resilience, continuous reminder of goodness, generosity and attention are all constituents of well-being. So, while “being more mindful” seems like a fools errand to me at times, I can wrap my head around developing these skills and try to apply them to my daily life.
Here are some quick fire examples of my practice since I’ve been back “in the real world” without the comfort of constant yoga and monks nodding at me sagely.
My husband and I tried to purchase our first home, and like everyone else in Austin, our offer was promptly and impersonally denied. I have a choice: I can either think about how I’ll never have enough money to own my dream house or how my adult life development schedule is so far beyond my peers it is laughable, but I’d rather just think that maybe that house wasn’t for me. Resilience can be about picking yourself up by your bootstraps and overcoming adversity for sure, but sometimes it is about not letting yourself go down the rabbit hole of self-pity and doubt.
Continuous Reminder of Goodness
This one is easy. Every day you can describe a million things (ideas, opinions, clients, family, news) by what they aren’t, what they are lacking, what you don’t like about them or why they annoy you. It is simply easier for many people to communicate this way. I’ve been trying to make a daily effort to describe things in the opposite manner – what they are, how it is similar, what they have, the good news. Try it next time you have a difficult interaction with a client, co-worker or spouse. What is the good news about them? Now take that news/thought and maybe, just maybe you’ll experience the lovely side effect of the power of positive thinking.
Most people, myself included, think of generosity almost immediately in terms of money. Talking about generosity just in terms of dollars and cents misses the point a bit though. You can be generous with your time, your spirit, your compassion and your energy. I have been trying to ask myself if am I giving these things and if am I giving them without any expectation of something in return? Figure out what part of your life you can be more generous with and then give that away. It’s fun.
Attention, please! Multi-tasking rocks. If you are good at it, way to go. I too take pride in my ability to talk on the phone, make dinner, work on an excel sheet and return a few emails all at the same time. My husband marvels at the fact that I can carry on two conversations at once (it’s easy for me, I do it with internal dialogue all day). I’m pretty darn good at doing lots of stuff at once, so I still let myself multi-task away except with one new rule. When I am speaking in person to a human, I try not to do anything else except…listen. I know, my mind was blown too. You’d be surprised what you hear people say when you listen a little more. Ready for the next level? Think about how you take notes in that next meeting. Can you balance out your need to write everything down as something to do against what you actually need to record in the meeting? It is amazing where your mind might go if you let it focus for a minute.
So there it is, mindfulness in a nutshell. Go forth and practice!