Ditch these 4 Things to Improve your Mindfulness

skyeteam leadership development , Ruby Vesely

Mindfulness is one of the hot topics right now and has several different interpretations – most of them associated with being fully present and aware of the world around you. Adding on to this, I define it as having an intense focus on the present moment, which can only be developed when you set aside these four things:

1. Set aside your preconceived notions and fears

Have you ever walked into a meeting with preconceived ideas about what is going to occur? Have you played out an entire conversation in your head before you ever stepped into the room or connected with the person on the phone? It is always good to prepare and think about potential scenarios. However, before you actually engage in the situation, it is best to clear you mind so that you can be fully focused on the feeling in the room, the subtle reactions of others, and the subtext in the conversations. This is what will guide the conversation or move the discussion forward. If you already believe that the conversation will fail or the project owner isn’t doing a good job, you will not be curious. You will not ask the questions that will increase understanding and develop a common interest or goal. You will not be fully present.

This reminds me of my yoga practice, in which we do essentially the same poses in every class. Our teachers encourage us to stay focused on the present moment, our breathing, and how our body feels today (rather than how it felt yesterday or last week). We are reminded to experience each posture anew in every class, rather than think about what we can or cannot do. I remember the first time I did the full wheel pose (Chakrasana). As I was upside down, I couldn’t believe that I was doing it! I looked around to see if my teacher was coming over to make adjustments, because I assumed that I had to have been doing it incorrectly. Recently I have thought a lot about what it means to be “fearless.” Fearlessness is tied to being mindful, in that if you are completely focused on the current moment and experience, you are not worried about what you think you can/should do or not do. I often wonder, if I would have been less fearful of the full wheel pose, how much sooner could I have done it?  If we do not set aside our preconceived notions, we cannot ever move in a new direction or consider what is possible.

Being mindful is about exploring what is possible and leading with your curiosity.

2. Set aside your judgments

I volunteer for a monthly homeless outreach shift in which we serve food prepared by other volunteers and provide resources (clothes, sleeping bags, etc.) to help the homeless survive another night. These shifts can be very stressful, and require me to be truly present. There is no time to think about anything else as I am so consumed by the experience of greeting each of our clients, hearing their stories, and meeting them where they are. Sometimes my heart breaks for people I know who were doing well the last time I saw them, but have since had setbacks. I never know what to expect and have to take it as it comes. Their lives are complex, and I have no idea what they have lived through since I saw them last. When I go out on these shifts, I have to leave all of my judgments at home regarding who I think they should be or how they should live their lives. I have to show up as another human being with hands to help and an open heart. This is extremely difficult to do, and I know I don’t succeed every time.

We have to remember that we never truly know what has occurred in the lives of others, only what we “think” we know. This is where it becomes dangerous. Our assumptions and judgments certainly cloud our vision and impact the nature of all of our interactions.

Being mindful is about keeping your judgments at bay. Sometimes a situation or conversation requires just showing up and being open.

3. Set aside your electronic devices

This cannot be said enough. If you are in the presence of others, put away all of your electronic devices – be fully present. If you choose not do this, it will have a negative impact on your relationships. Even if you are not in a face-to-face meeting, you still need to stay focused on the current conversation. Believe me – the other person can always tell if you are not all there.

At SkyeTeam, we recently coached a client who received feedback that he was not fully available and present with his direct reports. Several of them noted that he would continue typing on his laptop when others came in for a scheduled 1-on-1 or full staff meetings. He would check his phone and interrupt conversations to take care of “urgent” items. The negative effects on his staff were significant. Even though this was not his intention, his staff members were very put off by his behavior, which affected each of those relationships. Even though you may think you can multitask well, the perception by others is something you can never control. And just know that others are watching your behavior and some (maybe not all) will be offended by it – AND they might not ever tell you. Play it safe – turn off your devices when at all possible. Be fully present.

In a recent post, Marshall Goldsmith talks about the importance of measuring “soft-side” values. He gives the example of when he started tracking how many times he spent 4 hours a day with his family without any distractions. Just by tracking this, he improved as the months went by. This is a model for how you could start to measure your mindfulness. It could be as simple as going 1 hour without looking at your phone. If this seems like too much, you can start with smaller goals – just commit to something.

Mindfulness is being completely focused on the people around you. No distractions.

4. Set aside time in your calendar

What is your typical day like? Many people wake up early to exercise [not me] and get themselves (and their kids) ready for the day – make lunches, collect homework assignments, pack up the laptop, feed the animals, take the trash out, etc… It’s a miracle we ever get out of the house! AND this is only the first few hours of the day. Many of us are fully scheduled for the remainder of the day and then come home to finish emails, shuttle kids to activities, take care of parents, etc. As a society, we are generally overscheduled which does not bode well for being mindful, present, and focused on right now. You can’t expect your brain to switch gears as quickly as you would like. As humans, I don’t believe we were designed that way.

My dad used to always tell me to “Take 5” [take a five minute break] – which was a way of telling me to “chill out.” I was always going as fast as possible from one thing to the next. I imagine I talked a lot as well! It was the WORST possible punishment to sit down for five minutes. It is still near impossible for me, but I now understand the wisdom behind it. Don’t overschedule! Allow yourself time in between your appointments to send follow up emails, make a quick call, collect your thoughts, grab a snack, go to the bathroom (!), and “Take 5.”

Mindfulness is about not overcrowding your life.

Final thoughts:

It is impossible to be super-focused and mindful all of the time – this takes a lot of energy and is hard work. There has to be a balance, and you must be intentional about when you need to truly channel all your energy into pure mindfulness and presence. As noted by my colleague, Eric Spencer, in his recent post, you need to also allow some time to be “mindless” as well. There is a place for both; the art is choosing wisely.

“Time management is dead; in our day the true struggle is focus management.”

Dave Crenshaw