You Must Be Present to Win: 3 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Enrich Your Life
Mindfulness is front page news. A recent TIME Magazine cover announced “The Mindful Revolution: the Science of Finding Focus in a Stressed-out, Multitasking Culture.”
As the article points out, “Mindfulness training offers real health benefits and a strategy for coping with the stresses of an increasingly wired world.”
One of the most insidious results of stress is that it can lead to a pattern of declining overall health and performance not only at work, but in all areas of life.
Mindfulness replaces the vicious cycle of stress and illness with self-sustaining growth in both physical wellness and mental resilience.
What is Mindfulness?
We’ve all seen the little raffle ticket printed with this profound message: “You must be present to win!”
Well, it’s true. If we’re not present, we miss out. What does it mean to be truly present – to our own experience and to others with whom we communicate and interact?
Usually our minds are bouncing around between the past and the future, rarely in the here and now. Haven’t we wasted enough time ruminating over what was, and speculating about what will be?
Mindfulness is a contemplative practice for enhancing our capacity for focus and awareness. It directs us to pay attention in a particular way: with purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Mindfulness cultivates the ability to do three things:
- clearly observe and deeply experience physical sensations, thoughts and emotions;
- express genuine self-awareness and authentic empathy;
- enjoy life experiences fully, beyond the labels or judgments usually applied to them.
Mindfulness practice instills peace and perspective, reducing the anxiety that amplifies stress and pain. It enables us to replace emotional reactivity to stressful events with clarity and composure.
Learning to be attentive to one’s own experience fosters personal growth and the ability to better listen to others. That means improved relationships at work and at home with friends and loved ones.
Studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated that courses in mindfulness practice result in greater wellbeing and enhanced empathy.
In addition, mindfulness practice may improve the ability to see a situation from multiple perspectives before reacting. When we can see things from the other person’s point of view, it’s easier to find ways to resolve differences.
How to Practice
When I teach mindfulness practice, it is introduced through directed experiential exercises in three stages:
Centering and Grounding
To be centered and grounded involves systematic relaxation, calming of mental agitation and deeper awareness of bodily sensations.
Sitting in Stillness
When sitting in stillness, your mindfulness of breathing, posture and environment bring heightened awareness of thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
Mindfulness in Action
With mindfulness in action we explore the sensations and feelings that accompany your movements, speech and thinking as you go about your day.
The common thread through all of these is being more fully in the “here and now.” Sequentially, they facilitate the ability to be mindful throughout the day, allowing you to respond to every challenge with more skill and less stress.
Three Aspects of Practice
Find a quiet place to sit comfortably upright (not so soft and comfortable that you fall asleep!). Gently close your eyes. Let any excess tension, beyond what you need to hold your posture, flow out of your body by mentally scanning from head to toe.
With the intention to soften areas of tension, just touching them with your awareness will start to dissolve them, like sunlight melting snowflakes in the morning.
Notice any tightness in your face and neck, shoulders and arms, chest and upper back, belly and lower back, hips and thighs, calves and feet. Let the tension you encounter dissolve as much as it will, and imagine that it flows down and out of you, into the earth.
Mindfulness of Breathing
Good posture makes it easier to stay attentive, and easier to breathe. You’ll want your spine to be upright but not strained. Imagine that your spine is like a tent pole and the rest of your body is the canvas hanging loosely from the top of the pole.
Tune in to the internal sensation of your breathing, the feeling that your torso is filling with air as you breathe in and then emptying as you breathe out.
The practice of mindfulness includes training yourself in returning to your object of attention in the present moment. At some point, your mind will wander into a series of thoughts, away from attention on your posture and the sensation of your breathing.
When you realize your mind was someplace else, simply make a mental note “back to here and now,” and return your focus on your posture and breathing, without judging or criticizing yourself for becoming distracted.
Here is a helpful hint. To sharpen your focus, you can try to notice the points in your in-breath, namely, when you start to fill, filling and full; then start to empty, emptying and empty on the out-breath.
Try to count each cycle of in- and out-breaths, up to a target number like 7 or 21. When you get distracted, pick up the count on the last number you remember.
Mindfulness in Action
To be mindful in action means being fully present and attentive to the details of whatever you are doing while you are doing it, with minimal commentary. It’s sometimes called “just noticing.”
The practice includes bringing your attention back to the task when you get distracted. Simply recognize that you were someplace else and refocus on the task, mentally noting “back to here and now.”
You can practice mindfulness in action during many simple daily activities. Brushing your teeth, making your bed, getting dressed, setting the table, doing the dishes or sweeping the floor – any of these is a great opportunity to practice being fully present.
My latest book, The Best Diet Book Ever: The Zen of Losing Weight, offers more detailed instructions in mindfulness practice. It is available in print, digital and audio editions. Many people use the instruction in the audio version as a guided meditation.
Mindful eating and exercise play a big part in my approach to weight-loss and weight-maintenance.
Although these techniques take a little time to become familiar, with practice they can be available to you in every circumstance and setting. You gain the most from mindfulness practice when you make it a part of your regular routine, like physical workouts to help you stay in shape.
As it becomes second nature to you, you’ll become more authentically present and genuinely responsive. Then the quality of your life will become that much richer and more meaningful.
Have you ever tried meditating or another form of mindfulness training? When have you been so caught up in thoughts that you missed experiencing something important? How much time do you waste re-playing past experiences from which you already learned all you could? What ways have you found to let yourself be able to simply enjoy the present moment, without needing to make it (or yourself) better or different in any way? Please join the discussion below!You Must Be Present to Win: 3 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Enrich Your Life Mindfulness is front page news. A recent TIME Magazine cover announced “The Mindful Revolution: the Science of Finding
You Must Be Present To Win!
I remember as a kid, my parents went to the grand openings of neighborhood businesses that advertised a “give-away.” They grew up in the depression and the idea of a free two-slice toaster, iron, clock, cake cutter, jar opener, or little league replica baseball bat was a big deal. We would excitedly pack the car and head off to a bank for their grand opening celebration in anticipation of “another” freebie. Once we arrived, we had to stay through the entire event. This typically included a welcome, introductions, speeches, ribbon cutting, and a tour of the facility because to get the prize, “you must be present to win!” If you were not present when they pulled your number out of the hat, they pulled another number. No toaster for you! We did not know anyone at the bank, we did not even have an account, but the lure of the free gift was overwhelming. Year after year we would repeat this activity, and the phrase “you must be present to win” was indelibly etched in my brain.
Fast forward, many years, and many freebies later, I continued to replay that phrase in my head. I grew up believing this phrase referred to “presents” and quickly realized it referred to “presence and showing up.” In business, it meant you must be “there” to add value and ensure your boss and peers knew you were committed to and made a difference in the job and organization. I did not win a radio or a two-slice toaster! Now, the outcomes were much more significant: learning, growing, moving up the ranks, and gaining the benefits that went along with this. For most people, the work experience offered no alternative to the “you must be present to win” concept. Depending on the industry, work-from-home was not an option. Technology was not as robust, and leaders and managers had a difficult time understanding how an employee could be productive and achieve results if not present and closely managed. Cutting edge companies filled with Generations Y and Z have had success, but the traditional workforce may have said, “That is for those young people!”
THAT IS, UNTIL NOW!!
The businesses and leaders who were saying “that will never happen in my company”, and we are not going to “go there”, have been forced to change. We have been thrust into the future of work, and we have had no choice! The good news is that many organizations have adapted, and it has been business as normal for their customers. Yes, the kids, dogs, and lawn guys may be present, but people have been productive, achieved results, and the business has continued. People are learning how to maneuver their job from home. Many comment that they are happy with no commute, less expense for gas and tolls, their brand of coffee, and the ability to be more causal and relational with others. I have participated in Zoom calls and toured homes and offices, seen pictures of family, met kids, and learned to love Zorba the cat as he walks across the computer keyboard.
We have now experienced a complete flip/flop of the phrase “you must be present to win”. Over the last few months, we have been cloistered and we have had to “not be present to win.” Our prize is our health and the safety and well-being of those we love and care for.
Leaders are now having to reassess their previous methods for guiding a team. Authenticity, vulnerability, and trust are not a statement for a mission, plaque, or training program. These qualities are vital in today’s reality. We have been invited into people’s homes and have met their family and furry friends, and our relationships have become more casual and real. There is no “going back.” We may physically return to the office, but our relationships have evolved. This is the “new normal.”
I recently spoke with a person asking for career advice. Her company moved all employees to work-from-home and established stringent rules to manage this change. She must be visible, in front of her computer, for 56 minutes per hour. The employees are being monitored and reprimanded if they walk away at any time, they must “be present to win”. I asked if the employees were monitored while physically in the office? She said, “No, they think we will not work while at home. I run to the bathroom for fear of being reprimanded. Are they monitoring my work, or is it a gotcha? I used to love working at the company, but now it is apparent they do not trust us. I am thankful to have a job, but I will leave as soon as I find something else.”
If people are present, are you setting them up to win? Leaders and businesses must evolve, or the result may be low morale, and negative impact on service, revenue, and profit.
What is a leader to do? Here are some tips.
– Believe the employees you hired have the integrity to do the job they were hired to do. If you do not believe that the employee will do the work at home, you need to clarify and reassess the performance of the employee.
– Touch base with employees daily or weekly depending on the position. Ask how they are doing? Encourage open dialogue. Answer questions, and set expectations regarding outcomes. The job may have changed due to these unusual circumstances. If you do not discuss these shifts in process, product, etc., the employee will work the way they always have. It is up to the leader to communicate the changes.
– Leaders have typically thought they had to have the answers to all questions and be knowledgeable to manage and control the team and ensure the outcome. Currently, no one is in control, and no one has all the answers. Be vulnerable and honest. The leader can respond by saying, “This is what I know right now.” Day-to-day information and insight may cause the response to change tomorrow.
– Coach employees and/or identify solutions to teach them how to work-from-home.
When I first started in quarantine, I had a difficult time focusing on one task and making any progress. I would walk the dogs, plant flowers, get coffee, and work on anything that captured my attention. Now, I identify a task and set a timer for 20 minutes to work nonstop on that one task with no excuses or distractions. My productivity and results have increased significantly.
– Some employees are used to open concept environments and miss the camaraderie of others. Arrange a virtual meeting room for employees to visit. The employee can turn off the volume on their computer to avoid distraction, do their work, and “see others” to not feel as alone or remote.
– Recognize accomplishments and replicate team meetings with virtual celebration, lunch, or happy hour.
This is a new and different experience for everyone, we are all in this together.
“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.”
Winston S. Churchill