I honestly can't tell you how many times clients have told me their minds are too 'active' or 'too busy' to meditate; 'it's not for me' they'll say. Perhaps it isn't, but if I've learnt anything over the past five years of introducing leaders and teams to mindfulness, it's that my biggest skeptics are not only the one's who need it most, they're the one's who reap the most reward.
As a leadership and performance consultant, I use mindfulness as one of my 'tools' and that's because I'm a practitioner and a convert myself. Personally, I initially had a cynical response to mindfulness when years ago I was told to try meditation. "I can't stop thinking" I'd say, "I have too much on my mind" ~ that was my mistake. I thought the purpose of meditation was to stop my thoughts when in reality it was simply to recognise them and let them go.
As someone with an extremely limited attention span and a propensity to overthink things, meditation would apparently help me, it would enhance my focus, improve my performance and my relationships. Well it did. Unfortunately, I was a fair-weather meditator from the time I was fifteen until about 8 years ago, and now I don't go a day without and it's changed my life for the better.
On average we have 50-80 thousand thoughts per day; yes, many insignificant thoughts, but still thoughts taking up time and valuable energy that our brains could be using for a more significant musing, streamlining, planning and decision making. The thing is that what we think shapes the neural networks in our brain and in turn our neural networks shape our thoughts. Meaning....when we repeatedly think the same thoughts (known as rumination), they become embedded in the brain like paths in the bush established through repeatedly walking the same route. When we walk the same route, it becomes the path of least resistance and even though it may not be the best route, or the safest route, it's the one we've become accustomed to, so we take it.
Think of a bad habit; you know it's not good for you, but your brain is used to it, so it 'prefers' to do it because it's in the proverbial comfort zone. The good news is that we now know we can break those habits and we can also break the negative patterns of rumination and reactivity and harness our overly-active minds for good. It also takes discipline and self-control to break a habit and a regular mindfulness practice can improve both.
Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on whatever it is that you are doing; breathing, walking, eating, brushing your teeth, listening, drinking wine. The awareness that arises from that focus is the panacea. We become more self-aware, other-oriented and our perspective broadens. According to Dr. Ellen Langer (an expert in the field), mindfulness enables us to release our preconceived notions and look at the world with fresh eyes, without judgement.
Through mindfulness you don't stop your thoughts, but you do slow them down, you start to prune the insignificant ones and you start to build new, positive paths. But rather than slowing you down, mindfulness actually makes you more efficient and productive, it enables you to make better decisions and it builds your personal resources so that you can meet the challenges life throws your way.
TIPS FOR STARTING A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE
Schedule time in each day (preferably at the same time).
Start small ~ 3 minutes to start off with is plenty, gradually building yourself up each week until you get to 20-30 minutes each day.
Remove all judgement ~from the process, from your thoughts, from your practice. Be kind to yourself.
Acknowledge that it will take practice in order to get better.
Try applying mindfulness to everyday activities ~ washing dishes, taking a shower, walking. You don't have to sit still to achieve awareness.
Mindfulness could just be that edge you're looking for and you really don't know if it'll work for you until you give it an honest try.
For more information on mindfulness, see Kirsten's other articles on The Cost of Distraction & Mindful Leadership. Kirsten works with individuals and organisations through elevating engagement, lifting performance and raising overall well-being.Contact her today to tap into your potential.