Distractions are everywhere. In this day and age it’s almost impossible not to be inundated with the internet, social media, text messages, streaming music, phone calls, videos, etc… Most of us who are under the age of 50 are driven by technology and the vast presence it now has within our lives makes it nearly impossible to operate otherwise. The advancement of the smart phone in the past 10 years has drastically shifted our mindset and way of life in so many ways. We’ve all been there… lost in an unfamiliar city, in need of the best restaurant in town, seeking instant gratification for your outfit of the day, the latest dish on our favorite celebrity, instructions on how to work a new gadget or app., reviews on the coolest hotspot, etc… Where’s the first place you turn? Your phone and the internet.
So how do we separate ourselves from these distractions and manage them in a way that still allows us a reasonable dose of our guilty pleasure while remaining focused on the present and on track with our intentions and goals? The answer. Mindfulness.
How mindful are you on a day to day basis? To be mindful is to be conscious or aware of something. A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Now knowing that, I ask the question again, how mindful are you on a day to day basis?
Are there moments where you allow yourself to simply be, or do you exist in a constant state of movement or activity? A recent article I came across in the Harvard Business Review tells us “research shows that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us operate on autopilot.”
If I can speak open and honestly it was until very recently that I operated in this way. Spending nearly half of my day thinking about things that had nothing to do with what I was doing at that moment. Distracted and out of touch. It’s easy to fall into this trap and if you currently find yourself in that space it is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. We’re all human and it’s easy for our senses to become intrigued by things other than what should be our focus.
If you’re anything like me you are most likely more curious than not. I have a bachelor’s degree in Sociology so it’s in my nature to live in a state of curiosity about human behavior mostly, but more broadly about the world that surrounds me. What I found however, was that this curiosity was overriding my ability to truly experience life in the moment. So, I made a commitment to myself at the top of the year to make some changes. Through the art of being more mindful I have learned over time how to consciously curb this desire so that it does not take away from my intention and purpose.
Creating mindfulness should be treated as a learned habit just like most things we do and it is something that we have to work at. Unfortunately you can’t just say “I’m going to be mindful” and talk it into fruition. Ultimately the hope is that it will turn into an involuntary action like other habits we create but in the beginning we must put in the effort. So what can you do to start implementing small fragments of mindfulness into your everyday routine?
Something that has helped me is setting intentions for the day. When I wake up each morning before I do anything else I take 5 minutes, usually with my eyes still closed, to think about what I would like to do with the day. What I hope to accomplish that will make my time spent in the world worthwhile. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you are doing everything but in actuality you are doing nothing. You know the phrase, “busy doing nothing”. Who wants to be that person? I find that by setting my intentions before anything else helps me to set focus and ultimately stay focused.
Another trick I picked up along the way is something I like to call the reset. Before entering into a new task, whether it’s a new meeting, a new set of emails, a new document/ report, coffee or lunch with a friend, etc. virtually anytime you are basically “shifting gears”, I like to take a minute to clear my mind and refresh. To do this I typically take a deep breath in and out to mentally and physically clear my space and bring things back to my intentions I set earlier in the day. I’d like to think we should never be doing something simply for the sake of having something to do. In addition, this allows me to let go of any negative forces that might have taken root within my day. It can be easy to pick up unnecessary baggage and carry it from one task to the next and before you know it you slowly become less and less effective and purposeful. Since my days are busy with a variety of different tactical pieces, it is important that I stay as focused as possible if I hope to achieve all I set out to do.
This week I challenge you to come up with a few ways to invite mindfulness into your life. Feel free try my techniques but I encourage you to stretch a bit further and think of some ideas on your own. You may start by reflecting on optimal times of focus you’ve had in the past. Ask yourself what are practical ways you might be able to reel yourself back in from all the chaos? When, if ever, have you found yourself to be most present? What are the triggers that get you there? Perhaps it’s a breathing exercise, or setting an alarm to check in with your progress for the day. Maybe it’s getting up from your desk every few hours for a quick lap around the office, or scheduled breaks throughout the day. Dig deep, think outside the box and try a few different breaking moments. See how they affect the course of your day and ultimately your success.
Do you notice that you are able to complete much more than you were before? And what happens to the efficiency of your work? Do you notice yourself making fewer mistakes? Having to revisit things less and less? How have your productivity levels shifted? Do things become clearer? Are you working harder or are things becoming easier?
Mindfulness is a key component in every aspect of our lives, both professionally and personally so do your best to incorporate it across the board. It shouldn’t stop just because you leave the office or feel your day of work is complete. The work we do should be full circle and reflective of a full life. So get to it.