I don’t know a single leader who goes to work with a deliberately bad intention. Yet too often we get derailed from delivering on positive change. Whether it’s too many demands, too many conflicting points of view, or limited capacities to actually deliver, it can be stressful to find ourselves stymied, our reach bigger than our grasp.
I had a great time exploring the relationship between positive change and mindfulness on a recent podcast with colleague Robyn Stratton-Berkessel of Positivity Strategist. Here’s a link to the episode notes and the audio.
If you want to expand your capacity to deliver on your positive intentions, then mindfulness can help in at least two ways.
Mindfulness as Moments of Calm
Our North American mentality is founded on a go-go of continuous forward momentum. I am reminded of this by the contrast when I interact with other cultures.
My Arabic clients counsel patience, “Shwei, Shwei.” And I remember fondly my days in Brussels, when after a long, delicious lunch you would finally begin to discuss business over coffee. In these cultures, taking the time to establish personal relationships lays a basis of mutual trust for actions.
Personally, I know well and love the thrill of accomplishment! It’s a positive, high energy state. But the drive to achieve can be addictive, and comes with a hidden cost.
This drive can also be reinforced by the territory we work in. Whether it’s “publish or perish”, quarterly earnings reports, or client relationships dominated by “what have you done for me lately?”, there is never time to rest on your laurels. (See more about the recency effect on my recent blog.)When we inevitably run out of high energy fuel, we may disengage, but not always in healthy ways. Think excess food, drink, even exercise. This is where meditation comes in, as a healthy away to re-charge.
When you think about meditation, do you imagine a lovely, calm state? This is certainly possible.
Mindfulness can provide one way to re-charge during your day, by interrupting your usual patterns. You disengage from what you are doing something else or paying attention to something else.
Here are some simple relaxation exerciseses for inserting calm throughout your day, through breath and awareness practices.
- Balance your breathing. Try breathing in for three counts, then out for three counts.
- Slow down your breathing. Now try breathing in for three counts, then out for four counts.
- Deepen your breathing. Put your hand on your stomach and breath deep from the belly. You will know you’ve got it when you can feel your hand rise and fall on your stomach as you breathe.
- Ground yourself by directing your attention to body sensations, e.g. feet on the floor, buttocks on the chair, hands on the desk.
- Get out of yourself by directing your attention outside your normal pre-occupations. This could be looking at a favourite image, or listening to the sounds around you. (This is why people like tapes of pleasant sounds).
Mindfulness as Capacity Builder
More than taking a break, mindfulness can also build core internal capacities of attention and intention. It can give you more capacity to handle regular stress and severe downturns.
Could you tell me what sort of a person you are? Or describe what you do for a living. Of course. Could you describe how you pay attention? Probably not. Yet you are paying attention all the time.Our attention is like an unknown, untapped resource. Mindfulness skills allow us to to consciously tap into this amazing capacity.Click To Tweet
Just as exercise can enhance your physical health, so mindfulness can enhance your mental health, tapping into resources you didn’t know you had, elevating the baseline from which you live your life. Mindfulness trains your mental muscles to be focused, clear and equanimous.
When you undertake any mindfulness practices—including those listed above—you will at some point have a surprising experience. You will discover what you are thinking about when you didn’t know you were thinking. You will meet DAN.
DAN is your “default attentional network”. Associated with specific regions of the pre-frontal cortex, this area of the brain is active when we are not intentionally thinking about anything in particular. This part of the brain represents our stable sense of self, based on our experiences built up over time. It is our core belief systems and the narratives we use to interpret our experiences.
When you mindfully direct your attention—to body sensations, breathing, sights or sounds—you may become aware of other activity in the background of your attention; the subtle thoughts in your head and the emotions coursing through your body. You become aware of what was already going on inside you, “beneath the radar screen”.You may be surprised by what you find. You may intend to be positive, but find that actually you are quite negative. This is a good thing!
Now you know how you can trip yourself up. You are aware of your hidden assumptions and blind spots. You may realize that while your emotions are strong, you are over-reacting. Or anxiety is causing you to over-think things.
You can build personal capacity because you know what’s really going on inside you. You keep your intentions for positive change and know how to course correct along the way. You now have greater capacity to live out your positive intentions, to be the change you wish to see.