By training yourself to remain in the present moment, you train yourself to avoid unconscious thinking. Here’s why you should set yourself on the path of mindfulness.
The benefits of mindfulness are easy to appreciate. Mindfulness is about focusing your senses on the present moment. If you are not mindful of the present moment, your mind is in “memory” (the past) or “fantasy” (the future) when you are often thinking unconsciously – either reliving something or worrying about the future.
Benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness will help you become even more effective. It teaches you to pay attention to the present moment, recognising your feelings and emotions and keeping them under control, especially when faced with highly stressful situations. When you are mindful, you’re aware of your presence and the ways you impact other people. You’re able to both observe and participate in each moment, while recognising the implications of your actions for the longer term. It prevents you from slipping into behaviour that pulls you away from your values.
The late Steve Jobs believed in the importance of mindfulness. His biographer quotes Jobs explaining his way of thinking, “If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”
Proven by science
Now, neuroscience has proved that Jobs’ intuition was correct. Brain scans have recently shown that mindfulness practices make you a more effective and creative manager. According to The Neuroscience of Meditation, published in the British Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, it has been shown that mindfulness can enhance attention to detail.
It also enhances your ability to concentrate for longer periods of time, remain calm when under pressure, and better handle job-related stress. Mindfulness also increases creativity, according to research conducted at the University of Amsterdam.
Top leaders practise it too
For the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, meditation was the answer. In an interview with the New York Times and International Herald Tribune in September 2010, he said he started meditating two or three years prior. He added, “You must be disciplined. I find it helps me go to sleep after that. A certain tranquillity settles over you. The day’s pressures and worries are pushed out.”
More than 100 years ago, Winston Churchill was a leading politician making key decisions during World War 1. Unsurprisingly, he describes his job as causing him great anxiety. He found solace in painting.
He said, “Painting is complete distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind. Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the painting has begun to flow along; there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental life, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task.”
What he seems to be describing is the need to be able to ‘switch off’ or mindfulness. Often people say that they are too busy to practise mindfulness, when the reality is that they could practise it during their daily activities.
For example: as you drive, pay attention to your surroundings. Concentrate on what you are seeing and listening to. It might feel unusual at first, so ease into it. Then, you could go a step further and empty your schedule for a specific period.
The importance of scheduling nothing
You can use this time to help you focus on coming up with solutions to difficult problems. Clear your schedule, move away from your computer and mobile phone and create a buffer time to think of the big picture.
Such thinking, if done properly, requires the individual to have uninterrupted focus; thoroughly develop and question assumptions; analyse all of the key data and information and connect the dots. In other words, it takes time. And that time will only be available if you intentionally carve it out for yourself. Conversely, if you don’t take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it.
Another important reason to schedule buffers is to just catch your breath. There is no faster way to feel as though your day is not your own, and that you are no longer in control, than scheduling meetings back to back from the minute you arrive at the office until the moment you leave. This is just not sustainable.
More people are turning towards mindfulness and meditation to cope with the pressures of the modern world. There could be something in it for you too, so why not give it a go?