Mindfulness – The Secret to be Present in the Present

Have you ever boarded a bus to go somewhere and arrived at your destination only to realise that you remember nothing about your journey? Or drifted off from a conversation and could not recall what the other person has said? Or you started munching from a packet of chips and suddenly noticed that all you were left with was the empty packet? Most of us have!

Call it absentmindedness, zoning out or even ‘autopilot’, it refers to a state of being mentally disengaged with the environment in response to external stimuli which may be real or imagined. According to Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth, 47% of the time, we are in this autopilot mode. When we slip into this mode, our wandering thoughts absorb our attention, and we are not fully ‘present’ in our lives. It is a dreamlike state in which we are not fully ‘there’ in the moment.

In autopilot mode, we tend to get lost in ‘doing’ and forget about ‘being’. We also become vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and depression. According to Killingsworth, we are least happy when our minds are wandering, and we are happiest when we are ‘mindful’ of the present.

Mindfulness is precisely the opposite of stress and confusion. It means switching off the autopilot mode and taking the steering wheel of your attention in your own hands. Jon Kabat Zinn – an internationally known meditation teacher – defines mindfulness as, “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.

Further, mindfulness is:

  • The conscious and deliberate direction of our attention;
  • Returning to the present moment;
  • Self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

How will mindlfulness help ?

  • Mindfulness reduces stress, depression, and anxiety by shrinking our brain’s ‘fight or flight’ centre – the amygdala – which is associated with fear and destructive emotions and improves our body’s ability to cope with stress.
  • It also reduces insomnia and increases the sense of well-being.
  • Mindfulness helps in sharpening memory, increasing focus and attention.
  • Improving social and emotional intelligence, developing empathy and compassion gets easier when we are mindful.
  • All of the above factors result in improved efficiency at work and at home, along with improvement in relationships.

How practising mindfulness helps you grow as a leader:

Conflicting demands, short deadlines and an overflowing inbox can affect even the most seasoned leader. Mindfulness lets us take a step back and gives us a fresh perspective on what matters most. With the clarity that follows, we would instinctively know what to do, delegate or delete. This helps us reserve our mental energy for the most critical tasks and dispense with the rest.

In a globalized, cross-cultural corporate environment of today, encountering stress and conflict is common. When teams are not in sync about the overall objective, misinterpretation thrives giving rise to conflict. Unless we are mindful, it is easy to get into turf battles which can have a detrimental effect on the team’s morale and performance.

3 simple steps to practise mindfulness –

  • Taking a deep breath and a pause is the first step to practicing mindfulness. This helps us to see the situation from a different perspective, dispassionately, thereby making it easier to come up with a solution.
  • A 2-5 minute walk has the potential to completely alter our thinking about a particular problem. At the very least, it takes our mind off the pressure and renews our focus.
  • Focussing on our breath or looking at the distant horizon, for a few minutes at a time. This helps us get into a resourceful state to tackle problems much better.