How many of the following statements do you agree with?
- I have the email notification turned on for my computer and/or mobile
- I put my mobile phone on ‘vibrate’, so although not disruptive to others, I know when I’m needed
- I check my phone in the evenings / weekends / holidays
- I have an open door policy
- When I wake up, the first thing I reach for is my phone
- I use 30 seconds of downtime (perhaps in a lift, or in a queue) to check my social media feed
- I have the notifications for my news app turned on
- I believe to be busy, is to be successful
- I clock watch
- I sacrifice family / friends / social events because I ‘don’t have time’
If you agreed with just one of these points, you’re probably addicted to distraction.
The good news is that you’re not alone.
I would wager that 95% of the professional population are also distraction-aholics, and really, it’s no surprise.
The business world today moves fast. The focus is always on making people, processes and systems more efficient, effective and productive. But why?
So that we can have more meaningful lives? Or is it so we can spend more time “being busy”?
The Problem With Distraction.
You see, the issue with distraction is not that the fact that it is there.
Let’s face it, in the modern world of work, it’s not going anywhere. The issue centres entirely on our thoughts and reactions to the distractions around us.
A constant state of flux is tiring and so we need to build our resilience to life on the corporate ladder. This is what the top 5% of professionals do.
Why Make An Effort To Be Present?
The great thing about presence is that it nurtures a spectrum of professional skills that keep us competitive.
Leading psychologists Michael Sinclair and Jose Sydal have highlighted just some of the side-effects that this type of ‘mental strength’ can include:
- Feeling more motivated and energetic
- Being more productive and effective
- Decreased stress levels
- Improved memory and concentration
- Enhanced intuition and creativity
- Improved communications skills and work relationships.
They even reference the late Steve Jobs to offer some business creditability:
“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. It’s a discipline, you have to practice it.”
How To Be Present.
What if I told you there was an existing method scientifically proven to build your skills in resilience, presence and control?
A technique used by the top 5% of professionals to maintain an edge on the competitive ladder without risk to their energy, positivity and stamina.
What if I told you this approach to staying at the top of your game, was called ‘Mindfulness’?
The Meditation Myth about Mindfulness.
As Matthew E. May explains in his April 2016 New York Times article:
“There are two approaches to mindfulness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern view indeed positions meditation as an essential tool in achieving a mindful state. But the Eastern view is more about quieting the mind and suspending thought. This philosophy is almost the complete opposite of the Western view of mindfulness which centres on active thinking.”
He goes on to argue that:
“Given the speed of change today, it may not be realistic to suspend or stop thinking. Rather, we need to actively think through problems in new ways to achieve innovative elegant solutions.”
Mindfulness For Leaders.
Mindfulness in an ‘in vogue’ topic at the moment and many businesses are adopting mindfulness programs, methods and techniques into their leadership and development programs to build resilience and mental strength in their top talent.
They’re on the right track. Work-specific research in the last 6 years has shown empirically that mindfulness can:
- Improve decision making
- Increase the ability to work in high-pressure environments
- Improve work-life balance
So, if the mindfulness phenomenon is becoming popular, why will it help you stay in the top 5% of resilient, present and in control professionals?
Because whilst the opportunities to practice mindfulness are out there, very few people have the open-minded discipline to persevere. As Juliet Adams, author of ‘Making the Case for Business Mindfulness’ explains:
“Mindfulness involves changing the way you think and respond to the challenges you face. You cannot force someone to change their mind – they have to want to.”
Do you want to?
I Don’t Have The Time.
It’s a well-documented fear that professionals have when it comes to techniques that improve mental strength.
Not to mention the classic words of a distraction-aholic. Just like you find time to go to the gym or go for a run, mental training takes dedication – but not necessarily at a time intensive price.
Sinclair and Sydal in their book “Mindfulness For Busy People” are quick to distinguish these common fears, arguing that mindfulness in not:
- Subject to time contracts
- Dependent on surroundings
- Losing Control
They offer techniques that give you “ample time to practice mindfulness throughout your everyday” and I echo their challenge: “Are you willing to give it a go? Do you dare to be extraordinary?”.
A 10-Second Mindfulness Exercise
There are many great books on practicing mindfulness but I’m going to stick with Sinclair and Sydal with a shortened version of their 10 second ‘Mindfulness on the Go’ exercise.
It is designed to help you notice the difference between your thinking mind (thoughts) and your ‘awareness mind’ – which is the muscle we’re looking to develop to improve presence.
Read the instructions in full, before you start.
- Close your eyes for the next 10 seconds
- Try to notice the sensation of how your body makes contact with the surface you are sitting / lying / standing on
- Don’t think about this sensation, just notice and acknowledge it
- Should any thoughts enter your mind, any judgments or opinions, notice these thoughts before bringing your attention back to the sensation in your body
- Rest in awareness while you notice and concentrate on this sensation, for 10 seconds.
How Did It Feel?
Most people will experience one of the following:
- An awareness of their ‘awareness’ – really noticing thoughts and experiences
- Being relaxed – feeling a sense of stillness
- Being uncomfortable and odd – feeling somewhat uncomfortable
It’s spending time, not matter how short, in this state that enables us to build our resilience, presence and control. You’re essentially lifting your drawbridge to stop the endless troops of distraction coming through – even if only for a few seconds.
The Final Word
If you’re read this far then something about this article has kept you engaged.
Perhaps it’s a genuine interest in mindfulness. Maybe you want to be in that top 5%. Or it’s possible that you’re a complete sceptic wanting all the information so you have the necessary ammunition to ‘rubbish’ the concept.
Whatever the reason, the reality, as reported by the Australian Human Rights Commission is this:
- One in five Australians will experience a mental illness in their life time
- A total of 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress
- Stress-related workers’ compensation claims have doubled in recent years, costing over $10 billion each year
- Preliminary research shows that Australian businesses lose over $6.5 billion each year by failing to provide early intervention/treatment for employees with mental health conditions
- Nearly half of all senior managers believe none of their workers will experience a mental health problem at work.
We need strategies to keep ourselves, our colleagues and our staff resilient, present and in control and mindfulness offers just one possible option.
Keeping mentally strong is an essential part of a successful professional life and leadership career, but what percentage of people take the responsibility of actively maintaining their mental wellbeing, every day?
I’d wager, about 5%.