One of the most essential skills we are building in a mindfulness practice is the power of concentration. In our modern, busy world, we are constantly distracted and our attention is continually being drawn in many different directions. We live in a state of continuous partial attention. This is exhausting and stressful. And, when we need to focus our attention, we often have trouble “turning off” all those distracting thoughts and reigning in our attention. Mindfulness practice, in which we are learning to intentionally bring our attention to the present moment and hold it there, builds our power of concentration and offers many benefits to our health and wellbeing.
My dear friend playfully refers to the obvious moments of self-awareness as “duh, jerk” moments—and the scientific fact that we need sleep for peak performance certainly qualifies as a “duh, jerk.” The CDC has shown that we need sleep for cognitive sharpness and that we’re chronically sleep-deprived. And while it’s annoying if one of our kids or a tossing and turning partner has denied us some shuteye, it can also be life-threatening.
Strong leadership is an act of balance. To ensure projects are successful, a team relies on guidance that is both emotionally and logically sound. When the going gets tough, it can be easy to lean to one side. A logic-driven leader might overlook a person's needs for the sake of task completion. While an emotionally-guided leader could focus too much on accommodating everyone that tasks start to slip through the cracks. That’s why truly effective, high performing teams require a balanced approach to leadership.
The First Step In Meditation
There are several ways to approach a meditation practice. From reading a book, to learning from a teacher in-person, listening to audio recordings or downloading a mindfulness-based app.
Regardless of your in-roads to the practice, and no matter the style of meditation, I have consistently noticed that there is one step any and every new meditator must take. This step is all about laying the groundwork and creating stability in order for the mind to be able to meditate.
As a New Yorker, I get it — we’re busy. I’m a long distance runner, and know that sometimes food is only fuel — calories consumed to keep our bodies in movement. I’ve squeezed plenty of packets of electrolytes in my mouth while running, and for lunch today I microwaved a burrito while taking a conference call and reviewing train times for my next appointment. But I also love cooking and eating. And, news flash: mindfulness is not a speed, it’s an attitude of curiosity and compassion for whatever’s happening.
Mindful Eating is often thought of as the classic “slow eating of a raisin” exercise made famous by Thich Nhat Hanh and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training. It’s a wonderful way to pay attention to the subtleties of eating.
Peace of mind, defined as “a feeling of being safe or protected,” is not something that is bestowed upon us when, say, all our ducks are in a row, or external circumstances are calm and harmonious. Peace of mind can be cultivated in the most turbulent times; amidst the most turbulent emotions. It is a continuously cultivated quality. One breath at a time.
Showing kindness to ourselves can be one of the more challenging practices to commit to. Life happens, challenges arise, we get busy, and it is only illness, fatigue, burn out, and moments of overwhelm that ask us, with urgency, to prioritize self-care. Yet, by living in a human body we have every tool needed to support ourselves in sustainable well-being.
One of the simplest means of showing kindness to ourselves is to create personal rituals. Rituals are a single action or series of actions that are meaningful and performed the same each time. Rituals are tools that offer us space to pause, honor ourselves, and become present.
I dream of the day when I will methodically tackle each task on my to-do-list, crossing items off one-by-one, then feeling the great joy of accomplishment and lightness of being when I finish the last item on my list. Well, if you are a busy parent like me, this dream seems an impossible reality because, despite my best efforts, my list just keeps growing. The problem with endless to-do lists is that with them comes stress, anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed wondering, “How will I ever get everything done?”
After many years of list making, I have come up with several strategies that can help busy parents like me tackle their to-do lists and actually feel good, rather than stressed out, at the end of each day.
When life gets really busy it can feel like you’re always catching up on your to-do list. Even when there isn’t much going on, your mind may default to a pattern of restlessness.
For greater mental clarity, it’s important to develop your practice. Here are 4 strategies to help you manage a restless mind:
“True happiness is…to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence on the future.”
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The average American spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. Cultivating happiness in the workplace is that much more important, given we spend so many waking hours there.
But it is not always easy to do. Many challenges can arise for employees, especially in high-stress environments. Time can go by, with no reprieve, feeling as though the days blend into weeks, and weeks into months. Dwelling on past mistakes takes us out of the present, as does worries about our future at the company. Meditation is a tool we use to learn how to be more mindful and present, focusing on the here and now, which leads to more happiness.
Americans spend more time at work than many industrialized nations (including Japan), which means that our coworkers outrank our partners and families for hours spent together. Unless you’re a cyborg, that will inevitably mean that frustrations will arise. How can we cultivate happiness—especially when work gets stressful? Here are some quick tips to help tilt the needle in the right direction.
You can’t buy happiness. A platitude we’ve all heard and nodded along to. We get to experience its truth when that life-perfecting piece of technology or dream vacation inevitably leaves us with an aftertaste of disappointment. Yet, many spiritual traditions acknowledge that joy is our natural state. Before we get bent and beaten up by the world, we come into it knowing a state of bliss. As babies, we cry when we are hurt, hungry, or tired, but outside of basic corporeal need, we are happy. Without reversing our experience in the world and if we can’t save enough money to buy it, how do we access happiness?
Just about anyone would agree that taking time to appreciate the simple things is an important part of a happy life. But we may not be hardwired to pay attention in this way.
Evolutionary psychology tells us that it’s easier for us to notice a perceived problem than it is for us to take in what’s going well. This proclivity, referred to as the negativity bias, can likely be explained by considering our distant ancestors. Survival-wise, they’d be better served by worrying about the footprint of a natural predator than by delighting in the fragrant daffodil growing next to it.
The holiday season is heralded as the most wonderful time of the year, and certainly there is a whimsical and romantic quality to it all. However, along with the celebration comes the inevitable stresses of family, travel, the closing down a year, and the anticipation of another one. If you wake up a little less merry and a little more Grinch, you are not alone. More than that, you have the capacity to support yourself through the mindfulness practice. Taking a moment to reset through breath, movement, and awareness.
The simple practice of Loving-Kindness has come to be one of the easiest and most powerful ways to bring happiness to others, thereby multiplying my own. The brief act of sending out well wishes to all by silently communicating a sentiment such as, “May I be happy and free. May he/she be happy and free. May all beings be happy and free” is a practice I can do anytime, anywhere.
Often, we find ourselves holding back from saying certain things to people, but when it comes to our own inner dialogue -- we have no filter. Think back to a time where you were feeling down even though you knew you were being too hard on yourself. Fortunately, by paying attention to our inner dialogue, we can free ourselves from self-doubt and become more comfortable with who we are. Here are 3 ways to stop negative self-talk:
Think back to the last time you had a conversation with someone and it truly felt like the other person was giving you 100% of their attention. It feels good, right? You probably opened up more and felt a better connection with the person. For some people, this comes more naturally, while others have to be intentional about mastering the art of mindful communication.
Have you ever caught yourself wanting to say something, but weren’t sure if it was the right time or place to say it? As a leader, you need to be extra mindful in your communication because it sets the tone and can affect the team’s success. There are 3 questions you can ask yourself to help determine if you should say what's on your mind:
Is it based on fact or feeling?
Will this make the situation better or worse?
Am I showing compassion?
Companies and their teams face growing pressures every day to “think outside the box”. Often this involves trying to “do more with less”, whether it’s less resources, less direction, or less data. It could also mean tending to an increasing number of stakeholders, more competition, or entering uncharted territory. Simple mindfulness exercises can have a profound effect on your team’s ability to grow with these evolving challenges.