Are You Really Present?

Are you really here?

Over the summer holiday period we’re going to run a series of short posts which build on our last post where we discussed the difference between being mindful or mindless.  We’ll bring you short, tried and tested exercises to help you build your mindfulness skills and begin to rewire your brain.

So today the question is are you really able to focus, or is your mind on autopilot most of the time?

Think of the last meeting you attended.  Did you check your phone at any time?  Answer a few e-mails or check your messages? Or even worse, make a call?  Did you let your mind wander to some other subject like what’s for dinner tonight or your next meeting?

Or think about your drive home – have you ever arrived home and been unable to recall parts of the journey at all?

If you can say “yes” to any of the above then, like most of us, you allowed your mind to wander from the task in hand.  You weren’t really there.  We can be ‘miles away’ without evening knowing it.

The mindful approach we introduced last month is a way to help create focus and greater awareness, help cut through the chatter of day to day noise and be in the moment 100%.

It’s about increasing moment to moment awareness so that we can change deeply established automatic patterns.

So how does that work and what’s in it for you?

Let’s look at the driving example above.  I think we’ve all experienced a journey where we have been on autopilot whilst driving.  Listening to the radio, thinking about work, life, family or the latest episode of Game of Thrones whilst driving on autopilot.

If you want to increase your driving performance, the first thing you need to do is increase your awareness of your surroundings and focus on the driving.  A great way to do this is to “narrate” your drive.  Be your own commentator.  Talk out loud about what you’re doing, what you see in front, behind and around, and what you are going to do in response to these inputs.  Every time you brake for a junction, or change gear, give yourself a score out of 10 for that action.  If you do that, you’ll stop thinking about anything else.

The really interesting bit is what happens next

So if you narrate your drive, what happens to your driving performance?  It improves!  Every single time.  The impact of raising awareness and increasing your focus is increased performance.  No additional driving training required.  Now I’m not implying this will turn you into a Formula 1 driver, but it will improve your daily driving performance.

So how can you apply the same approach at work?

3 techniques to help you turn off your autopilot

Try these 3 simple examples to help develop a more mindful approach at work.  They all take a little practice but try them for 14 days and see what a difference they make.

  1. Start your day off right. Research has shown that we release most stress hormones immediately after waking.  Why?  Because thinking about the day ahead triggers our fight or flight instinct and releases cortisol into our blood.  So try this.  When you wake up, try to spend two minutes in bed focusing on your breathing.  Count your breaths one at a time and try to get to ten.  If thoughts about the day ahead pop into your head, let them go, reset your counter and start counting again.  It may take you a few attempts to get to 10 but its worth it.
  1. Take control of your email. Emails have a way of seducing our attention and redirecting it to low value tasks because completing small, quickly accomplished tasks releases dopamine, a pleasurable hormone, in our brains.  This can become very addictive and affects our concentration.  Instead, try to be mindful when opening your inbox.  Try to avoid checking your email first thing in the morning.  Focus on the important things first.  This will allow you to sidestep the usual onslaught of distractions and short term problems
  1. Immerse yourself in meetings. Arrive at meetings two minutes early.  DO NOT take your phone.  Give yourself time to be silent, arriving both physically and mentally for the meeting.  Speak to your colleagues and ask how they are.  Listen with gusto and passion.  Write down what people say, reflect back to them and ask questions.  If possible, end five minutes early to allow all participants a mindful transition to their next appointment.

You might be wondering how this could possibly help?  By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings – moment to moment – we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice.  We do not need to go down the same road or be stuck in the same habitual routines.

Try it.  Give it a chance.  I know lots of friends who spend many hours every week in the gym honing their physical bodies.  What I’m suggesting is you give a few minutes every day to develop the most important muscle – your mind.  Give it a chance.  It’ll feel a bit strange at first but take control of your own mindfulness.  Give it a try for 14 days and see what it does for you.

New research has shown that short intervals, 5-10 minutes a day can have profound changes in the brain.  Look at it as a 5 or 10 minute ab workout but for your brain. Remember if you stop practicing you lose your mindfulness abs (Maria Konnikova).

Here’s this weeks tried and tested exercise so you can start to re-wire your brain

1 Minute of Mindfulness

An easy mindfulness exercise you can do at anytime throughout the day. Check and note the time.  For the next 60 seconds you are focusing on your breath. Keep your eyes open and breathe normally.  Don’t try to force it or take big deep breaths, just normal breathing. Notice when your mind starts to wander (it will) and return your attention to your breath every time.

This short exercise is very powerful and most people are astonished at the results if practiced daily.  It takes some people years to be able to complete 1 minute of alert, clear, uninterrupted attention. Bear in mind this is not a contest.  You cannot fail at this, you learn from it.

You can use this exercise many times during the day to restore balance. As you progress in your practices you can extend this exercise into longer periods.  This is a great way to develop your mindfulness meditation technique.

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