How many of you have experienced this- you are going out of your house for a long vacation or to your native place and want to lock the front door of your house in addition to the latch on the door. You pull the door latch and also lock the front door with “Navatal” 64 levers, pick up your bags, go to the station and catch the train. Then from nowhere, you get a thought “whether I have put the lock correctly or just kept it hanging on the door hook and removed the keys without locking?” And you feel that anxiety for a long period of time. Even if you are enjoying your vacation, you may have that feeling of some discomfort, some uneasiness due to the above thought.
Incident No. 2- You realize that you need a particular thing or an object to complete a particular task. However, that object is not in the room you are sitting and you know where it is kept in the other room. You get up from your place and walk towards the other room to get the thing which you wanted. However, once you reach the wall robe or the drawer where it is kept, you suddenly forget why you came to this room or in front of the wall robe. Only after some time you recollect why you came there or in many cases, you may have to go to the original spot, get on with the work and once realize what is missing you repeat the procedure, this time remembering all the way from Room-1 to room-2 what you want to fetch. The distance between the two rooms may not be more than 10-12 feet or so and just about 8-10 secs of travel, but still, why do we forget? The same is the case when you are cooking you start your journey from kitchen platform towards the refrigerator to get some chilies, but once you open the door of the refrigerator, you wonder why you came here?
The same is the case when we waste so much time of our lives in searching for things which we had kept without our knowledge either due to indiscipline or keep those at so safe places that we don’t remember where we had kept. In either case, it is the lack of mindfulness that is at work.
All the above examples are because you were thinking something else parallelly while doing the task in hand. The signals from your eyes have reached your memory center of the brain but, not fully registered there. Or you are having too many other thoughts from your way from room-1 to room-2 and during this travel, they have masked or only faintly registered in your brain the task for which you went into that room. This is due to the lack of Mindfulness.
So, what is mindfulness? In simple terms, it is defined as being aware of or paying attention to what is happening around you rather than just operating in the auto-pilot mode. Mindfulness is actively noticing new things and living in the present moment. Mindfulness is all about engaging yourself and focusing on the work you are doing ‘now’.
Before we get into how we can improve our mindfulness, it is important to understand in brief how our brain works towards interacting with the outside world. By default, our brain has the tendency to get distracted thinking about ourselves or our people when nothing important is happening in the surroundings. Say, for instance, you are enjoying your vacation on the beach and watching the sunset. Instead of enjoying the beautiful colors, the setting sun, and its rays every minute, we think about which restaurant should we go for dinner and whether that one will serve me my favorite dish. It’s the default pattern of the brain which is active when you think about yourself and others- you are mulling about your past and your future. When we take information from the outside world, the relevant part of the brain (e.g. rational thinking of whether things are good or bad, right or wrong are done by the neo-cortex) makes meaning of everything and we add our interpretations and perspectives to it. Hence, a sunset doesn’t become a beautiful scene to be experienced but to be perceived as an end of the day and puts you into thinking about where to go for dinner tonight. This default thinking is active most of the time we are awake and does not take much effort to operate.
But when you are more mindful a part of your brain called anterior cingulate cortex gets activated and responsible for switching your attention. In this mode, you are not thinking about your people or even yourself, past or future, rather you are living in the present, experiencing and gathering information from your senses in real-time. In this mode, you notice the different beautiful shades of the setting Sun, the breeze blowing along and the rays of Sun falling on your skin and bringing the warmth with it.
The extreme case of not having any mindfulness is when you are deeply thinking of the upcoming very important meeting in the office or some emotional turmoil you are going through, you are more likely to overlook a man crossing the zebra crossing as you are driving a car. You are not able to see, hear, feel or sense anything as much when you are lost in thought. Even your favorite drink/dish doesn’t taste good. However, if you focus your attention on the information given by your senses, e.g. feeling the cold wind blowing while driving, it reduces the tendency of going into the auto-pilot mode.
Once you place yourself in the mindfulness mode, you get closer to reality. You perceive more information about events occurring around you. Noticing more real-time information makes you more flexible in how you respond to the world.
How do I develop my mindfulness? Some of the following ways in which I am practicing towards increasing my mindfulness are as under:
- Practice to get maximum information from all the 5 sensory organs: E.g. when I go for the morning walk, I try to focus on the rising Sun (advantage of staying in the east side of the city) and feeling its rays going into my eyes, and the chirping of birds ( with practice, I am able to identify some birds by their chirping and even if a crow, crows in between the soothing sound of chirping, it doesn’t irritate me anymore). I also try to sense the typical smell which comes as I walk parallel to the Thane creek and its mangroves.
If you are fortunate enough to stay near a beach, you may walk barefoot on the sand and feel the coldness of the water and the tickling sensation as the sea waves rise and recede. You may also walk barefoot on the lawns near your garden and feel the gently pricking and the morning coldness of the grass. If you have a temple nearby you may drink the teertham or eat prasadam and sense its divine taste with full mindfulness. Once you get used to using your senses more often, you get into the mold of mindfulness in all the activities that you perform.
2. Waking up to a feeling: When you wake up in the morning, don’t just jump out of the bed immediately or start thinking about what all things you need to do today in the office. This will trigger a fight or flight response and release harmful hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline in the blood. Take a general survey of the whole of your physical body. Just scan through right from the toes to head and try to sense if you have any small discomfort anywhere. Practicing this will improve your self-awareness and hence your mindfulness.
Next, spend some time in the bed simply noticing your breath. Try practicing this whenever you get time during the day say, for 10 mins you have been asked to wait at the reception at the client’s office or during lunchtime. To start with close your eyes, relax and sit upright. Now just observe your breath as it goes inside (inhaling) and comes out (exhaling). To help you focus on your breathing, count up to 5 silently at each exhalation. Also, be mindful that you breathe correctly, i.e. practice belly breathing. When you inhale, your stomach should get raised/has to come out and as you exhale it should go in. This action will be similar to filling and releasing air from a balloon. For this, at least in the initial period you can keep one palm on the stomach and the other on the chest to sense the raising and lowering of the stomach on each inhaling and exhaling respectively. Both the palms will be raised as you breathe in and lowered as you breathe out. You may find that your mind is getting distracted, just return back to focusing on the breath. Most important is to allow yourself to enjoy these moments. This is the simplest form of mindful meditation.
Initially, to remind you into this practice, use paper stickers written with bold and capital letters as “BREATHE” “BREATHE SLOWLY AND DEEPLY” at all the prominent places where you normally sit your cubicle/cabin in the office or your working desk at home, your laptop and your cell phone.
3. The other way to remind yourself of getting to practice mindfulness breathing is by setting a timer to ring every hour. When the timer rings stop all the work and do one minute of mindfulness practice. Finally, as the day comes to an end and you are on your way back to your home, apply mindfulness. As you are returning on the train or driving your own car, for 10 mins before you start your car, just be there. Observe you breathe. Doing so will allow you to let go of the stress of the whole day so you can return home and be fully present with the family.
4. Practice Gratitude: recently I attended a workshop on emotional mastery and learned how it is important to express gratitude not only to our parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers but also to all those people we are connected directly or indirectly to us, like the farmer who toils hard so that we can get the raw materials for our food, the milkman, the vegetable vendor, the fruit vendor, the doctors, nurses, hospital staff and all the people working in the government machinery so that you are getting everything that you require for your needs, comforts, and luxuries. It is a good practice to maintain a journal thanking all the people and also the gadgets that you use daily. Daily making a ritual of writing gratitude, will also remind you of your behavior with others and help you to remain grounded as you attain higher positions in your organizations and society.
My experience is, as you get into the mold of thanking people you are more focused on thanking them more from your heart rather than just saying it mechanically. This practice makes you live more in the present and mindful as you talk to people, not to mention the bonds of relationships that you develop with people around you.
Some of the ways to express gratitude at work with your colleagues can be as under:
- Develop a habit of saying thank you more thoughtfully in all your communications with your colleagues.
- Send colleagues specific and most importantly timely thank-you mails or maybe a thank you card with their name mentioned on it. It is the remembrance shown by you that makes the other person feel really good and in turn, you are living in the moment.
- Publicly acknowledge and complement the role played by each of your peers/colleagues in the execution of a project successfully. 5.Practice empathy: We have already seen in one of my earlier blogs https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-empathy-part-2/ how we can be more empathetic to people around us. From mindfulness point of view to remain in the now, you can practice the following actions:
- Ask some very important and relevant questions in all your interactions and paraphrase important points that others make so that you understand and get clear about their points of view.
- Listen intently and with 100% undivided attention. Sync your eyes and body language with the person speaking and show interest in what they are saying.
- Before any planned meeting in the office or even in personal life, practice to think for a moment about the person you will be with and what is happening in their life.
Benefits of being Mindful: Having understood what is mindfulness and how we can improve it, let’s now see what are the benefits of being mindful:
- Enhanced memory: as described at the beginning of this blog, if you are mindful enough while locking the door and registering that activity in your brain, you will remember things and events much better, as it is easier to pay attention when you are mindful.
- You are able to take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.
- Reduces stress as you avert danger before it comes, unlocks creativity and boosts performance. Mindfulness exercises also help to avoid burnouts, enhance leadership capacity and most importantly steady the mind when in the midst of making important business decisions, career changes, and personal life changes.
- You are more popular and liked by the people around you as you tend to be less evaluative
- The tendency for procrastination and regret reduces as you know why you are doing something and you don’t blame yourself for not doing something else. You are able to better prioritize your tasks during the course of your working day.
- Any activity that is done mindfully e.g. be it having your food, writing a report, appearing for an interview or even playing with some gadget, you will leave an impact on whatever you do. Great maestros, artists, sportspersons, leaders, best teachers, etc are all very mindful people, an indispensable quality required to reach the top in your desired field.
- Mindfulness also correctly undermines the buzz word in today’s corporate world- ‘multitasking’. Mindfulness is all about focus and awareness. Focus is something when you say ‘NO’ to all other things when you are fully into that ‘one’ task at hand and awareness is keeping the distractions away while you are doing that task. Mindfulness is all about developing a clear and sharp mind. It helps increase effectiveness, decrease mistakes and as a result enhance creativity.
- Once you achieve all the above through mindfulness practice, you can optimize work performance and reach the ultimate goal, each one of us longs for in life- Happiness and fulfillment.
Conclusion: Simply put, mindfulness is being in present and aware, moment by moment regardless of circumstances. Mindfulness exercises help to focus one’s mind on here-and-now experiences and help in reducing anxiety and mental stress. Practicing mindfulness itself requires mindfulness, as you need to remind yourself about it at least initially. Mindfulness researcher John Teasdale said: “Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort…. It’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”