Before you can effectively manage your career, relationships, home, hobbies, and the pursuit of your dreams, you’ll first need to master the skill of managing your mind. Yes, it is a skill. Yes, it can be learned and strengthened through the practice of meditation. Essentially meditation is mental training. Mindfulness—my preferred form of mental training—is the practice of focusing on present-moment experience. As simple as it sounds, it certainly is not easy! Mindfulness is learned experientially and getting a firm grasp on it takes time, but not as much as you might think. In this popular TED talk, Andrew Puddicombe explains it best:
The mind is the seat of consciousness, the realm of all mental and emotional processing, somatic sensation and perception, and the intricate combination of moment-to-moment experiences we call life. That’s where it all plays out, in your mind. Knowing that, you can see why a calm and well-functioning mind is the foundation for health and happiness.
How can mindfulness help? Focus. Blanchard consultants and coaches will attest that in order to sustain learning after training, focus is key. Without focus the untrained mind is like a puppy, distracted by anything that moves. Training a puppy takes energy and discipline. The process can be frustrating and it won’t work without consistency and patience. Mental training is similar. In its natural state the mind is like a puppy, running in circles and sometimes colliding with walls because it can’t stop. Frantic mental activity perpetuates stress, anxiety, pain, and struggle. When we lack focus, we lack control over our experience. We cannot always change the events that occur but we can change how we experience them. Mindfulness is a way of redirecting attention and thus acting with greater intention and less struggle. It starts with noticing what you are experiencing in the present moment and simply observing without judging it—Sort of just sitting with it rather than reacting to it. Mindfulness is the space between stimulus and response.
A common misconception about mindfulness, as Puddicombe explains, is that “people assume that meditation is all about stopping thoughts, getting rid of emotions, somehow controlling the mind. But actually it’s…about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly, witnessing it coming and going.” Did you know that we spend nearly half of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing? Astounding! Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, and an unhappy mind is an unproductive one. Instead we can choose, in any moment, to sit with reality by mindfully bringing our attention back to here and now.
Looking for an introduction to the practice of mindfulness and how it can improve your wellbeing? Here are some resources to get you started:
Mind full, or mindful? The choice is yours.
About the Author: Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology, and her research is based on mindfulness. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.