I am delighted to share this guest post from my good friend and teacher, Claire Genkai Breeze.
Taking Mindfulness Off The Mat: The Top Five Things You Should Know
People, who have grown up on a diet of objectives, goals, trying hard and not accepting things as they are, naturally find mindfulness practice strange at first. To lead is to be an agent of change, to practice mindfulness is to be an agent of noticing things simply as they are without trying to change them. You can see the apparent contradiction!
It is exactly this reason that makes the practice so illuminating for people. Doing the opposite of what you normally do actually helps you to see things more clearly. It encourages you to notice more deeply what it is at the root of what you experience and it teaches you to be curious rather than judging. Just this simple but profound shift can over time increase your own learning agility, improve your relationships and reduce your stress. I am always delighted when people tell me that their relationships with their children are improved since they have been practicing mindfulness.
Learning that we can practice mindfulness and not morph into some introspective self indulgent blob who never takes any action is also very liberating. When you are used to being busy and you suddenly stop for ten minutes it can literally feel very uncomfortable, to the point where you don’t want to do it. The first thing people say is that they fear that if they develop a practice they wont be able to accomplish everything they do. My experience is that people with a practice accomplish the same amount or more, with less stress and less people to apologise to. It shapes the way we do things, by allowing who we are to flourish.
In an environment where most of us are materially well resourced, have enough food to eat, shelter, relationships, a sense of purpose or acknowledged contribution and do not live in fear; the key challenges of staying happy, healthy and change adaptive are in our foreground. The world health organisation has predicted that by 2030 the single biggest global burden will be depression.
Learning to shape your mind is as big a necessity as learning to take care of your body. So in an age when everyone is talking about mindfulness, when work is pretty demanding and our bodies are having difficulty keeping pace with technology; here are my top five mindfulness insights:
Insight 1 CURIOSITY GETS YOU FURTHER THAN JUDGEMENT
Learning to be curious about what is happening inside you, as a legitimate data source tends to occupy space that would otherwise be taken up with judging either yourself or others. In other words curiosity reduces the amount of time you spend judging. Becoming curious about why things happen, what is going on and in what sequence or relationship is a really great way for challenger leaders to witness their own inner and outer establishments. It can help you to foster relationships an increase how much self awareness you have.
In mindfulness practice we learn to accomplish this by simply giving intentional attention on what is happening inside us, not what we would like to be happening. So we are cultivating the skills of observation, coming alongside, attention to detail and using clean language to describe what is happening. Anyone who coaches people knows that all of these skills are really helpful to helping others improve their performance. Thought about more widely as leaders, in the face of judgement people in business tend to either hide or justify. Both of these are resource draining experiences. Curiosity and the skills associated with it keep people leaning in towards each other to solve problems and uncover situations together.
Insight 2 – GET TO KNOW YOURSELF TO INCREASE YOUR EQ
Given the amount of relationships, feedback, coaching and negotiating we have to do in work these days; a key leadership ability resides in our ability to sense into what others are feeling and thinking. You might think about this as either resonance or empathy.
The research in this area of mindfulness practice is very clear and compelling: individuals who learn how to notice what is going on in their own mental/emotional/physical continuum are actually changing the way their brains are wired for empathy and sensitivity to others.
To put it bluntly the more you notice and understand yourself, the more you can tune into others you are working with. I think this particular aspect of mindfulness is profoundly important and interesting for at least two reasons:
- If you tell yourself that taking a short period of time everyday to notice what is going on inside you is actually self indulgent, the opposite is true! The more you do it the better you are at building relationships
- Suddenly mindfulness moves from personal stress management, something you do for yourself, towards what I describe as ‘pro social’. In other words tuning into yourself actually improves how you create flow and relationships with others and increases your care and empathy.
I think of this as the second wave of mindfulness practice for leaders. Once you understand that what you are doing has wider implications, we can begin to think of the change possibilities in teams, collaboration, customer service and culture.
Insight 3 – MINDFULNESS AND LEARNING AGILITY HAVE A RELATIONSHIP
Over twenty years ago Gendlin and his team did some interesting research to try to understand what made some counselling type interventions more successful than others. They had two working assumptions. The first was an inquiry into certain types of therapy models as being more preferable over others, and the second was an assumption that it might be something to do with the quality of the relationship between the client and the therapist. Not so! What they discovered was that clients who were able to go on and make successful changes as a result of their therapy were all doing something very similar. They were displaying an ability to notice what was happening in their mental emotional continuum when they were in therapy and they paid attention to subtle changes in themselves and their bodies as the conversations progressed.
Given what we now know about mindfulness, we can say that the skills of focussing (as Gendlin termed them) are very similar. So if you are being coached right now, some mindfulness practices in your coaching could actually help you to notice patterns and changes more rapidly and help you to integrate and embed new attitudes or approaches.
Extraordinarily whenever we bring intentional attention to ourselves a chemical is produced in our brain, which actually speed up the connectivity of new neural pathways. Mindfulness and learning are natural bed fellows.
Insight 4 – CHANGING IN THE MOMENT
Another ‘second wave’ possibility arises when we are able to use a mindful approach to situations and change something in the moment it is happening. So we are beginning to use mindful approaches to causing change in the now moment rather than waiting until we have time to sit and reflect on what happened. Reducing the time between insight (or felt sense) and action takes mindfulness from the space of personal wellbeing and plonks it firmly into the zone of effective leadership under pressure.
With some practice in the skill of noticing what is arising NOW in yourself helps you to develop an additional level of awareness that sits with you as you go through your day. On the one hand you are fully engaged with everything the job is throwing at you; on the other hand you seem to develop a capacity for seeing really clearly what is going on while it is happening, not several hours or days after it has passed.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see that a skill like that can be profoundly useful in the heat of conflicts, indecision, complex choices or when things start to go adrift.
Insight 5 – MINDFULNESS HUMOUR AND RESILIENCE
After you have been playing with mindfulness for a while, you may begin to realise that some of the things you do and think and are attached to are just funny. That is not a bad lesson in life. Learn to take yourself a little less seriously. I don’t mean avoidance or hysteria, I mean a gentle sort of humour that arises because we know that wherever we go we have to take ourselves with us, that we can be determined to stressed or miserable in the most beautiful or luxurious environment, and equally happy with nothing very special at all.
So leaders who develop some sort of mindfulness practice often report that they have a better sense of perspective, that they can tap into a sense of personal happiness more frequently and that their resilience is increased, by moving from judgement to curiosity.
There is a great mindfulness practice that simply involves smiling. It often ends in our groups having a really good liberating laugh out loud. Somehow when you make contact with your authentic ability to laugh your personal resilience is increased.