When was the last time you were present? Really present in the moment?
I bet it’s been a while.
I get it, it is much more difficult than it sounds. Life can be chaotic. Full of endless distractions and unfinished to-do lists. Who has the time to sit and simply enjoy the feeling of, say, fresh air on their face? Or sit and notice the bubble of contentment that comes with achieving a small goal or spending an evening with family and friends? There are far too many things to do and way too many places to be.
But much as it feel impossible to squeeze into your packed schedule, there is overwhelming amounts of research to show that this regular practise of presence, or mindfulness, can really change your life – and your work.
I’m not only talking about meditation. Or contorting yourself into uncomfortable yoga poses. Mindfulness often gets swallowed up in the world of ‘wellness’ but in reality it can be as simple as noticing the drops of water falling from a shower head, or taking 10 seconds to notice what ought to be familiar surroundings on your daily commute.
It’s tiny daily changes like this that mindfulness teacher Maitreyabandhu talks about in his eight-week course – a course that I don’t mind saying completely transformed my own life.
Spend enough time practising mindfulness and the rewards can be huge: a calmer mind, greater clarity and the ability to perform at a higher, more focused level. Those qualities can completely change the course of your career.
But how is it even possible to retrain our brains this way? Well, it’s a process that scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.
Simply put, our brains ‘learn’ from our lived experiences. Each of those experiences shapes our neural pathways, the mechanisms by which signals travel through the brain. These pathways then determine our emotional and behavioural responses to all future experiences. They can determine whether we respond to a situation with fear or a heightened sense of focus. They can give us a sense of confidence and security, rather than a sense of anxiety.
And as these neural pathways aren’t all set in stone at birth, they can be trained, or retrained, to cultivate either the qualities and characteristics that will hold us back, or those that will feel us empowered and able to achieve our goals.
Unfortunately without some kind of a regular practise, the tendency is for our brains to learn in response to primarily negative events. They’re evolutionally hard-wired this way, to keep us safe from danger. But with mindfulness we can nudge this focus toward positivity too, ensuring those all-important neural pathways are shaped just as much in response to the good as the bad.
You don’t only have to take my word for how effective this can be either. The likes of Google, Nike, Goldman Sachs, and Apple have all now integrated mindfulness training as part of their personal development packages for staff. They recognise the huge benefits it can have when it comes to levels of concentration and the ability to manage stress.
The good news is you don’t need to splash out on expensive workshops or courses to reap the benefits of mindfulness, unless you really want to dig deep into the theory, of course. The beauty of this practise is you can weave small moments of mindfulness into your day at no cost and with very little effort.
As a start, why not try incorporating just one or two of these practises into your daily routine?
Note down three things you’re grateful for each day. The idea here is that gratitude forces us to focus on what we do have here in the present, rather than stressing on hypothetical future events. It also trains the brain to look out for moments to appreciate each day.
Activate your senses. Whatever you’re doing stop for just a moment and ask yourself. What are two things I can see, hear and smell? Name them, even if it’s just in your head. This instantly anchors your brain and body in the present moment.
Start the day with a body scan. When you wake up take 30 seconds to sit on the side of your bed, close your eyes, and scan your body all the way from your toes to the top of your head. Check in with each body part and notice how it feels. Is there discomfort? Is there tingling? Where are you holding tension?
Chew each mouthful of food at least 20 times. So much of the time we rush through our meals without really engaging any of our senses. By consciously chewing each mouthful we can start to eat more mindfully. Not only does this bring this into the present moment, but it helps us enjoy our food and notice when we’re full.
Mindfulness can be an incredibly powerful tool, both in our personal lives and when it comes to taking our career to the next level.
If you’d like to chat through how to harness mindfulness as part of a plan to rethink your career ambitions then why not book in a trial 30 minute session with me here?