I want you to take a moment and think about all the things you have already done this morning on autopilot. These are things you’ve done without even thinking about them. I admit I got up, made the bed, shaved, showered, put on deodorant, brushed my teeth, got dressed, and drove to work without ever really thinking about any of those things.
Sometimes, if you’re like me, I can get so deep into thinking about other things, I must stop and think, “Did I put on deodorant?” before getting dressed. Sometimes, I’ll arrive at work and not remember anything about the drive. Sound familiar?
Studies have shown we spend on average almost 90 minutes a day doing routine, mundane tasks, while our thoughts are elsewhere. This doesn’t include commute time!
This means over your career you’ll spend almost two years engaged in non-productive activities – and more when you factor in commute time. Occasionally, or frequently for some, these activities can cause frustration or even distress, when you’re running late for work, stuck in traffic, late for a meeting, or picking the children up from daycare.
While the thought of wasting up to two years of your life in autopilot activities that can lead to anxiety and frustration, there are studies that suggest you can use the time spent during these activities in a productive manner.
The key is to practice mindfulness instead of running on autopilot. Instead of getting caught up in our thinking, we must make a conscious effort to be aware of what we are thinking and shift our thoughts to what we are doing.
Scientific research shows by being aware of our thoughts and shifting our thinking to what we are doing in the moment can actually change both the function and structure of your brain that can improve your performance in the workplace, especially as a leader.
In a study done by Sara Lazer at Harvard University in 2005, it was discovered the brains of individuals practicing mindfulness had measurable more thickness of the brain region associated with self-awareness.
While it isn’t easy to increase mindfulness during autopilot moments, it is possible with continual practice and effort. Through concentrated practice, you can turn mindfulness into a habit.
The simplest way to practice mindfulness is before beginning a routine, mundane activity, is to remind yourself you are going to practice being mindful during the activity. Then make a conscious effort to quit thinking and be in the moment. Be curious about what you are feeling and experiencing. If you’re driving to work, think about the feel of the steering wheel, the vibration of the car. Notice all the sensations you are feeling. If you’re brushing your teeth, focus on the bristles and the feeling they have on your teeth and gums.
This is the foundation, your starting point to mindfulness. You want to think about what’s happening now. You will find your thoughts drifting to other things. That’s okay. This is part of the development process. As you notice your thoughts drifting, you can pull them back into the moment. You will discover over time; your mindfulness will strengthen. You are literally rewiring your brain for better self-awareness.
Additional ways to strengthen your mindfulness includes making a list of all the activities you do on autopilot (while thinking about other things).
Then make a commitment to practice mindfulness during one of those activities. For a whole week, while doing that specific activity you will keep your mind on the sensations you feel, smell, and hear during that activity.
With each passing week, add another activity to the list of commitments for practicing mindfulness.
You will soon strengthen your mindfulness to the point you are no longer caught up in your thinking or emotional state. Instead, you will have an objective awareness of your thoughts and emotions. You will discover that your mindfulness has made you self-aware.
With self-awareness, you will be in control of your emotions, instead of your emotions controlling you. This will help you in all areas of life.
Self-awareness is critical to understanding your strengths and weaknesses. With this understanding you will be able to determine where you should put your focus. You will be able to determine the skill sets of others to surround yourself with to enhance your level of success.
Self-awareness plays a huge role in our decision-making abilities. We discover learned biases that can cause us to be closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Sometimes, we are able to identify a bias developed for or against an individual, a group, or a belief.
Self-awareness allows us to recognize our own emotions, helping us to discern between different feelings, and to use this information to guide our thinking and behavior.
In his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, defines Emotional Intelligence, as the array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance.
Emotional Intelligence is built on self-awareness. Self-awareness is derived from mindfulness.
So, as you prepare yourself to move on through today, I hope that you will make use of the autopilot moments to practice being in touch with where you are, what you are doing, and the sensations you are feeling.
“You cannot control the results, only your actions.” – Allan Lokos
Take Action Today!
If you would like assistance with improving your mindfulness, I can help you. We can meet by phone, on Zoom, or in a place you deem safe with social distancing. Whether you choose me or someone else, a coach will expedite your results.
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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.com
Published by Bryan M. Balch, Results Coach
Helping Individuals and Businesses Achieve Desired Results
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