Say “mindfulness” and here’s the image that pops up: Someone blissed out on a yoga mat, possibly with spa music playing in the background. In other words, it has nothing to do with the situation you likely find yourself in on any given Tuesday morning.
But this is a misperception, says Scott Eblin, an executive coach and author of the new book Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. “What I mean by mindful is being aware and intentional–aware of what’s going on around you, aware of what’s going on inside you as a response to what’s going on around you, and being intentional about what you’re going to do next.”
There’s a business case for being fully present; if you’re not, “you’re not going to do your best work,” says Eblin, as your body locks into fight or flight mode. “Most of us want to show up at our best most of the time.”
Here are some practical ways to do that (no yoga mat required):
Physical movement improves mental acuity. A mere five to ten minutes per hour “will put you on top of your curve in terms of your mental focus,” says Eblin. There are lots of ways to get moving (see our list of 10 Ways To Sit Less At Work), but the simplest way is to set an alarm to remind yourself to get up. As a bonus, getting away from your desk might make you more innovative. If you ask people where they get their best ideas, “nobody ever says ‘at my desk, in front of my computer,’” says Eblin.
Presumably you’re breathing already, so it’s no more work to do it right. “If you can’t meditate for 10 minutes, you can’t meditate for five minutes, you can probably do three deep breaths,” says Eblin. Breathe deeply so that your belly moves in and out, rather than just your shoulders or chest. Taking a few deep breaths before a meeting “clears the chatter in your mind.”
Before any encounter, ask yourself two things. First, “what am I trying to do in this conversation, this presentation, this meeting?” And second “How do I need to show up to make that happen?” Visualizing a positive outcome, and what it will take to get there, keeps you focused on the people in front of you, rather than the million other items on your to-do list.
When’s the last time you tried listening to someone without an agenda, and without distractions? To be sure, meetings need a plan to avoid meandering, but try giving a conversation partner five minutes to tell you what he or she wants without you trying to steer it, and without looking at your phone (or watch). When Eblin has people try this, “they are amazed at how deep they go in five minutes.”
“Ask yourself, when everything seems to be hitting the fan at once, what’s going right? There’s pretty much always something that’s going right,” says Eblin. If five projects have taken a disastrous turn, think of the one that hasn’t, and ask “great, how can I build on that?” Panic triggers the fight-or-flight response; gratitude builds mindfulness, and increases the chances that there will be more to be grateful about in the future.