Mindfulness improves fulfillment and productivity
Mindfulness is a bit buzzy of a word and concept. Maybe, because like all cliches in life, I have found it to be a very truthful and humbling force in my life.
Is there a place for mindfulness in the frantic, capitalist driven culture of productivity?
Mindfulness is at the core of achieving both productivity and happiness.
The simplest way to describe mindfulness is the practice of being present.
"Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment as if your life depended on it." - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness offers you
What happens over time, when focusing on the present repeatedly, is that you are on a journey.
George Mumford in The Mindful Athlete discusses the momentary cluelessness about where you are going will also naturally lead to letting go of who you think you are. Letting a situation play itself out means that you trust the process, and you trust yourself.
In order to get to this level of confidence, your observational skills will need to be honed to a level of being present, but also being an observer.
In the Mindful Athlete, there are several steps involved in achieving high performance including insight, concentration, directed effort, and trust. But the first step is mindfulness.
Elite athletes describe feeling a sense of flow or presence when they are completely focused but also detached from the situation.
It starts from a simple breath. Attuning yourself to your breath is the first step.
Focusing your thoughts and attention on the breath is effective because you are aligned with an automatic process from the brain that requires no conscious effort.
Mindfulness engages you in a practice where you fight the ongoing, intermittent demons of distraction and gently gear your mind back to a point of focus or active acceptance of the present moment.
Ultimately the practice of mindfulness yields better focus, which is absolutely necessary to achieve even the most basic of habits.
Focus is a skill obsessively written about in the productivity genre (think The Power of Less, Flow, Resilient, etc). It is at the core of mindfulness, because you will try to attend to one thing and repeatedly fail. This repetitive practice improves focus tremendously.
As argued in Rick Hanson's Resilient, not only does mindfulness allow for focus, it supplies you with energy. This energy has two aspects. One is the energy that comes from pure conservation of resources when accepting the present state. You are not fighting, you are accepting.
Second is the energy you can't explain - the tapping into consciousness that you never do, and in there you can find a source of rejuvenation. This is what Micheal Singer in The Untethered Soul refers to as unbound energy. The simple act of mindfulness lets you tap into another world of being.
Thich Nhat Hanh in The Art of Communicating argues that mindfulness yields superior communication benefits. If you achieve a state of detachment and are highly observational, you may be lucky enough to objectively view your communication impulses. You may pause before you say something you don't mean.
This is largely because mindfulness allows for, as described in Rick Hanson's Neurodharma, superior emotional regulation. Your mind is often wandering based on the neuronal activity in the midline brain network. One strategy to suppress the negative thinking that comes from automatic wandering is to consciously strengthen the more lateral (either side) networks of the brain. These parts of the brain allow for more holistic thinking.
Both improved communication and emotional regulation lead you to connect better with others around you.
The more whole you see things, the more you live in the present. The more you live in the present, the more content you feel.
The role of self-care in fulfillment cannot be overstated.
I have been careful to balance what Rick Hanson in Neurodharma calls an "allness" which brings ultimate fulfillment versus focusing on myself. Because women tend to be the primary caretaker, household manager, and support system for everything around them, I am not too worried about this split.
Mindfulness is necessary in strong, intentional parenting. Lea Waters in The Strength Switch describes how mindfulness helped her in moments of anger with her children. Instead of reacting, she slowed down to feel the present moment, where she became aware of her heart racing and her shallow breath. These practices served as a turning point for her.
Mindfulness moves you toward specificity. Offering distinct praise, instead of just saying "well done," requires a stronger level of attention.
Nurturing a child's strengths, that are largely genetically determined, is the way that children reach almost effortless performance.
Mindfulness plays a central role here. The distracted parent will miss things.
I remember many of these distracted moments with my toddler. They were costly, and I didn't realize it until a near-miss. Almost not catching her first song.
I have worked hard to prioritize being more present with my children. We have been having a lot more of musical childhood after I increased my mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness gives you the opportunity for transcendence, where you feel connected to something bigger than yourself, either through meditative focus or through the appreciation of everything that is present around you.
Tapping into another kind of consciousness is explored in Chris Niebauer's No Self, No Problem. While we are spending a lot of time utilizing the left side of our brains that help us with conscious and analytical interpretation of the world around, we have a more non-language based and movement oriented right side of the brain.
It's right brain consciousness that is activated when you are engaging in more mindful activities. In some ways, this is the more unconscious part of our brain. Ironically, meditators say that it's in these times they feel hyperconscious. But the truth is that they are really more tapped into the unconscious, and it's just difficult to describe.
As discussed in Mindful Work, mindfulness is not just something to be marketed as a productivity tool. It is a lot more than that. There is an emotional and compassionate component that allows for a more gentle and connected existence.
If I have been able to convince you so far that mindfulness is worth your time, you might be a believer in letting mindfulness become of you.