Until my late 20s, I felt like I had been fighting my whole life. Brought up on the south side of Johannesburg, in South African government housing (similar to “the projects” in the USA), I learned early on that what really mattered was not how smart you were, but whether you were tough enough.
Growing up, I often felt trapped in a really bad nightmare — and I wanted to wake up. My abusive, alcoholic mother kicked me out of the house at 17 and, as a result, I never finished high school. I found myself sleeping on the very same park bench I played in as a kid, with less than $20 in my pocket. I decided then and there, to change the trajectory of my life.
I turned things around, realizing that success comes down to what you do on the inside, no matter what is happening on the outside. What I have learned over the years is that sustainable success in life, in the workplace, and as an entrepreneur — is MORE than just head smarts. You may have the ‘head smarts’ to make things happen in your life, but you still have to make it actually happen. Being successful in your business requires skillful inner management. In other words, you have to learn how to overcome your inner opponent. Not so easy of course, in the fast paced, ever changing world we now find ourselves in.
Getting Real About the Craziness of Modern Life
I doubt anyone in the modern world would deny that life has become somewhat frenzied. There seems to be a series of continuous deadlines looming at work, not to mention being met every morning with 100s of emails to clear — even before we start the day. For those of us with kids, we find ourselves racing around from one extramural activity to the next. Even simply keeping up with social media is becoming a chore. In an attempt to help us declutter our lives, we search out life hacks to manage both our time and daily activities in a more efficient way.
In all of this frenzy we face in our lives each week, we often forget about ourselves. Sure, we may get to the gym, but it seems more about simply working out just to keep fit, and not really about living fully. We may eat healthy foods, but it feels more about consumption of optimal fuel, than optimal health. While we find ourselves ‘hacking’ everything — from ensuring we get through the day-to-day tasks more efficiently, to a 10-minute all round workout on our home gym — we often forget what truly drives success – ourselves.
All the life hacks in the world become meaningless unless you can effectively hack your own embodied-interface. Said another way, without skillful inner management of your mind, body, and emotions, you will invariably burn out and crash — no matter how well you have attempted to life hack your life. I call these inner management skills, Embodied-Growth Hacks (EGH). Each EG Hack is designed to help a person skilfully navigate their inner terrain for optimal success in the actual chaos of life.
The No 1 EG Hack that can save your sanity is mindfulness. Maybe you have heard about mindfulness? There is no arguing that it has become all the rage. Some of the top key benefits of mindfulness include strengthening your immune system, as well as strengthening your physiological responses to stress and negative emotions. Mindfulness is said to improve social relationships both with family and strangers. Importantly for us living a fast paced life, mindfulness is said to reduce symptoms of stress, depression, and anxiety.
While the benefits of mindfulness are clear, the tough part for most people, is finding the time to sit still long enough to practice it. I am not sure about you, but as a go-getter myself, sitting on a zafu (a meditation cushion), in a quite candle lit room, and meditating — isn’t my cup of tea. I have tried it, and I just can’t sit still long enough to get any of the benefits. Let me be honest too, I don’t have the time either, I am busy. But what if I told you there is another way to gain the amazing benefits of mindfulness, without meditating?
Here’s how I do it:
There isn’t a day in my life, that at some point I don’t find myself experiencing an aspect of modern life that I would consider the mundane. This could be washing the dishes, sitting in my car in early morning traffic, or in the line at the grocery store. It was in all these mundane moments that I began to purposely practice the art of mindfulness. Rather than sitting on a zafu, I did it in action. Approaching mindfulness-in-action seemed to fit my personality too.
I apply an easy four step process:
Step 1: First I recognize the mundane moments (“I am standing in a line at the grocery store”). Remembering to do it, is the first step to success.
Step 2: Then I intentionally begin to focus on my breath. By focusing on the length of both my exhale and inhale, It helps center my mind in the present moment.
Step 3: If my mind begins to wander to anything other than my breath, I gently bring my focus back to my breathing (and trust me it’s going to wander, that’s just what the mind does). Here it is important to not judge myself when my mind wanders off. Simply I acknowledge that my mind has wandered, I smile, and then bring myself back to a focused attention on my breathing.
Step 4: Once I am present with my breath, I turn my focus outward, passively focusing on the outside world — while all along keeping my present moment awareness on my breathing.
Overtime, finding all the mundane spaces in my life to practice what I call mindfulness-in-action, began to have positive affects on the not so mundane aspects of my life. When things became really hectic at work, I found myself able to recenter simply by focusing on my breathing. Looking back now, those ‘mundane spaces’ in my life accumulated to a lot of time wasted. But now, when I take every opportunity to practice being mindful in them, by the end of the month, I have racked up an impressive amount of inner game training.
Practicing to be mindful in the mundane, also gave me some me-in time. It stopped me being on my phone simply to pass time, or frantically looking at my day’s schedule. Disconnecting from technology, even for brief moments throughout the day, can be really good for your stress levels, as I found out. More importantly, I was able to practice being mindful in the crux of life. By starting with the mundane moments, it allowed the benefits of that practice to spill over to the really stressful moments of my life, where I needed to be mindful the most.