We as knowledge workers, creatives, and entrepreneurs have a lot on on our plates like numerous projects, meetings, ideas, phone calls to make, and decisions to come to. Not only that, but there is an entire other side of our life; the personal one. In our personal lives we have a family to take care of, difficult decisions that have to be made about friends and family, as well as making sure that our family is set up for the future.
If you have been reading Lifehack for any length of time then you probably already have some kind of productivity system in place and have taken advantage of our tips on how to get more and better work done. But even after getting things done, sometimes things don’t feel right. We feel like we are robots. We feel that our lives our unbalanced, that we spend too much time at work and not enough with the ones that we love. We feel that the work we are doing isn’t what we want to be doing. We end up with a feeling of dread and dissatisfaction in our lives.
This is where the practice of being mindful comes in. Rather than running the rat-race of getting things done in your life; you have to stop and understand what your life really is by becoming and staying mindful.
What mindfulness is and what it isn’t
Being mindful means “inclined to be aware” and mindfulness is the act of that. Some would say that practicing mindfulness and using forms of meditation to become more mindful is a Buddhist “thing”. While that is somewhat true, you don’t have to practice Buddhism to practice mindfulness meditation. In fact, there are many members of other religions that practice forms of meditation that moves them towards mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness means that you have to have an open mind and have to be open to a new experience as well as a different way of thinking about things.
Becoming mindful does not mean that you go into a trance, become god-like, learn to levitate, or some other crazy thing you may have heard of. Becoming mindful allows you to see yourself and the world around you just as it is without any preconceived notions of what it “should be”.
It’s hard to talk about becoming mindful without speaking about some form of meditation. What we will discuss here is a sitting meditation that is concentrated on the breath. We won’t delve into the ins and outs of meditation but there are some good resources for that:
There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness through your day. Some of these benefits have to deal with overcoming stress and overwhelm, but there are even links from mindfulness meditation to lowering one’s blood pressure, improving memory, and ridding yourself of depression and anxiety.
These aren’t all of the benefits that we as knowledge workers are looking for (although they are a great to have). What mindfulness meditation gives us is a place we can go to re-frame our world; to accept our current situations and therefore understand ourselves and our surroundings. This is the first step we need to make the right changes in our lives. We see the reality in front of us and based on that new found reality we can make the decisions of where we should be spending our time and attention.
Not only that, but mindfulness meditation will lower our stress as we try to get things done throughout our day which makes work feel much more natural and less threatening.
Getting started with mindfulness meditation is easy. Find about 15 minutes of spare time, a quiet room or place you can go to with the least amount of distractions, a pillow for sitting on the ground (or a chair if that isn’t possible), a timer of some sort (there are a lot of good ones for your smartphone), and no expectations of what will or won’t happen. We need to approach meditation and the practice of mindfulness with as little preconceived notions as possible. The less we expect from practicing and being mindful, the better it will “work”.
Sit down in your quite room in a comfortable position, set your timer, and close your eyes. All you need to do now is be aware of the breath that is coming in and out of your nose. Breath in slow through your nose and concentrate on how the air feels hitting your nostrils. While breathing in, breath deep through your stomach, not your chest. As the breath in starts to slow down concentrate on the split second between the end of your breath in and the beginning of your breath out. Then feel the breath going out of your nostril. Once again, concentrate on the split second that your breath changes from going out to coming back in.
The reason that you concentrate on your breath is because it is something real; it is reality. You will notice as you sit there for an extended period of time thoughts will enter your brain like crazy. The idea is not to “block” or “stop” your thoughts from happening. That will lead to frustration. Instead, concentrate on the reality of your situation and allow your thoughts to enter and exit your mind as your breath enters and exits your nostrils.
Sit and meditate and breath for the set amount of time. When your bell or alarm goes off, slowly open your eyes and go about your day.
This is the practice of mindfulness meditation in a nutshell.
The above sounds easy, right? Just sit and concentrate on your breath. Not so much.
Many people that try to start a mindfulness practice find themselves abandoning it after one or even a few days of practice. Mostly because meditation and being mindful is hard as many different issues can come up:
Sometimes people tend to get uncomfortable with the thoughts that come up or even physically uncomfortable while they are seated.
When it comes to the thoughts that come up a good rule of thumb is first to move your attention back to your breath and to let the thought go through it’s natural progression through your mind while you aren’t attached to it. The thought can keep coming up, especially to someone that isn’t “trained” in mindfulness yet. If it is completely uncomfortable then you may need to stop your practice for the day and come back at a later time to try again.
When it comes to physical uncomfortableness you may need to move your body a little bit or find another position that is more comfortable for you. Something to remember though is to feel some of the minor pain or restlessness or your body as you sit there as it is reality. You of course don’t want to cause yourself injury, but there will always be small issues that come up with our bodies as we sit. Try to sit through them.
Going into a meditation and mindfulness practice you want to have the least amount of expectations as possible, but after some weeks or even months of practice you may find yourself expecting some sort of revelation and peace in your everyday life. When this doesn’t happen you will probably give up on the practice all together because it “doesn’t work”.
While meditation and mindfulness will end up bringing you peace, understanding, and lower overall stress levels, it doesn’t mean that you will experience it immediately. Remember we are shooting for feeling reality for the way that it is. Keep moving forward and shift your expectations.
Where we are going
Okay. So you sit and meditate every day. You concentrate on your breath and live in the moment. But why?
Well, as we continue our mindfulness practice some peculiar things will start to happen. As you live your life and do your work throughout the day you may find yourself slowing down and concentrating on your breath as you become stressed or overwhelmed. This will ground you and help you realize what the current reality is. Rather than reading an email and then instantly fantasizing about what it “could” mean, you can step back and read it for what it is and not get excited or upset.
The projects that you have been working on (or haven’t been working on) start to look a little different. You may be able to slow down and ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” If the answer isn’t apparent you may just want to cut the project entirely. In the past, cutting or declining projects may have been perceived as a weakness. After seeing things for the way they are you can simply see that these project may not interest your or may not help you further your career in any real way. You start to see the reality of all situations in work and life.
Practicing mindfulness start a chain reaction in your life. The simplest of tasks (sit and concentrate on your breath) can turn your life around because you bring that simplicity into everything you do. That’s why we as entrepreneurs, creatives, and knowledge workers need to practice mindfulness.
(Photo credit: Face huge stress, meditation via Shutterstock)