I used to work in radio. Not the glamorous “on air” side of it, the other side, working in the background scheduling things so that everything ended up on the air at the right time and in the right sequence. I learned some very important things in working that rather tedious job; the first was that I had no future in radio. The second was there is nothing as precious as time. That job (as monotonous as it was) was one of the more important roles for the success of the radio station; time is not something you can get back, it is completely perishable. You have a brief opportunity to make that time on-air as effective as possible – which for me, during the short period I worked in radio, meant getting my job right (there were no “do-overs”). It also gave me a new appreciation for “live” undertakings, like radio and television, that helped to illustrate what is happening in the “here and now” of daily life is the most important “live” event we will ever be engaged in.
Fast forward to today where I am not working in radio and where the velocity of work is significantly faster than it was for the generation before us; exponentially with each cohort it’s pace seems to be doubling. It is certainly much faster then when I worked at the radio station more than two decades ago. For most of us work is a tidal force that dictates the rhythm of our lives, from when we rise to how we spend our time...to when we choose go to sleep. In dictating that rhythm for us it also affects our families and loved ones, but this was not always the case – back in the days before electricity it used to be the sun that determined these things. We have become a generation who are living in the future, sometimes in the past, but not in the present (we could blame the advent of electricity for this, but we know better). Pace is a major factor in this; today there is very little time to pay attention to the “here and now”, and yet we have to pass through the present to go anywhere. In fact the present, or the quality of our presence in the current moment, has an enormous impact on our future (just ask anyone who has ever had to recall an e-mail). It is difficult to “hear” our own needs calling when we are completely focused on “what’s next”, and often those needs assert themselves as stress, anxiety and fear. Many of us have become masters of pushing off those feelings, we bury them, ignore them or use artificial means to numb them, but they do not go away. Instead they return when we least expect them, when we are tired, ill or re-stressed and they come back with a force that can be overwhelming, like an air-filled ball held under water (let go of it and WHOOSH, it pops up twice as high as it was forced underneath the water).
There is an antidote to this, it’s something that is not new and is readily available to everyone. You do not need an app for it and it is free. But it does take time; all of ten minutes a day. You have heard of it before, it’s often referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness (at it’s core) is the act of taking conscientiousness and applying it to oneself. It is not about making your mind blank (point of fact; that is not possible for anyone but the most dedicated life-time meditators to do); so take that pressure off yourself. This is not about being perfect, it is about listening to your thoughts, giving yourself 10 minutes of present time to change your pace, slow down and listen to what is going on in your mind. The hardest part of this is not becoming particularly attached to any of your thoughts, it is the act of allowing them to float through your mind, seeing them pass thorough like clouds moving across the sky, that has the greatest benefit. It provides you with a way to better understand what is going on for you, to see what is causing you stress and to be better able to be kind to yourself. We can’t change what happens to us during the day, but we can control how we respond to it. Mindful practice allows you to be ready to face the challenges in your day. You can do this in many ways that are discreet and supportive, going for a walk or just sitting peacefully in a comfortable place – always with the intent to allow yourself time to get to know what is going on in you, without following your thoughts and progressing into “thinking”. Just listening. But then there is that pesky draw to keep moving forward and onto “what is next”. So how do we address that in a relentless world of work? A good starting place is to become more aware of pace…because the first act of mindfulness requires you to acknowledge a present pace that is not allowing you to be your best, and then changing it (even if it is just for 5 minutes).
This can be very hard to do, but I will give you my favourite example of mindfulness in a business context to help understand how it can apply to everyone’s work life. In the distant past I had the privilege to work with a talented subject matter expert in the field of Compensation who practiced her own version of mindfulness very effectively. She had one of the most pressure filled jobs you’ll find in large corporations. Compensation experts are “it”, the one person in the one role where the responsibility for figuring our what people get paid rests - this is not a job where you get to eat comfortably in the office cafeteria (or eat lunch at all most days). The woman I worked with was (and still is) a wonderfully soft spoken and warm person who always had the wisdom to ask for time. More specifically, when faced with a difficult decision affecting the integrity of the organization’s compensation plan, she would ask if she could “run on it”. She ran every day, mostly because she loved running, but also because it allowed her to let her thoughts go and have the time to listen to herself, allowing the right answers to become apparent. And they always did.
She was stronger for it; others welcomed her integrity and approach, even when she had to give negative responses to requests from high-ranking executives. Anyone who worked with her (and who still work with her today) trusts her, they know what she says is well thought out and balanced. No one had any issues giving her the 24 business hours she asked for because they understood it would mean a well-reasoned response. She is a great example of what can happen when you take the time to consider your own requirements and ask for what you need. Effectively her requests for time changed the pace, taking it from (often) lightening speed to something much more, well, mindful. It allowed everyone involved the time to think about what was being discussed, which brought on new insights and information that only strengthened the collective decision. She is one of my mindfulness role models.
Confounded by a problem at work? Trying to maintain a professional demeanor in the face of overwhelming criticism? Feeling pressured at home? Give yourself the time needed to gain a different perspective. Pop out of the office, go for a walk or find a quiet place to sit…ask for time. To look at this in another way, take a moment to reflect on recent events that have caused you stress or anxiety. Would they have benefited from a change of pace? The truth is we always have the option to wait 24 hours to respond to an e-mail or to ask a loved one if “we can we talk about this later?”. What would have been the outcome if you had recognized “in that moment” you needed to disrupt the pace and ask for more time? Be mindful of what you need, and then ask for it. We only get to be in each moment once, make them count.
For more information on mindfulness please reference "How Mindfulness Fixes Your Brain, Reduces Stress and Boosts Performance" by Dr. Travis Bradberry on @LinkedIn.