Mindfulness is not a sedentary practice where we move in slow motion with a soft mindset. Rather, mindfulness enables us to move with focus, agility and speed because our minds are clear enabling us to be more decisive, less biased, and more creative.
Mindfulness puts us powerfully in action. Mindfulness is the new ‘hard skill’ – the practice is like exercise for the brain, and the result is a brain that is in the best service of our bodies and lives.
Mindfulness is about developing a sharp, clear mind.
~Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter (How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day)
People have different backgrounds, cultures, ways of working, preferences, styles, needs, and so much more – so different people are attracted to different things. The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced in myriad ways that honor our individual uniqueness. When I was at IBM, we experimented with everything from formal, structured, in-person group meditation practice series to virtual 15- to 30-minute weekly global mindfulness sessions hosted via conference call to mini-habits integrated into the way we work, such as a ‘mindful minute’ and a micro pause.
In this May Experimenting with Mindfulness series, we’ve explored greater awareness via the STOP! technique where we create small pauses to notice what we are thinking and feeling, physically and emotionally, as well as via techniques for observing and focusing on our breath (Building Awareness Through the Breath). Here we’ll focus on building ‘mini-habits’ – simple, practical mindful practices we can incorporate throughout our day. By taking small actions or steps consistently over time, mini-habits enable positive change.
‘Mini-habits’ are simple, practical mindful practices you can incorporate throughout your day to bring about change through small actions.
I love mini-habits because they support us in changing not just what we see but also what we think, how we feel, and ways we relate to the world. Short, regular pausing enables us to clarify what’s going on inside ourselves, with others, and in the environment around us. The noticing creates a kind of clarity about the reality of the moment. A pause can free us from the trappings of the past or the future, and ground us in reality, providing a solid place for the important work of living and making a difference in the world.
Pausing regularly increases the amount of time we are paying attention, versus letting the autopilot of our minds run. Research suggests our minds wander about 50% of the time. Notice how often you start something with one intention and find yourself doing something different. Because your mind is always at work, it’s easy to get side-tracked and derailed with the latest thought that pops up. Mindfulness practice enhances the awareness that enables us to recognize and release unnecessary distractions as they arise, and it improves the focus that allows us to concentrate on what we’re doing in the moment.
Here’s a list of mini-habits that my fellow colleagues at IBM came up with when we were in the early stages of inviting mindfulness into IBM. (Read more on Mindfulness@IBM.)
First thing when you awake take a moment to notice the sensations of your breath for a few breaths before getting out of bed.
Enjoy a technology-free zone as you move from one activity to another, whether you’re driving to and from destinations or to and from meetings or some other activity. Turn off your cell phone and other devices and just notice how you are feeling and what there is to see or hear.
At the start of your next meeting (whether it’s at the office or with family or friends), allow yourself to be fully present. Let go of whatever you were doing before and all that awaits you afterwards. Take a few breaths and feel yourself in the now. Even better, at the office, make the first agenda item of a meeting an invitation for everyone to clarify, whether in silence or verbally, their intentions or desired outcomes.
As you eat, pay attention to the colors, taste, smells, and textures of your food. If possible, sit down and be intentional about eating slowly and savoring each bite. Added bonus: smile between bites and you might just find you are less stressed when your meal is done!
Use the time while your device or app is processing to notice the sensations in your body as you sit or stand. You can also notice what you are thinking, or take a moment to notice and appreciate something around you such as a photo.
At any point in your day, pause and think of something you are grateful for. Smiling as you do is an added bonus for your mind and body – and those who might be around you!
Healthy Body Micropause
Take a thirty-second micro-break to energize your muscles and reduce tension. You might slowly turn your head from side to side, holding each turn for a count of three and repeating 5-10 times. Or you might make wide circular motions to roll your shoulders forward 5-10 times, and then backward 5-10 times. Or you could tightly clench your fists and then release, fanning out your fingers about 5 times on each hand.
When you visit the rest room (we intentionally chose this word!) during the day, take a moment to pause while washing or drying your hands (or both). Focus on how the water, temperature, or towel or air feels. Use the focus to clear your mind of the debris so you are ready for what’s next.
Steady your attention by focusing on a single element of an object. It might be the color or shape of something in the space around you (e.g., on your desk, in the parking lot, in your home, at the park). Each time your mind wanders from the element, refocus.
Go outside and focus on something in nature for 2 minutes – maybe it’s the sounds of birds or water, or the color of flowers or leaves, or the feel of the air on your skin.
In mindfulness, we start to see the world as it is, not as we expect it to be, how we want it to be, or what we fear it might become.
~ Mark Williams and Danny Penman (Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World)
Go ahead, identify a mini-habit that you can start today. Enjoy what unfolds when you focus your full awareness in the moment.
by Vicki L. Flaherty
Article originally appeared in Leading with Intention