Our new blog series follows newly appointed manager Suzanne Smith (her nom de plume), as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery to find out if she really has what it takes to become a good leader. In this week’s blog she discovers how the practice of mindfulness can help to de-stress and de-clutter the mind
Mindfulness seems to be the latest buzzword in the world of business but it’s actually a practice that’s been around for some 2,000 plus years and was originally practised by both Buddhists and Hindus. Today celebrities, high profile leaders and innovative tech companies in Silicon Valley have all been embracing it and have been spouting its virtues, but I’ve always wondered does it really help, and more to the point is it something which you’d need to commit to on a daily basis in order to feel its true benefits?
I always put aside an hour a week to go to a yoga class – for me, it’s great way to unwind after a busy day and it leaves me feeling relaxed and revitalized. We are taught to be mindful in our yoga classes – mindful about the way we move our body and the way in which we breath. Being mindful about my breath definitely helps to calm my frantic mind, but a day later, I have to admit that the tidal wave of worries usually comes crashing back with vengeance and I’m drowning once more in niggling concerns about work and life. That’s perhaps being a tad dramatic, but in our 24/7 society in which we try to pack so much into our daily lives, it’s hard not to feel consumed by anxiety or stress from time to time. The idea of mindfulness is to still and calm the chattering mind, and consequently this will still and calm the body – bringing us out of flight and fight mode and into a state of relaxation and peace. I’ve tried meditation before, but like yoga, I find it hard to do on a daily basis. I use time as an excuse but the reality is sometimes I just don’t feel like sitting still and being quiet when I’d prefer to be on my laptop or watching the TV. I’ve become so accustomed to a lifestyle constantly on the go, it feels strange just to stop and do nothing.
Of course the beauty of mindfulness is that, unlike in meditation, you don’t have to stop and stay still. You can practise mindfulness during your morning run, whilst brushing your teeth, or even during your daily commute. It’s basically just about being grounded in the present moment and bringing your full awareness to that moment without judgement. Rather than having your thoughts mulling over the past or fretting about the future, they are just focused on the things in the present. For example, if you’re on a train on your way to work, your full attention will be given to the train journey – from the sights, sounds and noises you can hear, to the feeling of your back pressed against the seat and the floor underneath your feet. The reality is I can’t ever imagine feeling relaxed whilst practising mindfulness on a packed out train when the only thing running through my mind is getting to work on time. However, after attending a mindfulness workshop at a conference a couple of weeks ago, I have been making a determined effort to drag myself out of my thoughts and anxieties about the future and into the present moment. In reality it’s difficult to keep this up all of the time and inevitably, when you’re in work your thoughts will shift to that anonymous meeting in the diary with the CEO, or that past conversation with a colleague which has left you reeling. But every now and again it’s good to focus on the present moment or on the task at hand, and it’s amazing how much better you feel for it. For me personally, I feel more productive, more alert and less stressed and anxious, and I guess the more I practise it, the more I will reap the benefits.
I think even though I’ve been practising mindfulness to a certain degree in my yoga classes, I’ve always been a little sceptical of the concept. But after experimenting with it, I know it definitely helps in the short-term. In the long-term, I’m still not convinced it can completely eradicate the stresses and strains in my life without me adopting a more holistic approach to managing my stress, which will include other factors such as a better diet, better work life balance, and more exercise. However, perhaps the more I engage in the ancient technique the more it will help to promote the sense of inner calm and clarity it promises. Calmness and clarity are definitely two fundamental qualities to being a good manager, so I’ll definitely be keeping it up, and who knows maybe one day I’ll learn to live my whole life in the moment – if I’m brave enough.