One of the unique aspects of mindfulness is that it allows you to engage fully with the process of success, rather than on the outcome. Anticipating an outcome is filled with expectations, wishes, and desires. While there is nothing wrong with envisioning the future you want, or need — but doing so in the midst of an important moment that has the potential to lead to what you most want, can lead you astray. The problem with expectations and desires, is that they have a tendency to be anchored in the future, or the past.
Where It All Goes Wrong
While reflection on the past allows you to avoid the same mistakes in the future, and projecting into the future, can motivate you to push through tough times — they are, and will never be the experience you are having right at this moment. For example, Imagine today is the day you are asked to pitch your idea to a group of investors that you have been working really hard to meet. Leading up to this pitch, you have likely spent a lot of time reflecting on past mistakes, and working on a strategy to avoid them in the future. You have also likely spent a lot time thinking about future opportunities, or obstacles that may arise, so you can plan how to avoid them. Yet, on this day, when you find yourself standing in front of those investors, the place you want to be more than anywhere else is completely present.
The last thing you need, in the midst of your pitch is to start thinking about what you should be saying next. This is a sure fire way to trip yourself up, and get lost in what you are suppose to be saying right now. Secondly, if suddenly you sense rightfully or wrongly that things are not going well — you certainly don’t want to start thinking how this is just how you messed up the last time you pitched an idea. You see, this isn’t the time to focus on the past, or project into the future. That’s what you do before a ‘performance’ not in it. Once you in the ‘fight’ so to speak, you want to just be mindful of the experience you are having, flow with the process, and allow what needs to come out to come out — without attaching to the outcome, and without judgment. Easier said than done right? Absolutely!
Mindfulness in Two Steps
The truth is, few of us take time out of our busy lives to observe our thinking. Most of what we think about is unhelpful, filled with interpretations of the past, the future, and tons of crazy private thoughts and images we tell no one about. The mind, for most of us, seems as if it is infected by a virus. Mindfulness is a way to get the wild horses in the mind under control, paradoxically by not trying to control it at all.
Mindfulness takes practice, but it doesn’t have to be difficult to understand. If you took a moment right now, and closed your eyes, and followed these two steps:
Step 1: With your eyes closed, observe your thoughts, feelings and sensations in your body. What ever arises, look deep into it, with curiosity – but without discussing it with yourself. In other words what ever arises, is just that which arises. That thought, that feeling, is part of you, its neither right or wrong, good or bad – it simply is.
Step 2: Now, gently bring your attention to your breath. Focus on your breath, as it moves in and out of your nose or mouth. Stay with the breath, and if your mind wonders, gently bring it back to your breath. Keep breathing.
If you experienced even a moment of clarity in this exercise, a moment of being without attaching to how you are thinking or feeling, you have experienced mindfulness.
You Are Still There, But More
If you are really astute through the 2-step exercise above, you would have noticed that just being, just observing your inner state, with curiosity, without attachment to what arose, without judging — you still continued to be you. You don’t just suddenly disappear, you are still you, but now more of you.
In other words, you don’t need to be embroiled in your thinking, your feelings, in order to act, to respond, to be active in this world, or at work. Now imagine you could do that exact same thing in your pitch, in your meeting, in your conversations with those you lead? Imagine being fully there, not clouded by your past hangups, or expecting how things should be. Just there, fully present, in the process.
You will find it’s powerful. You will give of your best, your best pitch, your best performance. It’s unavoidable to give your best, to be your best, because you are there, fully present in the experience you are having. Give it a try.