Stop impressing your boss (do this instead!)

For the larger part of the adult population, the single biggest share of time is spent almost exclusively in the company of work colleagues, clients, and bosses. And because of this idea that our relationship with them is pivotal to our life, these are the people who we are most likely to make efforts to impress, or at least, not get unnecessarily off-side. The majority of them are people who we have never deliberately sought to share time with, they come into our life as part of a career (and usually leave with it when we change direction). In many cases they may even people who we are in direct competition with, who perhaps may even be a threat, requiring us to be even more impressive.

The relevance or lack of relevance of these relationships has a profound effect on our lives, but even more so on the lives of the next generation. When they look at you do they see substance in your purpose, in your relationships and your actions?

It is easy to jump to answer this and say “Of course!” – but the perspective from which this must be answered is not our own, it is from theirs.

That changes everything.

One very current example is this: As parents we naturally expose kids at an early age to natural icons. Rhinos, Giraffes, Elephants, Gorillas, Polar Bears, Whales. Bees. There are adventures of journeys through untouched wilderness. For most kids in primary school now, these icons are becoming increasingly likely to be extinct when they become adults. And they know that. They also know that we are somehow responsible. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly the finger points squarely at us.

This is why it changes everything:

We have inadvertently sent a very clear warning to the next generation to not follow us, to ignore our advice. We have inadvertently sent a clear message to the next generation that we don’t really care what happens to them. We have created a role-model vacuum. We have created an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, of defeat before they even begin their race. We have created a toxic environment (real and figuratively) into which they have no choice but to walk into.

But we can also change everything.

While the role-model vacuum is being filled by escapes into digital worlds where battles can still be won and where heroes still exist (for better or worse) I believe we have a moral obligation to reclaim this space. It is simpler than you think, although it requires some work – possibly difficult work because it is mostly work within ourselves.

It is simply this: Begin to shift your focus away from trying to impress your colleagues, and towards impressing your kids, whatever their age. It does not mean that you take up extreme downhill cycling, or mask up at night to become a vigilante. Here are some suggestions that won’t put you in hospital or jail.

  • Do stuff that matters. Not just to them but also to you. By spending every “free” hour entranced by a TV with a drink in hand you are declaring that you have given up yourself. Failure and defeat does not inspire, it robs others of hope, it kills possibility.
  • Show the value of life by valuing yours, and everyone else’s that you come in contact with.
  • Show respect for the natural world that they are heirs to by treating it as if it was theirs.
  • Invest ethically, into ventures that are not in conflict with their inheritance.
  • Consider who you work for. Perhaps it is time to work in an industry that is not engaged in socially or ecologically destructive practice.
  • Be kind and compassionate, not just in their presence.

There is no measure to the respect that these simple things will earn you.
There is no measure to the outlook and hope you will give them.
There is no measure to how much greater your life will become as a result.
There is no measure of how great a change is possible when many people do simple little things that matter.

And that will change everything.

10 Ways to Win Back Your Mind.

This is the conclusion to this 4-part series on mindfulness. If you have missed any of the preceding posts, you can read them by clicking on the links at the end of this post.

So, now that you know that mindfulness is a powerfully good thing to practice, let’s get to it.

I have compiled a list of ten simple things that you can do starting at this very moment to begin developing a habit of mindfulness. Pick just one or two and DO IT at least once every day!

Like most things, these are simple enough, but few people will actually do them consistently.

I challenge you to be one of those few, and perhaps to share with me in a month or to me in a month or two if you have experienced any significant improvements in your life.

Before we dive right into mindfulness, I’d like to talk briefly about distractions. Many productivity gurus talk about removing distractions. Sure, it is helpful, but life is full of distractions that are outside of our control, so the only thing we can do about those is to learn to deliberately filter them out. If you can only focus when you are in a perfectly ordered and controlled environment, you have not mastered mindfulness, you have simply created a situation where distractions no longer exist, an environment in which mindlessness becomes difficult. But unfortunately the world in which we live is no such place. So we need to learn to master distractions, not avoid them. The first four items are all about mastering distractions and help you own your space. The rest actively engage a state of mindfulness.

1. Set task timers.

That sounds more like a productivity hack, but what I mean by that is that you set a three, five, or maximum fifteen minute timer in order to do an activity, and during that time your goal is to not allow any other activity to interfere. You are just doing that one thing, nothing else. For a brief period of time (keep it short – match it to the task if possible) give yourself permission to ignore everything else – the phone, email, anything that is not part of your immediate activity. Don’t make it an hour long, just enough to do a meaningful chunk of what needs to be done. If you finish sooner, great. If you go over time, so what, go until you reach the natural stop. The key here is brevity, and trying throughout that time to maintain deliberate awareness about what you are doing, and stop yourself from drifting into autopilot (aka mindlessness!)

2. Turn off all social meadia, TV and news.

Harsh? These rarely contribute something useful to our lives, and they are the ultimate weapon of mindlessness. Set times of the day that are specifically devoted to attending to those if you can’t live without them. Think about this: advertising works. Advertisers know exactly why it works: the moment that the subject matter of your thoughts is determined by someone else, you have “lost” your mind – quite literally –  they own your decision-making process because your story-telling part of the brain has been handed a script. Perhaps somewhat Orwellian, but a fact worth trillions of dollars in sales. Claim some ownership back, give yourself a little space to have your own real experience.

3. Do ONE thing at a time until done.

Nothing fosters mindlessness more than multi-tasking. If you need to interrupt, then break one activity to do another and then come back to it. Science has consistently demonstrated that doing two or more things at once is inefficient and increases the rate of errors exponentially. Finish the coffee or the sandwich, taste it, experience it. Then you can return to checking your email. whatever it is, see, feel, touch, smell, taste, engage, allow yourself to be involved.

4. Turn off your phone when attending meetings.

The fact that our phones have become our forever-ready personal assistant does no mean that we need to have them participate in every one of your human interactions. Besides being a gesture of disrespect by showing that we downgrading the importance of the person or group we are engaging with, it is also very hard to stay attentive when your phone blinks, twinkles, buzzes and fuzzes or suddenly starts singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby…” in the middle of a conversation. Give the people you are with your full undivided attention. Let your heart, your ears and your eyes be absorbed by nothing else than them and their story. Try to feel what they feel. Mindfulness causes your brain to become more empathic. Use this to your advantage, you will become more respected for it.

5. Focus on the food when eating.

We have forgotten to eat properly. This is one of those fundamental biological things that keep us alive, yet we treat it as a mechanical and indulgent anchor for other activities. When you eat, smell the aromas, feel the textures on your tongue, look at the colours on your plate, think about the ingredients, how they nourish. We forget that food is our number one medicine. Chose your foods wisely, and enjoy them, regardless of how humble and simple they are. No two foods taste and smell the same. No two foods nourish us in the same way. And besides water, virtually every mouthful that you eat whether plant or animal comes from something that was once alive. Be grateful, recognise its sacredness, and eat it with the respect it deserves.

6. Break your routine.

This is a both easy and fun way of creating a mindfulness-inducing situation. Take the opportunity to experience the difference with all your senses. Here are some ideas: take a different route to work, or perhaps public transport. Try something adventurous in your lunch-box. Buy at a different store. Set your alarm clock for a different time and get up earlier. Try a different breakfast. Dare to have a cold shower. Go for a walk in the rain. Since you have turned off  off facebook and TV, you will suddenly find time to read a book. Or chat with your family. Take your dog for a walk, and walk in the opposite direction.

7. Journal – and write by hand!.

Handwriting is a mindful activity in its own right – and one that engages our brain far more intensely than typing the same words on a keyboard – so when it comes to mindfulness, typing it does not qualify. Besides the act of writing by hand, reflecting on your day’s experiences is intensely satisfying. Once you begin, it is likely that a page or more will flow effortlessly. Other days just readying past days’ entires can be equally fulfilling. I am very passionate about my papers, pencils and fountain pen inks, but whatever you choose to use, let it be personal and special, and give yourself time and a space to make this special. Just doing this regularly will gradually raise your awareness and presence in all your life experiences.

8. Make TEA, and drink it.

Japanese have refined the act of preparing and sharing tea into one of the most iconic acts of mindfulness in its tea ceremonies. But all rituals aside, there is a simple chemical reason for this: Tea (the kind derived from the Camellia Sinensis, not herbal teas and infusions like rosehip, camomile and rooibos) contains a powerful combination of caffeine, flavonoids and antioxidants. Think this: the best medicinal properties of coffee, chocolate and red wine in that cup. Clear alertness, calm contentedness and healthy antioxidants all at once!. But rather than just jingling a bag in a cup of hot water and then tossing it in the bin, then letting your cuppa slowly go cold while you are back at your desk, take the time out to brew it, pause all things and drink it with all your senses as you would invest your senses into a glass of Penfolds Grange or your favourite single malt.

9. Listen to music  – while doing nothing else.

Really listen, not just have muzak/radio/spotify playing in the background. You don’t have to be a music expert, simply listen, observe how it makes you feel. I recommend instrumental, classical or good meditation music, mainly because music with lyrics can be a distraction. Not only does the act of listening help in clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, listening to music also wires up new connections between your left and right brain. You get smarter while relaxing!

10. Meditate.

This merits a post in its own right. But here is the really simple version: sit quietly, get comfortable. Observe your breath – don’t force it, simply observe. Feel the air entering your lungs, then pausing, then the exhaling. By the time you do this for a few breaths you will have an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through your head. That is normal. The work is in not engaging those thoughts, but keeping your attention on your breathing. As soon as your mind begins to wander, pay attention to your breath again. Do this for five to ten minutes, preferably every day, and ideally not when you are tired or about to go to bed. Meditation should not send you to sleep, it invigorates the mind. In the beginning this will be hard, don’t be discouraged by the seeming difficulty of ignoring your inner voice, but with a little practice and after two or three weeks you will begin to maintain your attention on your breath for longer, and will also be able to re-focus a lot quicker as soon as the distracting thoughts make themselves known.
If you have made it to number 10, congratulations, you may even have experienced mindfulness while reading!

If you wish to know more or have a question about mindfulness practice and meditation please post it in the comments sections and I will do my best to help out.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. Here are the links to the first three parts in case you missed them. Share them, and all the best as you go about reclaiming your mind!

Winning the Battle for Your Mind – part 2

Sometimes it is simpler to begin communicating a concept by what it is not in order to get to what it is. Mindfulness is one of those concepts.
Mindfulness is a tremendously evocative word, often associated with mystical experiences, ascetic and monastic lifestyles, intense discipline, ritual and seclusion. While all these may be true to some extent, it is not at the exclusion of a great number of other things. Above all however, none of those are relevant to you, because mindfulness is accessible to anyone in any circumstance, right now.

So what is mindfulness NOT?

Mindfulness is not a religion.
Mindfulness is not the same as meditation.
Mindfulness is not related to time.
Mindfulness does not require you to be removed from your surroundings, whatever they are.
Mindfulness is not something that requires you to be in solitude and isolation.
Mindfulness does not require you to stop doing anything, to be passive, to sit in quiet introspective contemplation.
Mindfulness does not require you to renounce your life, or you lifestyle, or your career, or your family, or your hobbies.
Mindfulness does not require you to renounce your belongings, wealth or titles.
Mindfulness is not an activity, its not something you “do”.

So what IS mindfulness then?

Pause.

I mean right now, pause. Let your eyes rest on this sentence for a moment. Stop all other activities, read each word, allow its meaning to really engage you. Be aware of how your body feels as you read. What emotions does it stimulate? Do you like or dislike it?. Pause briefly, just long enough for that idea to fully engage. Feel that engagement. That is all. That is enough. That is mindfulness. It is simply doing what it is you are doing right now, with your full attention. Take this post for example. You could be reading this over breakfast, while trying to type an e-mail, while getting the kids ready for school, while reviewing your schedule for the day. Or you could commit yourself to the few minutes required to reading it mindfully.

Every moment of our day is filled with opportunities to be mindful.

When we listen to our kids share their experiences of their day, are we listening to them and hearing the emotions, the messages? Or are we preoccupied with the sms that just arrived on our phone? Or the fact that they have not put their school-bag in the right place?
When we eat, are we savouring the flavours of what we are eating, smelling the aromas, sensing the textures? Are we conscious of its nutritional and healing power? Or do we simply scoff it down while skimming over the facebook feed instead, almost instantaneously forgetting what it was and what it tasted like? Or perhaps, craving another mouthful to satisfy a craving?
When we work, are we mechanically moving through the actions in a state of trance with a vague awareness that soon we will have completed that task and perhaps obsessing about that next thing, or the 437 unread emails in your inbox?
When we travel, do we allow ourselves to take in the surroundings, feel the temperature, the breeze, the light or shade, the sound of the wind or perhaps the rain and how it feels on our skin, the space we are in and the places we are moving through, the passing of time as we travel? Or do we devote our energy to escalating our frustration at the speed of our journey because perhaps we may be running late for an appointment?

We are always doing something.

We can do it mindlessly, mechanically, automatically, be disengaged. Life becomes unfullfilling, and we spend our time hoping or expecting that a great experience is something that will come up sometime soon, while we miss the one we are currently in.
We can do it mindfully. That simply means we are allowing our five physical senses to participate, as well as our mind and heart – in other words, all parts of our self are active. I like to describe it as occupying your body fully, right down to your fingertips and your toes, rather than just having your sense of awarenes clustered around the most sensory diverse part of our body – our head, in particular the space between our nose, eyes and ears. Again pause for a moment and allow yourself to be aware of all physical parts that comprise you.
 Like all things, it takes practice, but it is not difficult.
If you are wondering how to practice mindfulness, in two weeks I will share simple ways you can practice anywhere and get good at this. Next week I will explain what goes on in our minds when we are mindful, and why that matters.
I will close by highlighting some of the fad and trendy things that often get wrongly associated with mindfulness. Beware of these if they are promoted as a way of becoming more mindful (They may serve other purposes, but these are not relevant in helping you become more mindful):
  • Exotic exercise regimes.
  • Herbal and homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, infusions etc.
  • Talismans, amulets, charms, crystals and accessories in general.
  • Esoteric “cleansings”, treatments, chakral tunings and similar “new-age” activities, vibration and frequency “treatments”.
  • Religious rituals and practices.
  • Psychic readings, tarot and divination.
  • One-minute meditations (this is like expecting to become super-fit by doing one push-up each day).
  • Vegetarian, paleo, or any other diet: What you eat does not make you more or less mindful. How you experience what you eat is what matters.
  • Baths, spas, special locations and places of esoteric or mystical significance.
Mindfulness is a vast subject, but its practice is so simple and its effect powerful. I believe it should be taught to kids in schools. It would change the world. And I hope that you can make it part of your life, and experience a beautiful change your world.

Who is Winning the Battle for Your Mind?

Mindfulness.

Like many others before it, it has become the new buzzword in success circles.
It’s use has progressively surged in the last 5 years, so much in fact that in the last six years it’s Google interest rating has constantly risen from 40 (out of 100) to 92!.
In 2013 it exploded onto the mass media with posts and articles in all major news channels, and celebrities and CEO’s all loudly proclaiming their newly dicovered joy of mindfulness.

Given that the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years (yes that’s not a mistake!), why is it suddenly becoming fashionable? And why should you care?

The first question is answered by two fairly recent changes in our global culture.

One, that more than ever we are seduced into mindlessness, which that is increasingly wreaking havoc with our lives. People are are hurting as a result, and are beginning to notice.
And two, that we have had a greater exposure to this concept through the very same channels that have fostered that mindlessness.
I am talking about our obsession with being “connected” via the web and social media, and our capacity to access information at a whim. We are inadvertently shifting our focus away from what is actually happening around us, while preoccupying ourselves with highly edited and pre-selected information that in reality is of no consequence to our life. We are more disconnected than ever before, and our experience of life is becoming drastically empoverished as a result.

And now, why should You care?

This will take more time to answer, and over the next three weeks I will address each of the following topics in detail, each building on the one before. These are:
  • What mindfulness IS, and what it IS NOT: how to spot a fake.
  • What actually happens in the mindful brain – and why it matters more than you think!
  • How to win the battle for mindfulness: simple practices that will make your every day more awesome.
My goal with these is not to transform you into a remote cave-dwelling enlightend nun or monk in perpetual meditation, but to help you experience a refreshed and deeply satisfying engagement in your life that you have most likely not felt for a long time, or in most cases never before.
Enjoy, and please share if you found this valuable. I look forward to some great conversations in four weeks…
Have a wonderful day.

There is no fact without that feeling…

Expertise not sticking? Losing the argument, even with all your facts unambiguously right?

We see start-ups with innovative feature-loaded and superior products eclipsed by a more expensive, clumsy and less featured competitors.

We see electoral campaigns fought on truths, half-truths and blatant misinformation, and rarely does the person with the credentials, the integrity and the visionary leadership win.

We see a poorly prepared candidate with lesser credentials and experience beat a well prepared, highly experienced and better suited one to the position.

We see magnificent artworks that are true masterpieces loose awards to peculiar and not-quite-the-real-thing experiments.

We see solid and verified science effectively challenged with flawed arguments, fabricated evidence and flamboyant generalisations.

Why is that?

Its all about “the feeling”. Literally and figuratively.

We have evolved to be emotional beings first, and rational being second. In evolutionary terms, our rational part of the brain is a very recent addition, hence its name “neo-cortex” or literally “new layer”. If you had to wait to find out by evidence that some wild animal was going to devour you, your odds for survival were not so good. If instead you were fearful and watchful, and managed to escape the the grumpy hyenas, your chances were far better.

Emotion takes a higher priority in our minds than facts. This is true for all of us, no exceptions.

If you want your audience to engage with a fact, make them feel it, imagine it. Emotion is the bridge, the barge that takes a fact across the lake and to the shores of their mind. There, once landed, it can become theirs, relevant and meaningful, engaging. Without this emotional connection there is no message, no fact or truth that is powerful and compelling enough to ever get across. It will silently drown just metres from your shore.

For my pragmatic and scientific readers, I know that doing this will be really difficult, as it goes against the very factual foundation of scientific thought. Yet no-one can argue that emotion has lent power to politics and religion since time immemorial. And it will continue to do so. Every great speech, every successful advertising campaign, every powerful brand engages through emotion, not fact.

The more intense the emotion, the deeper the connection, and the more profound and lasting the conviction. Unfortunately, once the bridge is built, it does not really matter if what crosses is true or not, but it must always be consistent with the expectation, it must always rise upon the emotion. So do the right thing, always always be truthful. Be truthful in the feeling you convey. Be truthful with the facts that ride upon it.

Be felt if you want to be heard.

 

The power of a meaningful friend.

I recently caught up with a very dear friend whom I had not seen for a long time, we worked out it had been at least six years!.

It prompted me to think about how we often allow ourselves to be immersed in business or work relationships, and as our time is increasingly consumed more vicariously by these activities (largely a byproduct of mobile technology) we can easily drift into maintaining relationships mostly for professional gain.

Our work colleagues are rarely the people whose influence, mentorship and life guidance in life we value the most. In fact, in most cases these are the people who stand in direct conflict with our true selves, and somewhere on the fringes are the people who matter.

These special people on the fringe are our compass, they point us to our true north.

They are the people we respect deeply, we look up to them. Sometimes we idolise them.

They inspire us, they are role models in some form.

They are often appear in our imagination, and participate in our inner conversations.

When we can, we ask for their opinions on the really profound stuff. When we hear it from them, we know it will be the truth no matter how beautiful, ugly or inconvenient.

These are not necessarily our closest friends. Sadly these are often our most neglected friendships. They take a greater effort to nurture because they also expect more of us. They challenge us. They are the relationships that grow us the most.

Who are the two, three, perhaps even five people who have made a significant difference in your life (besides your family)? When was the last time you made contact? Write down their names, then next to it write one word that describes why they matter. Do not let the sun set on this day without having made an arrangement to connect with them, and to thank them. Avoid email. Do it in person if you can, the phone or a handwritten card if they are cities away.

I am deeply grateful for this friend, and a handful of friends like her, even if I rarely see them. She reminded me that there are people we spend time with, and people we invest time in.

We need to do less of the first, and a lot more of the latter.