(originally published Dec 31, 2015 on LinkedIn)
Where are your feet right now?
Seriously. Check in.
How is your back is postured as you read this? Are your shoulders hunched (even a little bit) forward, so you’re collapsing in on your lungs (restricting your ability to breathe)?
Your jaw? Is it clenched at all (a sign of tension, even when we think we are relaxed)?
Until I started writing this, I had no concept of my own body. I wasn't awake.
Like most of us – most of the time these days – I was in a haze of social media.
How often can you say you are really awake?
If we’re rarely aware of our physical presence – of our bodies – how aware can we be of our own emotions?
And, what about the thoughts constantly going through our heads? The devils that one moment tell us how great we are, the next berate us for some random mistake we made? How aware are we of them?
If being aware of our emotional and social cues is a key to effective leadership (another is being aware of others' emotional and social cues, but one step at a time– no carts before horses), how can we be leaders if we’re not aware of how we’re holding our shoulders (much less our pain)?
The key is surprisingly simple, but exceedingly
difficult in that simplicity: it’s practice.
Regular (i.e., daily) practice.
Just as a key to building arm strength is regularly doing push-ups, the key to being mentally awake and aware is regularly practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being awake.
Mindfulness sounds great, but few people I ask seem to have a actual concept of what mindfulness is, or how to do it. Earlier, while waiting on a fax to go through (because there are still places that require faxes in 2015), I asked the gentleman at the UPS office about mindfulness.
He said it's focus.
Then I asked him how he practiced focus. He said relaxing and listening to music.
That's escapism. Relaxing is not awareness, it is not focus. It might help you calm down, but it's not creating any mental strength. Like any other muscle, your mind takes actual work to make it strong. Otherwise, you might as well watch ShaunT do Insanitywhile you sit on the couch.
Mindfulness is actually quite simple.
Here's how: Right now, sit up straight, feet flat on the floor. Set a timer for 5 minutes (or 3 minutes, or 1 minute). Now, just notice your breath.
If you’re not doing anything, you’re still breathing. In fact, breathing is all you are doing. The breath is your anchor. It's there for you to focus on.
Mindfulness is awareness, built by focusing regularly on the breath. Nothing else.
That’s it. When your mind begins to wander (not if, when), just come back to the breath.
That’s all it takes. Do this 5 minutes a day, and you’ll be on your way to being more awake, more of the time.
As we come into 2016, the key to every other resolution’s success is continual awareness: a commitment to being awake.
(It’s also the key to life – life is being awake to each moment we get to be alive.)