Wasting of time sitting still?

I’ve made a deliberate effort of late around the concept of mindfulness and of trying to be more present.

In other words, I’m trying not to engage as egregiously in zoning out and checking email and catching up on Twitter when I’m supposed to be paying attention.  Meetings are, of course, a special kind of danger zones for these things. So are completely overprogrammed days, when my entire schedule consists of running from Point A to Point Q to Point L, with no breathing space available and…when was I supposed to have lunch? Days like those are the days that stress me out.  It’s not that I can’t handle the day itself.  It’s that when I’m doing all of the to and fro, I lose the ability to manage my energy.  And when I lose that ability to recharge, even if it’s only for 30 minutes a couple of times, I know I’m not at my most present.  I also know that I get grumpy.

When I “check out,” when I start that multitasking, there’s clear evidence that I’m probably making things worse rather than better (ladies, the link applies particularly to you).  And while I wasn’t successful in keeping it controlled the entire day, late in the day I was cognizant enough to start using the, “Right now, it’s like this” framework to remind myself that days like these are truly exceptional.

Today’s tactical error that I know has been helping of late? I did NOT sit for 10 minutes this morning prior to getting the day going (though, to my credit, I didn’t start with email either).  I’ve learned that 10 minutes of sitting and just breathing after the alarm goes off helps me to feel like I’m setting the tone of my day rather than having it set for me.  Even with that knowledge, after a late evening and with an early morning I skipped it.  Not a great choice because I’m learning that it’s a total set-up for distraction for almost the entire day- or at least the parts when I can be distracted and not seem completely inappropriate.  The day took control of me.

So tomorrow, I’ll sit again for 10 minutes when the alarm goes off (with a purring cat in my lap if I’m really fortunate). That’s the part of it all that I can control, and it lets me set the tone to make the rest of the day go more smoothly afterwards. It’s not like the day was a wholesale disaster; if anything, it all ended up fine. It’s just that process, being present and engaged through all of it, could have been less bumpy. I’m grateful that I get the chance to reflect and do better.

And if you’re looking for ideas to help you be more mindful at work, I am particularly fond of this list.

Sitting still?  Apparently not a waste of time at all.

(And for those who may have caught the slightly obscure musical reference, you’re welcome.  REM from 1984 is as good now as it was then.)


Meditation and mindfulness: Why they matter

There’s been some buzz this week surrounding a recent study from a Canadian group that showed a trend toward preservation of telomere length with participation in mindfulness meditation in breast cancer patients.  For those who are less familiar with telomeres and why we want long telomeres, think of them as the helmet at the end of your strands of DNA.  The more robust this helmet is, the better protected your DNA is from bad events.  Shortened telomeres have been associated with heart disease, diabetes, worse cancer prognoses…in short, most of the health scourges of the modern Western world.

So now we have health reasons why meditation might be good for us, in addition to the previous evidence that meditation makes our brains “stronger, more plastic, and younger.”  Meditation appears to make us more compassionate, by increasing our attentiveness or increasing our understanding of the interconnectedness of beings (or both).  Long-term meditation practice definitely changes both the structure and function of the brain, though the specifics of alterations in neural connections have yet to be defined.

But why, oh why, am I writing about mindfulness and meditation here on my professional blog?  Because mindfulness is relevant to how we function in leadership roles, and it helps us do our best work by allowing us to be more present. Taking “breaks,” even if they are brief, from our usual pattern of checking email while answering phone calls in between OR cases and worrying about being out of milk and who will pick the kids up from school and what will we wear to the holiday party this weekend and did anyone feed the dog and where IS my passport anyway?- provides us with a true biological reset.  See, just reading that list of things that many of us flip through in about that length of time naturally was just exhausting!

I’m busy.  You’re busy.  We’re all busy.  I get that.  But what if setting aside 5 minutes really does improve our compassion, enhance our leadership, make our brain more plastic, and maybe even improve our health?

It seems to me that the real question is why you wouldn’t set aside 5 minutes with those kinds of high-stakes rewards.  There’s nothing tricky about it and you don’t need to go shopping for any special equipment.  So, set your timer on your iPhone for 5 minutes.  Take a seat, and sit up straight.  Then just observe your breath in…and out…and in…and out…and put those thoughts about the dog and carpool and passport on the shelf when they intrude and go back to focusing on your breathing.  If you’re normal, your thoughts will wander.  That’s not failure, it’s just normal “monkey mind.”  Success is realizing you’ve wandered off, and coming back to your breath, time and again.

Really don’t have 5 minutes?  Take 3 or 6 deep breaths and give them your undivided attention.

Or have the Timeful app find the time for you, schedule it in, then check it off.

Now go.  Sit.  Breathe.  Get rid of the holiday madness just like that.


Edited to add:

First, an interesting tidbit from the HBR makes me question if mindfulness needs to part of our training about implicit bias (or if we simply institute mindfulness training and see if things change…)

And if you are looking for resources for meditation and mindfulness, the Headspace app and website are great, especially if you’re a novice.  If you’ve tried it out a bit and want access to some amazing teachers over the next six days, this Mindful New Year resource is FREE!  Susan Piver, who is one of the hosts for mindful new year, is a wonderful meditation instructor who has been pivotal for my own practice- and in her practice videos her cats occasionally make cameo appearances.