So there are about a million articles out there about mindfulness and how fantastic it is.
This isn’t one of them. This is a real, down to earth assessment of whether it works for a busy executive.
In my experience, in the past, taking time out was a way to recharge the batteries and to clean out the clutter of a busy but disorganized life. But it was not a simple exercise. Usually it meant planning time away, or reserving some annual leave. Finding a “place” away for the hustle and bustle where I could empty out. There could be the logistics of planning a vacation or a weekend stay somewhere, issues around family responsibilities etc. These factors usually meant that “taking time out” was simply too difficult to do, and I therefore did not do it.
The direct and unavoidable consequence of that was that me, myself, I, became less important than the things I was doing and the responsibilities that I had. And that ran contrary to a core value of mine – that the person themselves, is far more important than what they do.
There is a second and very important aspect to this process, which was to consider why stress existed in my life, and why therefore I was needing time out! The bottom line, I discovered, was that stress comes from attaching one’s self-image to inappropriate things. It is a real danger that performance oriented individuals face, most of the time without even realising it – our performance, has nothing – NOTHING – to do with who we are or what we are worth as individuals. But it’s a nice easy metric, and we default to it very easily.
How I discovered this was in a coaching session where I was encouraged to ask “WHY” at least 5 times, before worrying about something. If you do this, I was told, you will never assume the burden of stress without fully understanding why it is yours to assume.
And, more importantly, doing this exercise allows me to correctly own the responsibility of doing something well, without incorporating it onto my self-image – the danger of this, lying in that whether I successfully manage it or fail miserably at it, my self-worth will be affected. And my self-worth should never lie in what I do or how well I do it, but in who I am. Who I AM. Not what I DO.
The key is to keep perspective by viewing success and failure through the lens of our self-image and self-worth, and not to create our self-image or self-worth out of our successes and failures.
So I began to consider all my responsibilities; all my responses to challenges and confrontations; all my insecurities and worries, only AFTER filtering them through the “5 Why’s”. This has enabled me to separate my self-worth from my performance. (And note, both success AND failure are bad for self-worth. Remember what Bill Gates is quoted as saying?
“Success is a lousy teacher. It fools smart people into thinking they can’t lose”
And Rudyard Kipling summed it up the best when he said, in his poem “If”:
“…If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same…”
They are impostors – imperfect and unreliable indicators of who we actually are and what we are worth.)
It’s important to work on this. I have posted about this before in some ways. I believe that most people have a very inaccurate image of who they are, because we have mostly been taught to measure ourselves by what we do, and how well we do it, and then, in a sickening double whammy, we also have been taught to do THAT by comparing ourselves to others.
And what does one flawed individual get when we measure ourselves in comparison to another flawed individual? I can only say what we don’t get. That kind of exponential multiplication of errors means we don’t get accurate results. Not even close. Remember that recent meme on the internet?
“My problem is I compare my blooper reel with everyone else’s highlight reel”
That is the real danger of comparison.
So, I am suggesting that finding and establishing an accurate and independent sense of self-worth is a really important aspect of managing stress. And the second aspect of it is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is best described as the discipline of achieving the serenity of the moment. It is defined as:
“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”
Mindfulness for me is simply focussing in on an autonomic body process like breathing, and sensing that fully, without allowing other distractions to invade our thoughts. Like that time on the edge of sleep, where all the things we didn’t do come rushing back to haunt us, mindfulness is a place where things can come at us. Our defences are deliberately down and the idea, instead of combatting the thoughts and trying to organise and deal with them, is to allow them in but park them to the side while we continue to experience the moment.
Combatting the thoughts and organising and prioritising them is exactly what we do all day anyway! It is called busyness. Attention to detail. Success. Achievement. Management. And also, pressure. Failure. Deadline. Urgent. Error. Analyse. Stress. This is not what mindfulness is. Those thoughts are about the future – I will. I must. I mustn’t. I have to. And about the past – I did. I didn’t. I could have. I should have.
Mindfulness and the moment, are simply and quietly “I am”.
When you combine the two, you get quite an amazing result.