I have been recommending Mindfulness to planning clients lately for a multitude of issues. A practice of Mindfulness is much needed given our current pace of life and it has been helpful to me personally in a number of areas so I thought I would share the typical Q&A.
The first question: what is Mindfulness?
George Mumford, a Mindfulness guru who worked with Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls back in their heyday, did a great job of explaining it on Dan Harris’s 10% Happier Podcast. If you have an hour, it’s well worth it and he does a much better job of explaining it than I can. https://www.podcastchart.com/podcasts/10-happier-with-dan-harris/episodes/7-george-mumford.
Coincidentally Dan Harris’s has a number of really great guests on this podcast so it is worth adding it to your list.
Until you find that time, here’s how I understand it: Your brain spends much of it’s “free” time somewhere other than where your feet are. Lost in thought: thinking about what to make for dinner, what to wear tomorrow, who said what on social media or what the weather will be like on vacation next month. This all robs our attention from the present moment and any satisfaction that would be derived from it because we are not really there. It consequently makes us less effective than we could be in each moment. Mindfulness training helps keep your mind where your feet are allowing you to get more out of each moment. One example is walking through a park on your lunch break on a beautiful day. A mindful person is anchored in the moment observing the beautiful surroundings and what is happening in that moment rather than having their face in their phone, eating something with the other hand with thoughts of some worry or obsession fleeting through their mind every 20 seconds.
When it comes time to act, the brain’s typical process is to perceive what’s going on, then as quickly as possible index previous outcomes following a similar perception in order to allow us to react in a way that will achieve one of the more fortunate previous outcomes. In this instance, the practice of Mindfulness helps insert space between the perception and the reaction to the abstract future the brain created so that the situation can be observed as it actually is for a nanosecond more allowing a more controlled and appropriate reaction like maybe not flying off the handle when Jr brings home a bad report card. Don’t mistake the space created as a delay. Often times the reaction is actually quicker in terms of time because the situation can be more accurately assessed. This is like when an athlete describes being in the zone. Things seem to slow down and get crystal clear allowing them to perform better than they thought possible, but they are certainly not moving any slower.
What can Mindfulness do for you?
A Mindfulness practice has wide ranging application. As discussed earlier, the resulting improved awareness can help with your performance in sports like it did for Jordan’s Bulls or Pete Carrol’s Seahawks. Similar to improved performance on the field, others report improved performance at work and an increase in creativity through the ability to think more clearly.
In addition to uses for optimization, others have found it helpful for healing. As George mentions in the podcast, he turned to Mindfulness for relief from chronic pain. Many have used it during cancer treatments for the same reason.
It can also be helpful in reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety and to achieve better sleep. Some have even found the practice useful for facilitating the conditions required to conceive children and facilitate a healthy pregnancy.
You get the idea. It has wide ranging uses, but it sounds like a magic bullet and there is no such thing.
Why does it work?
Considerable science is being compiled on Mindfulness’ effectiveness, but basically the practice relies on neuroplasticity which effectively allows the brain to rewire itself to restore or maximize brain function. It works because practicing Mindfulness actually changes your brain to function more optimally.
What is the practice?
Mindfulness meditation, as George puts it, is basically secular Buddhist meditation. But don’t freak out about your religious beliefs. It won’t turn you into a Buddhist. While meditation is often referred to as the very specific exercise “sitting”, mindfulness can be practiced throughout the day such as while brushing your teeth, doing the dishes or eating once you know how to do it.
How can I get started?
A practice typically starts with a daily sitting which can be as little as 10 minutes to be effective. This is usually done in the morning with the facilitation of a guide when you are starting out. Of course with technology there are numerous Mindfulness meditation apps. Headspace https://www.headspace.com started by Andy Puddicombe (a former Buddhist monk with a degree in Circus is Arts of all things) is the one I recommend. Check out Andy’s Ted Talk for some great information on Mindfulness (and display of his circus talents) here: https://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes.
Headspace provides a 10 day free introduction to Mindfulness training called “Take 10.” From there, you can become a paying customer for something like $70/year and unlock their meditation library which includes Mindfulness meditations on everything from having a baby to beating cancer and sports performance to better sleep and stress reduction.
Give Mindfulness a shot. It takes some discipline, but it just might change your life.