Huffington Post, Forbes, New York Times, Bloomberg News, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Business Insider -- articles on mindfulness are everywhere these days. It is difficult to avoid some mention of this ancient practice in the media. While it is most directly linked with Buddhism, the practice of using your attention on purpose and accepting external and internal events has been taught by the Stoics of Greece, as well as contemplatives from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and many other faiths. The body of scientific evidence pointing to the physiological, psychological, and social benefits of this practice is large and growing. Mindfulness has been tested by time and is supported by good science, but there are two important points that are sometimes lost in the media frenzy.
1. Mindfulness is a practice. Knowing the benefits of exercise is not the same as going for a run, and thinking about mindfulness is not the same as practicing mindfulness. Several years ago, while getting ready to brush my teeth, I was thinking about presenting mindfulness to a group I was going to see later in the day. It was only when a bitter taste flooded my mouth that I realized I had put sunscreen, not toothpaste, on my toothbrush.
2. Mindfulness is a foundation. Being mindful -- taking time to intentionally observe your external and internal experience with an open stance -- is helpful for many reasons. It is the first step in recognizing the habitual thinking patterns that govern many of your behaviors. It shifts activity to a part of the brain that is designed to see possibilities, connections, and opportunities. It helps you access the part of your brain that facilitates positive relationships with others. Mindfulness creates the clarity necessary to take meaningful action. It is through action that you express yourself fully and make positive change in the world.
Mindfulness is the gateway to self-discipline -- the skill of focusing on what is most important and committing to useful action. Taking the time to ground yourself with a regular mindfulness practice allows you to ask vital questions such as "What is most important?" and "What is the next most valuable action I can take." Mindful acceptance of sensations allows you to move forward in the presence of discomfort and to seek and receive the feedback you need to evaluate the effectiveness of your effort and strategies. Mindfulness helps you pick up on small, essential bits of information that you might otherwise miss while stuck in a particular train of thought. Whether your goal is to sit quietly and peacefully or to use your skills to help people who need and want them, the choice is yours. And mindfulness offers you the opportunity to do either.
Observe, Open, Focus, Commit -- this is the practice of mindful self-discipline. It can be practiced anywhere and anytime. It begins with using your attention on purpose, and it results in taking action. Once you take some action, there will be consequences to observe...and so it goes as long as you are alive.
How do you practice being mindful and taking meaningful action? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
Dave Mochel is CEO of Applied Attention, a consultancy that creates positive change by teaching the practice of mindful self-discipline to individuals, teams, and organizations. Mindful self-discipline closes the gap between what is most important and how time and energy are spent. Closing this gap is the key to personal fulfillment, healthy relationships, effective leadership, and positive cultures. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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