What is mindfulness all about?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Being mindful is about being present -right here, right now. Not thinking about the future, or the past. You're not thinking about what you're going to have for dinner, the mistake you made on that spreadsheet yesterday, or the response to that email you just sent. Being mindful removes the baggage that we carry with us into meetings, conversations, presentations or any situation, really.
Being in this exact moment without those distractions leads to a better focus on the issue at hand and deeper insights into what you are doing now. For marketers, it helps us see issues more clearly and brings the focus to what matters.
It's about acceptance
People are who they are. To communicate or work with them, we have to start by accepting who they are. If someone disagrees with our position on a topic, we don’t have to take it personally. We can accept that we have differing opinions and not take it personally. If we make a mistake, we can accept that it is simply a mistake. We all make them, but we don’t have to dwell on them and beat ourselves up for it.
We accept that the traffic is bad and call ahead to let people know we will be late; without feeling the need to blame anyone or rage about the road conditions. What good will that do anyone?
We accept that it’s raining and find something else to do on a Saturday - maybe sitting on the front porch with a good book and listening to the rain, instead of railing against it. Why waste that energy?
We accept that not everyone agrees with everything we say or do and understand that that contrast, between what we think and what they think, makes life interesting!
It’s about kindness
Being kind to yourself and others allows you to speak from a more centered place and remember that we are all in this together. Other people face the same challenges and want the same things for themselves as we do. The practice of “loving kindness”, also known as “Metta”, is one of the foundations of mindfulness practice. Metta practice is a sincere wish for the welfare and genuine happiness of all beings, without exception. Some say that feels frivolous, or “woo woo”, but the effect of practicing Metta can be dramatic.
A study in 2014 at Yale and Michigan State Universities (Kang, Gray & Dovido, 2014) discovered that, compared to a control group, those who undertook 6 weeks of loving-kindness meditation training significantly decreased their biases against minorities.
In a study conducted at Stanford University by Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, one short period of loving-kindness meditation increased the participants’ acceptance of and feelings of social connectedness with strangers.
Ninety-three participants who meditated for no more than 30 minutes a day (if at all) were trained in brief meditation exercises. Participants began with the instruction to close their eyes, relax, and take deep breaths. They were then instructed to imagine two loved ones standing to either side of them and sending their love.
After 4 minutes, participants were told to open their eyes and redirect these feelings of love and compassion toward a photo of a stranger appearing in the center of a computer screen. Participants repeated a series of phrases designed to bring attention to the other, and to wish them health, happiness, and well-being. They were then asked how connected, similar, and positive they felt towards the people in the photos.
Even that one session of loving kindness practice was enough to impact their feelings of both explicit and implicit positivity toward strangers. The results suggest that simple kindness practice can increase positive emotions towards others and that we can, indeed, train ourselves to feel connected with and act kindly toward a relative stranger.
A study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School asked frequent migraine sufferers to attend one 20-minute session of Metta practice. After the session, the participants reported a 33% decrease in pain and a 43% decrease in emotional tension.
It's about noticing
The practice of noticing puts you in the present moment and makes you more sensitive to context and perspective.
When was the last time you sat in a board meeting with a dozen people, none of whom were listening to the presentation being made? Then someone asked a question, and you had no clue what to say? What if you put down your notebook or your smartphone and focused your attention on the presentation and the reactions of other people in the room?
You may be surprised at the details you’ve missed. Being impatient by nature, I’ve found this trying at times. But, as I put mindfulness more and more into practice in my work, I’ve found that I’m more aware of subtle shifts in behavior, indicating that people notice that I’m noticing and listening to what they have to say. Sometimes they seem a bit relieved or even grateful for the attention. How sad is it that it is exceptional to be not only listened to, but also heard?
Likewise, the act of stopping to actively notice has saved me time and energy when managing social media crises. Noticing the details around an issue before you respond to it can affect the action you take. The perfect response or solution to a problem may be staring you right in the face, if you only stop to see it. Observing that people are beginning to talk about a problem with your product or spotting a subtle shift in language can give you the advantage of early knowledge and the time to formulate an intelligent and appropriate response.