Mindfulness for a better 2020!
Updated: Oct 4
As we head into 2020, many people make resolutions, but today I'm finding that with each new year, people are truly looking to improve upon the last one. Getting better at mindfulness can help!
Mindfulness is a natural state of being.
Throughout our lives we are frequently in this state without realizing it. If you have ever heard a noise at night and went to investigate, the level of attention that you bring to that situation is a good example of being mindful. However, we frequently divide our attention and, by necessity, we will selectively ignore aspects of our environment.
When watching a sporting event on television, for example, a particularly captivated fan might tune out conversation that is occurring around him or her in order to pay closer attention to the game. If the sports fanatics in this scenario consciously thought about paying attention to the conversations around them rather than the game on television, they could. In this sense, mindfulness is a mental skill that you can develop through practice.
While improving mindfulness is helpful as an intervention between our emotional cues and our reactions, it won’t prevent us from feeling emotions or having angry thoughts at times. Nor is this desirable. In order to make effective use of the intervention that mindfulness provides, we need to better understand how we feel, why we feel, and what to do with those feelings.
Psychologists use the term emotional intelligence to refer to this understanding.
"Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you."
- Roger Ebert
The Purpose of Emotions
You may have heard it said that all emotions are valid.
While this is true, it doesn’t mean that you’re well within your rights to throw a temper tantrum whenever you don’t get what you want. The validity of emotions stems from the fact that emotions provide useful information about our internal and external environments.
Imagine you lived in a time where giant saber-toothed tigers hunted human beings. Being able to feel and accept fear could mean the difference between dying as cat food or living to a ripe old age of 32.
While these days the stakes are usually lower than being prey to some wild animal, when you feel an emotion, you need to pay close attention because that emotion is telling you something important.
As leaders, we need to be aware that these emotions reside in our employees and co-workers as well. Understanding emotions is a cornerstone of good leadership.
High Performance Emotions
While all emotions are valid, and all emotions are helpful because they provide you with important information, some emotions help you to perform better at your work.
These high performance emotions are enthusiasm, confidence, tenacity, and optimism. High performance emotions increase our arousal levels while still maintaining a wide and open focus.
For example, when you are at your most enthusiastic, it’s not uncommon for your thoughts to race. This indicates the high arousal and energy level involved in the high performance emotions. Keep in mind, however, that not every emotion with a high arousal level is helpful to performance. The other key factor that marks the high performance emotions is the wider focus and a sense of openness.
As leaders, it is expected that we will have these high performance emotions every single moment. But, we are human, and will can and will experience highs and lows.
Swing emotions are called that because they can be either extremely useful in improving your situation, or they can actually help make a bad situation even worse.
The swing element comes from how you choose to make use of these emotions. Swing emotions are there to tell us that something is not right in our environment.
This can mean a whole range of things. The wrongness can reside in our thoughts about a situation or in the actual situation itself.
The swing emotions are anger, frustration, and anxiety. They are similar to the high performance emotions in that they involve high levels of arousal. When you are angry, anxious, or frustrated, your thoughts tend to race faster.
A key difference between the high performance emotions and the swing emotions, however, has to do with your focus. When you are angry or frustrated, your focus narrows and you become blind to other possibilities. The key to making swing emotions work in your favor is to identify the feeling and attempt to lower your arousal levels and widen your focus.
As you can see, this is where being mindful becomes extremely useful. When you focus on your breath and your level of relaxation, you tend to open up more and slow down a little, and it’s in this state of being where you can truly make the swing emotions work for you.
We will examine some of the distorted thinking patterns that go along with emotions that narrow our focus in later discussions, but first, something should be said specifically about the emotion of frustration.
When you feel frustrated, this is a definite sign that something you or your team are doing is not working. Because your focus is narrowed, you might even think that what you are doing is the only way to approach a problem.
Here is a helpful phrase you can use to widen your focus and re-frame an unsolvable problem into one with the possibility of resolution:
· The real problem is NOT ___________. The real problem is __________.
This re-framing of the problem allows you to open yourself up to a new range of possible solutions.
It is not possible to control our mindfulness 100% of the time. However, you can improve your mindfulness and work on controlling your emotions.
An Exercise in Mindfulness and Gratitude
Many of us have heard of the "Law of Attraction," which basically speaks about what you think about, you bring about, and that gratitude will get you what you want in life. Most of the spokespeople on the "Law of Attraction" tell you to keep a daily Gratitude Journal where you reflect and write down everything for which you are grateful. This practice can help control the swing emotions.
In addition to keeping a daily gratitude journal, there are other ways to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude.” Here are steps for a simple exercise in gratitude that also incorporate the concept of mindfulness:
Think of something for which you are NOT grateful.
Once you have this thing that you are unhappy about in mind, be it a situation, person, place, or something else; now begin to focus on aspects of it that are good.
If this is a person with whom you are unhappy, you can focus on traits about that person that you do like, traits that you are grateful for.
If this is a situation, focus on the elements in that situation with which you are happy.
If you have other areas in your life for which you are unhappy, try applying the previous two steps towards that situation.
Try this exercise daily in addition to keeping a gratitude journal.
No matter how you put it, all leaders need to continually work on their mindfulness. When we are mindful, we can sense emotions of others, our employees and co-workers. When we have this sense on a daily basis, we can be proactive to employee issues and concerns. We become better leaders.
This just touches on mindfulness and emotions so practice the exercise above to improve your mindfulness.
If you'd like to learn more about Emotional Intelligence and how to develop your emotional intelligence, check out my book on Amazon Kindle.