Last week I facilitated two workshops on mindfulness for employees of John Deere Financial. I was struck by how earnestly engaged the participants were in the process. It was like they were hungry to explore mindfulness. What a gift it is to give ourselves “time out”, to allow our busy brains to re-focus on the present moment as we did during those workshops.
For the most part, we move through our days on autopilot. Scientists tell us that the average human brain thinks 70,000 thoughts a day. Now if those were all empowering positive thoughts, imagine how different our lives might be.
Unfortunately, we humans tend to ruminate on the past and imagine and plan for the future. We also tend to get in loops of repeating memories or patterns of thinking. Consider the times you have re-played a situation in your head and thought about what you could have, should have, or would have done differently if given a chance to “do it over.” The nice thing about using mindfulness techniques, is that every time you awake to the present moment, you have the opportunity to consciously choose how to move forward to the next one.
When you consider career paths, choosing wisely can make all the difference in whether you experience a job that is boring or stressful vs having work that is interesting and enjoyable. The more consciously aware we are, the more control we have over the course of our lives. Instead of being at the mercy of our mental default programs, we can start to wake-up to each moment, each choice point. So how do we become more “mindful”? Here are some exercises you might try:
1. Watch the mind move in time. Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line. At one end is the future at the other, the past. In the center of the line make a circle and write in the word NOW. Start with your finger on the circle and simply observe your thoughts for 5 minutes. Every time you realize you are thinking about the future, move your finger on the scale. Do the same thing when you realize you are thinking about the past. Don’t try to stop the thoughts, just observe how your mind wanders in time.
2. Focus your senses. Pick up an object you find interesting and study it for 5 minutes. Really look at it, touch it, observe every detail of color, weight, shape, even whether or not it has an odor. This is one method to bring you into the present moment. It offers the additional benefit of increasing your power of sensory perception.
3. Set wake up calls. When I was in grad school, I was also a student in The Fourth Way work which was based on the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. One of the most interesting homework assignments we were given was called the doorway exercise. Every time you pass through a doorway say to yourself “I am here now”. When you realize you have sailed through a doorway without remembering your statement (in essence being on autopilot or asleep at the switch), go back through the doorway and say it. While it may not be practical to actually go back through every doorway, for instance exiting an airplane, it is remarkable to see how often we are unaware.
All these moments of mindfulness add up. You start to realize how much of life you’ve missed because you have been riding around on your own thought train. Increase your mindful moments and your life begins to change in some interesting ways. Who knows? That dream career, that ideal life, may be just around the corner…