“The best reason to take your time is that this time is the only time you’ll ever have.”
Edward M. Hallowell
Life is busy. You don’t need to be a doctor to know that. From the moment you first open your eyes in the morning until they close again for sleep at night, busyness keeps us, well, busy all day long. How we manage that busyness determines how effective we are and how we feel in terms of energy and stress.
Feeling some pressure is good, that increase in stress hormones boosts our performance, gets us out of bed and energises us. Our cortisol levels are up to 10 times higher first thing, that’s natural, but what happens if too much additional stress starts bombarding our brain?
So you overslept, the traffic is terrible and the car ‘low fuel’ light is flashing. You’re already late for an important meeting with a potential client and you’re worried about stuffing it up. The outcome will very much depend on that moment before you walk into the meeting.
You’re in the final phase for pre-selection to join a leadership program. There are limited places and stakes are high. Sitting, chatting with the other candidates waiting to sit the test, you realise you’ve prepped for a different part of the course. What do you do in that moment?
The power of the moment lies in that we always have one available to us. In any given working day we have anywhere between 28,800 and 36,000 to choose from. It may be as brief as a single moment or sometimes we have the luxury of several. It provides us with the breathing space our brain needs to take a step back, to assess the situation in a non-judgmental way and notice what effect that is having on our physiology, thoughts and feelings.
The risk here is that if we stay on automatic pilot, we revert to those thought patterns and behaviours that might help us to survive but do little to allow a considered thoughtful conscious response.
Mindful moments can be a useful tool to help us manage our busyness and reduce mental fatigue, loss of focus and stress.
What does a mindful moment look like?
It’s that pause where you connect with your conscious awareness of being in the present moment. It’s the time where instead of allowing your mind to race forward to future thoughts or worries about what happened in the past, you simply connect with the here and now.
Mindful moments often focus using the breath, because that is a function readily available to every one of us well practised in the art of regular breathing.
Whether standing or sitting, a mindful moment allows you to focus on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. As you breathe notice how tension starts to ebb away, you begin to feel calmer and you’re more in control of regulating any emotions being generated.
Because it only takes a moment, others may not have even noticed though they may appreciate your considered, thoughtful response or comment.
When should you try a mindful moment?
Whenever you notice that your potential response to a given situation may not serve you best such as
- When getting irritated waiting in line at the coffee shop, bank or supermarket.
- When you feel your stomach drop as 400 emails flood into your inbox.
- When preparing for that “difficult” conversation you’ve been dreading.
- When feeling overwhelmed that it’s 3.30 pm already and you’ve got 10 “urgent” tasks to complete before home time.
Mindfulness meditation may not be for everyone and it certainly is not a panacea for our overbusy lives.
As a Doctor, I used to refer people to learn mindfulness meditation as a useful strategy to manage stress and anxiety. Having now practised mindfulness for a number of years I can say it isn’t always easy – that’s why it’s called a practice! Sometimes it can feel hard to find the time to do it and the practice can wax and wane. But like riding a bike once you have the skill, even if you don’t feel expert at it, it’s always available to use for those moments when you need that little extra help to get you through a difficult or challenging time.
When teaching mindfulness in workplaces and schools I often get asked if there is a right way or a wrong way to do it. My response is, it is the way that works for you.
Do you practice mindful moments or take a purposeful pause?
Have you ever used mindfulness to reduce your level of stress or anxiety?
How could you start adding in more mindful moments to see what difference it makes to your day?
Go on. Take a moment. Your brain will thank you for it.
Until next time,