I first became interested in the concept of Mindfulness when I heard that Ohio congressman, Tim Ryan, is a practitioner of meditation and is outspoken about the benefits it has provided him. In several interviews, he talks about a present awareness that keeps him grounded and tailors his emotional responses into more productive ways. He frequently expresses that by living in the moment as it were; he is more effective with his time, relationships, and expectations of life which results in lower stress levels and an increase in overall effectiveness. Doing the “right thing” the “right way” as Ryan describes it, to me aligned very much with what we do at netlogx and why we have not only been effective for our clients, but also successful in those efforts.
As I became more interested in this, I quickly discovered that this level of introspection is not easy (especially for a high Merchant/Builder) and requires diligent effort to cultivate. This was confirmed when I turned to a source I frequently utilize in my professional and personal life, Tim Ferris, author of “The 4 Hour Work Week”, who had a podcast about the concept of Mindfulness. Tim is also very Type A and likely would have high merchant or builder scores with the Taylor Protocol Core Value Index™ (CVI) so the content of his podcast was the various exercises that he uses to help create more present moment, non-reactive awareness. Some of these I have done in my own life already, and I can attest that I have benefited from these exercises and I plan on doing some more of these.
Ferris states that by “complaining less” and “appreciating more” daily that we begin to change the physiology of our brain chemistry to engage more in positive mental health habits that in turn maximize our effectiveness. In a previous blog regarding positive psychology and the work of Dr. Shawn Achor, I wrote about how rewiring the brain to be more receptive to positive stimuli. Dr. Achor cites two research studies that show 75% of job success is predicted by your level of optimism, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat. Mindfulness is at the center of this concept, though Dr. Achor did not use that phrase in his TED Talk, he did prescribe the first activity that Tim Ferris prescribes for cultivating mindfulness.
An activity I have done several times in my life and I continue to utilize is called “The 21-day Gratitudes”. In this exercise, the individual writes down three (3) things that they are grateful for, per day for 21 days consecutively, with no repeated selections. In other words, even though you might be grateful for coffee every single day, you can only choose it once in the 21 days. This forces the individual to pay more attention to their daily lives and exchanges with the world and really grow to appreciate their life more. For me I go a few steps further and set specific categories for the gratitudes, again with no repeated options allowed. At the time of writing this my three are 1. A relationship, 2. A situation, and 3. A physical item used that day. As I mentioned, I have done this exercise previously and (as I tend to be a pessimistic and impatient person) each time I notice a change in the way my brain interprets my world, and these have always been positive and empowering changes.
Building on the 21-day timeline, because 21 days is the minimum required time for a habit to take hold in the brain as a subconscious trait, another exercise is not complaining for 21 days and wearing a bracelet that represents the exercise, I just wore a rubber band. Each time an individual complains the bracelet must be switched to the opposite wrist and the 21-day timeline restarted. Now, what constitutes a complaint has a wide degree of ambiguity to it. I simply adopted Tim Ferris’ definition which is “speaking negatively about a person or situation with no prescription to remedy it”. Trust me when I say that this is a challenge, to date I have not successfully completed a full 21 days. It does however, require you to take a look at the language you use on a daily basis to describe things that do not go the way you would like them to. The point is that by catching yourself verbalizing thoughts, you will stop the verbalization, then the habit takes form and the thought pattern will change as well.
Another very simple exercise that can cultivate mindfulness is a daily exercise, you can do it for 21 days or even longer, is to thank one person who has given you a reason to be grateful. This can be a coworker, an old teacher from school, a community figure, a parent, etc., the list is yours to determine. I have not done this exercise and plan to tie it in with my daily gratitudes once the next round starts. My “relationship” gratitude will take on new requirements and the relationship will have to be an old one, and one where I have fallen out of contact with the person. Again, all of these are mental exercises, or brain yoga as I call it, to get your mind to be more presently aware and rational so the more challenging the conditions of the exercises then the more you will benefit.
There were also tools and apps that Tim and congressman Ryan both recommended. I have used some and I am trying out others. The first one is a journal that I plan on using called “The 5-minute Journal” and essentially you make an entry in the morning and evening that should take no more than five (5) minutes. In the morning, the journal asks you to identify three (3) things you are grateful for that morning, three (3) hopes you have for that specific day, and three (3) affirmations of yourself (these are things like I AM ________ . . . . great at writing blogs). For the evenings entry you write down three (3) amazing things that happened that day and three (3) things that could’ve made that day even better. The journal itself can be purchased online or you can just adopt some version of that format into your own journal or format.
Another tool that is described is a google chrome plug in called “Momentum”. It’s free to download and it requires you to enter your most important goal/task/theme of the day and that will be what the app tracks. Any kind of web surfing that is not associated with the task you have entered will have a notice or prompt that reminds you of your overarching goal for everything you do for that day. Each time I do something that requires a new tab in Chrome, the page for Momentum is what pops up and I am re-reminded of my daily mission so to speak. This is especially valuable if you get email updates with links to articles or videos, something may catch your eye and before you know it, you have thirty (30) tabs open and you don’t know where to start.
The final tools mentioned are ones that I have had much experience with and I would recommend them to anyone who is serious about exploring meditation. There are two specific phone apps that Ferris, Ryan, and I have used called “Headspace” and “Calm”. These are available for iOS and Android and are both free to download, these apps are guided meditation apps and are extremely helpful for folks who might describe themselves as having “busy minds”. This has always been my problem with meditation, I sit down and try to clear my mind and what typically happened was I would just let my mind wander. Often, the mind finds the stressors and anxieties we carry in our daily lives and that is all we focus on in our meditation. This essentially, is just stressing in a quite place with regulated breathing and arguably does little for generating mental clarity and peace of mind. What these apps do is guide you through the mechanics of meditation and will help you maintain focus and intent in your sessions, rather than just letting the mind wander and settle on the things it finds. These apps helped me understand that I had basically been meditating incorrectly most of my life and I now get much more out of my sessions.
These above exercises and tools are all geared towards developing active Mindfulness, something I could argue we all need a little more of. Instead of getting bogged down with “what happened” and “what could happen”, our minds simply focus on “what is” and “what isn’t” and remove the stress that is associated with the hypothetical. When we act with mindfulness we are effectively using our brains at a more effective level and with the fast paced, 24/7 stimulating, digital world we live in; it is easy to get distracted and overwhelmed.
At netlogx we motivate our consultants to focus on their personal wellness by providing a stipend to use on physical and mental health. These can include massages, fitness classes, gym memberships, and also things like meditation classes, acupuncture, and yoga. These benefit both our internal team members and also our clients, by creating healthy mitigation strategies to life’s stressors. As I mentioned above and in previous blogs, we are at our best when we are happy and at peace and these directly tie in to our ability to be effective employees and consultants.