Mindfulness: Measuring vs. Noticing
Although this post is written in the context of sales professionals, it applies to people in all walks of life!
Those in sales are used to measuring results to see how they’re doing. One-hundred percent of quota. A million dollar sale. Another million to go for that trip to Aruba. Certainly, in diet and exercise programs, numbers are used to measure progress. Lost two pounds. Benchpressed seventy pounds. Body/mass index of twenty-four.
But in mindfulness and meditation practice you don’t have these metrics to measure your results. I suppose you could use the length of time you’re meditating, but you’d likely be more successful meditating for one minute with a high quality of awareness than for twenty minutes lost in thought, so length of time doesn’t tell the whole story.
To help reduce the frustration that can come by not having metrics to show how you’re progressing in meditation, consider cultivating the intention just to notice. If you have difficulty meditating and it’s challenging for you, notice that. If you have a wonderful experience, notice that (and realize that everything is temporary and that doesn’t mean you’ll have a wonderful experience next time). If you were lost in thought for your entire meditation time, notice that. If you forgot to notice, see if you can notice that.
Here’s how you can bring the practice of noticing your sales calls. Let’s say you’re meeting with a client for the first time. Maybe you’ll notice the pictures on the desk, or the higher education degrees hanging on the wall. Maybe you’ll notice that you have a judgement arising about the client’s ability to purchase—and then notice that you can release that judgement, since it’s getting in the way of your path to the sale.
By noticing that you’re aware that you’re aware, you’ll be on the path to mindfulness. The path can have many twists and turns along the way, but the best way to stay on it is to continue to notice.
How to Develop a Compassion Habit
Since studies show that behaving more compassionately toward yourself and others can make you happier, why not develop a compassion habit? The brain has neuroplasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways and new ways of being. You can actually train your brain to operate from a center of compassion. Here are some tips on how to develop a compassion habit:
Start with yourself. Unless you practice self-compassion, it can be difficult to bring compassion to others. Every day, take time to be compassionate toward yourself, whether you pamper yourself with a bubble bath, practice a type of meditation designed to cultivate feelings of compassion, or simply pause for a few minutes to rest.
Notice your thinking. If you become aware of thoughts that are less than compassionate, see if you can shift to a more positive attitude. Although this can be especially challenging in some situations and with some people, the more you practice, the more natural a compassionate mindset can become.
Ask your inner critic to retire. Many people have developed an inner voice that freely offers negative judgments about their actions, such as “That was such a ridiculous thing to say!” or “You really messed up that presentation.” Ask this inner critic to step down, telling it that the job is no longer available. Replace internal criticism with internal encouragement, such as 19th century psychologist Emile Coue’s famous phrase, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
Look for commonalities. When you’re with people around a dinner table, notice everyone eating together. When you’re at a music venue, notice everyone listening to melodies together. Even when you’re sitting in traffic, you’re all here together, in this shared experience, as frustrating as it can be. The more you notice the common bonds between you and those around you, the more you’ll realize how interconnected we all are, and the more accessible a mindset of compassion can become.
Bring a compassionate approach to those around you—friends, family, colleagues, clients, and even those you don’t know. Take small steps, such as smiling at the cashier in the grocery store, or holding the door open for someone. You don’t have to make grandiose gestures to bring compassion into the world. As the activist Marian Wright Edelman said, “Be a flea for justice. Together all the fleas can move the big dog.”
Let operating from a center of compassion become a habit. When you consider that the first seven letters of the word compassion form the word “compass,” this can remind you to allow a mindset of compassion to guide your actions in the world.
Focusing on the Task at Hand
One of the divers in the Thai cave rescue of 12 soccer players and their coach spoke of the importance of focus, saying, “You cannot let your mind slip out of focus, because when you start thinking, ‘I’m going to get stuck,’ that’s when you panic. You cannot think about anything else besides the task at hand.” The whole world watched the skill and focus these divers brought to the task at hand—and let out a collective sigh of relief as the last boys were rescued.
While few, if any, people reading this post have the experience of cave diving, most people still need to bring focus to their tasks at hand. A proven way to develop this focus is through the practice of meditation. Contrary to what some might believe, meditation is not a practice of suppressing thoughts, but it’s a process of coming into awareness of them—and then shifting your attention to a neutral object of awareness (such as your breath) each time another thought grabs your attention. Essentially, it’s like you’re taking your mind out of drive and shifting it to neutral–again and again and again, sometimes as often as every second or two. Just as the repetitive motion of doing abdominal crunches builds core strength, this continual shifting of awareness helps build your mind’s muscle—and develop your ability to focus.
People often tell me they can’t meditate, saying that their minds won’t settle down. Like starting any new practice, be patient and give yourself time to learn. It’s best to start small until you get used to meditating, and then you can gradually increase your practice time. You can find a selection of free, three-minute guided meditations here: https://soundcloud.com/joyrains.
You can also weave “mindful moments” into your day to help develop focus. For instance, try a walking meditation by bringing all your attention to the soles of your feet as they connect with the ground. Any time your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the feeling of the soles of your feet. Meditation practice doesn’t have to take a long time; sometimes it can be as simple as remembering to pause—if only for a few moments.
Tips for Turbulence
Whether you experience turbulence on an airplane, in your work life, or in your home life—meditation can help see you through times that are challenging. You can practice meditating by shifting your attention from your thoughts to something neutral, such as your breath or the feeling of your feet on the ground.
If you’re traveling in an airplane that starts to pitch and shake—your imagination may kick into high gear. The scenarios you imagine are dire: the plane dropping thousands of feet, crashing into the ocean, and your family members grieving your demise. Pretty soon you are in a full-blown stress response.
WAIT. Consider that your stress response is more in response to your thoughts than in response to what’s actually happening with the plane. You don’t know that the plane is going to drop, or that you’ll crash into the ocean, or that this will be the end of life as you know it.
CONSIDER. All you know is that you are experiencing turbulence. That’s it. See if you can stop making predictions about a dire future outcome.
CONNECT. Plant your feet on the floor beneath your seat. Feel the connection between the soles of your feet and the carpet. This will help keep your attention in your body, rather than lost in anxious thoughts.
BREATHE. Bring your attention to your breath moving in and out of your body. Perhaps you can notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breathe out. Notice your chest rising and falling. You can even silently say to yourself, “rising, falling” with each inhale and exhale to help keep your attention on your breath.
Every time you notice another anxious thought arising, see if you can release it, and gently bring your attention back to your feet and your breath. Bring your attention back as often as needed, even if it’s every second or two.
Remember, turbulence is not a permanent condition, and this, too, shall pass.
Meditation at Work
Nine-to-five jobs are no longer the norm. Employees send and receive work-related texts and emails around the clock, as work life spills over into home life. The two aren’t as separate as they used to be.
Since employees spend more hours working, proactive employers give a high priority to employees’ well-being to help prevent job burnout. Companies who want to remain competitive and attract talent are putting practices in place that help create happy, healthy employees.
Take Google, for example. They offer many perks to keep employees happy and healthy: free gourmet cafeterias, nap pods, onsite doctors for free employee checkups—and since 2007, meditation programs. Google management realizes that meditation not only reduces employee stress, but it also improves the company’s bottom line.
This makes perfect sense when you consider the costs of stress in the workplace. The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses up to $300 billion a year in job turnover costs, healthcare expenditures, and absenteeism.
Companies are wise to take measures to reduce stress. One practice that’s simple to put into place is the ancient practice of meditation. The benefits of meditation can be profound: increased awareness and focus, reduced stress, and enhanced well-being.
Even the scientific journals are weighing in, publishing studies that show meditation in the workplace makes employees more resilient in the face of challenges—and decreases reactivity to stress and the risk of burnout.
If you search online for companies that provide employee meditation programs, you’ll find companies such as Google, Target, General Mills, Intel, and Etsy. These programs show a shift in corporate cultures to more employee-friendly models. For instance, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh places a high value on employee happiness, a model that’s helped his company achieve great success.
Hsieh and other CEO’s realize that a happy, healthy employee is a productive employee. That’s why meditation in the workplace is catching on. Not only is the practice a proven path to happiness and well-being, it’s accessible to anyone, it can be done most anywhere, and best of all, it’s free!
Finding Freedom with “Not Knowing”
One of the reasons people like to micro-manage everything is because they are worried about outcomes. And yes, I easily fall into this category, which is why I took up the practice of meditation almost 30 years ago!
One day at the local post office, I was worrying about the label on a package, as it didn’t look as if it was affixed properly. The best words of advice came from a mailman, who said, “The things you worry about generally don’t happen. It’s the things that come out of left field that cause you difficulty—things you never even dreamed of.”
Approaching life with this mailman’s wise words in mind, one can enter a state of “not knowing,” where you let go of predicting outcomes and instead, live in the present moment.
“Not knowing” is different than “not planning”
Entering the space of not knowing is different than not planning. One can plan for the future without getting lost in anxiety about imagined future outcomes and without trying to “control” the future. People can control their actions, but they cannot control the results.
The practice of “not knowing”
“Not knowing is most intimate” is an important concept in meditation practice. Intimacy in this sense means the direct awareness that brings you closer to both the immediacy of the present moment and to your true self. By not imagining outcomes based on fears, judgments, memories, and the like, you can remain open and present to what is.
Consider the following scenario: A woman takes a taxi to the airport in near-blizzard conditions. Snow falls steadily, and cars spin out of control, yet she remains in a space of “not knowing” and remains calm about what will happen next. Will the car spin out? Will they get into an accident? Will she miss her flight? As each anxious thought begins to arise, she reminds herself that she doesn’t know, and the thought loses its power.
She only knows for certain that snow is falling and accumulating, and drivers are struggling with poor road conditions. She finds it freeing to notice her stories without getting lost in them—and instead, live in the immediacy of the present moment.
She simply notices when she wants to make an assumption about the future, and then she reminds herself that she doesn’t know. If you could listen to her thoughts, you might hear: Will I get to the airport? I don’t know. Will the weather be ok to fly? I don’t know.
Being comfortable with not knowing can bring enormous freedom and with it, awareness of the moment as it really is.
How to Reduce Stress
When things don’t go the way you want, stress can arise. Much of the stress comes from ruminating about the past or creating imagined stories about the future.
To reduce stress, see if you can rest your mind in the immediacy of the present moment. Upon entering this moment, let go of past stories and imagined future stories—both of which give the illusion of a sense of control—and enter a space of not knowing. By not imagining outcomes based on fears and judgments, you can remain open and present to what is.
We simply don’t know what the future holds. Staying in the immediacy of the present moment can be challenging, but it can be realized with practice. Sometimes the practice is simply one of remembering to focus on just this next breath. And then the next one. And so on…
Here’s a link to a couple of meditations that can help reduce stress:
https://soundcloud.com/joyrains Hope you enjoy!
Just 2 minutes (and 12 seconds) a day
Just meditating for two minutes a day can help train your mind. Regular practice is the key to learning any new skill. It’s important to approach meditation in a way that you will feel successful, so you don’t get discouraged and give up. Two minutes is a small enough time commitment to be manageable for many people. Once a daily habit of meditating is developed, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes a day, people often can realize many of the scientifically proven benefits of meditation: reduced stress, increased focus and enhanced positive emotion. Here’s a link to a free two minute (and 12 second) audio meditation: https://mindfulsalespro.com/meditation/guided-meditations/
Meditation Myths – Part I
Although some people think the practice of meditation involves stopping all thoughts and feelings, this is not so. Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. Expect that thoughts and feelings will continue to arise. Meditation is about returning to your immediate experience in the present moment. Notice when your attention wanders, and then gently return your attention to a focal point for your awareness, such as your breath. Again and again and again. This process is key to the practice of meditation, since it exercises your minds’s “muscle.” Just as the repetitive motion of abdominal exercises can build your core strength, the repetition of noticing when your mind wanders and returning your attention to your focal point can build your power of awareness.
Bringing Vacation Relaxation Back Home
It’s time for that summer vacation. Ahh. Lying on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves … there’s nothing like it. All your muscles relax and you forget all the stressors of daily life. But how can you take this feeling of relaxation back home with you?
See if you can develop a mind/body memory. At the time that you are most relaxed on your vacation, notice how you feel. What is the state of your mind? How does your body feel? Try to develop a memory of this experience to call upon when you get back home.
When you get home and are faced with the stressors of everyday life, have realistic expectations. If you resist these stressors and think “this shouldn’t be happening!” or “I don’t want to be back home!” you can create even more stress. See if you can call on that mind/body memory of relaxation—and incorporate that feeling into your daily life, simply by using your imagination.
Creating a “stress-free zone” at home can help you relax. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or music. If you’d like to listen to a two minute guided meditation, you can find one here: https://soundcloud.com/joyrains/listenbreatherelax
Many Ways to Meditate
Although many people think of meditating as sitting still and noticing the breath, there are countless variations on this ancient practice. Don’t like to sit still? Try a walking meditation. (Each time you take a step bring all your attention to the soles of your feet touching the ground.) Have a stuffy nose? Try a meditation using a smooth stone as your focal point. (Each time your mind wanders bring your attention back to the smooth stone in the palm of your hand.) Bothered by negative thoughts? Try a gratitude meditation. (Each time you notice another thought arising, silently say to yourself “thank you”.) Only have two minutes? No problem! Meditating for two minutes is better than not meditating at all.
The great part about these practices is that they can be done most anywhere, anytime!
Have a Retreat at Home!
Imagine coming home to a personal retreat space. A space where you can sink into the quiet of soft music, soft lighting, soft being. Away from the noise of the office, or the kids, or everything else in your life that cries loudly for your attention. Imagine a personal retreat space that is just about you.
All is takes is intention and a bit of creativity to create a place where you can regularly take a break from the business of your life. You can learn to associate this dedicated space with quieting your mind. Include a place to sit, such as a chair or cushion, and also inspirational items, such as books of short readings, candles, or audio recordings. You could devote an entire room to your personal retreat space, or just a corner of a room. One busy mom carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room. Installing a sliding translucent screen for an outer wall transformed this basement nook into a sacred space away from the kids. Another transformed a bedroom corner into a sacred space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. What to do in this sacred space? Meditate, do yoga, read inspirational books, listen to soothing music, or just breathe. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to go to a fancy spa in an exotic location (although that would be nice!). All you need to do is to enter your retreat place, take a deep breath and simply be.
The Irony of Getting Help for Anxiety
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Your anxiety may be getting in the way of getting help for your anxiety! Perhaps you are worried if you ask your doctor about it you will be perceived as abnormal, or weak, or any number of other negative connotations.
Consider taking up the practice of meditation as a starting point in dealing with anxiety. Meditation allows you to see more clearly, so that you can become aware of the stories you are telling yourself. If you can see that you are telling yourself a story about your doctor judging you negatively when you request help, ask yourself: What’s more important to me – what I believe about my doctor’s perceptions, or getting help for my anxiety? Another question to consider is this: If I feel so uncomfortable discussing issues with this doctor, can I find a different health-care professional that I feel comfortable with?
The practice of meditation can be as simple as sitting and noticing your breath for a couple minutes a day. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your breath, even if it’s every few seconds. Meditation doesn’t require any special equipment or training, and best of all, it’s free!
Finding Happiness Within
If only (fill in the blank), then I’d be happy. Maybe your “blank” is making more money, shedding extra pounds, or having a different job. Yet, it’s a common myth to think that if these “if only” scenarios come true, then you’ll find happiness.
Here are some facts to debunk the “if only” myth:
1-The future is unknown. Who knows if more money, weight loss, or changing jobs will really create happiness? Although each of these has the potential to bring happiness, they also have the potential to create new stressors.
2-Everything is impermanent. Just because outside circumstances change, does not mean they will stay that way. Situations are not static; they are fluid.
3-Outside events are often beyond your control. Although you can control your actions, you cannot control the results.
Consider turning within to find happiness, as opposed to looking outside yourself. Meditation is one great way to begin this process. It’s accessible to most anyone, no special equipment is needed, and best of all, it’s free!
Quiet Your Mind for a Good Night’s Sleep
A great way to shut off your brain and relax your body to prepare for sleep is to do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Here are the directions:
Lie on your back and bring all your attention to your body. Begin a process of gently tightening and releasing each muscle group, starting with your feet and working your way upwards to the top of your head. Hold each muscle as tightly as you can for about 5 seconds, then release it completely and see if you can notice the difference between the muscle tightened and the muscle relaxed. Move onto the next muscle until you’ve relaxed your entire body.
Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the tightening and releasing of each muscle group.
This technique was developed by American physician Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920’s
Mindfulness at Work: Take Time to Sharpen the Axe!
As the old saying goes, you have to take time out from chopping the tree to sharpen the axe. Since your mind is one of your main tools, it’s vital to keep it sharp. By pausing to take 2 minute mini-meditation breaks throughout the day, you are doing the axe-sharpening work. Yet, often the most difficult part is remembering to pause for your break.
Hang a reminder in your office space: Hang a picture of nature, or a beautiful sunset, or anything that reminds you to take a moment and pause. You could even schedule your breaks into your calendar.
Take a break. Here are three short practices to do at work:
1-Walk mindfully. Bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your feet. You can do this while walking in the hallway, walking to the elevator, or anywhere else you have space to walk.
2-Breathe mindfully. Bring all your attention to your breath as it moves in and out of your body. You may want to notice the coolness of the air as you breathe in, and its warmth as you breath out – or you may want to notice your chest rising and falling. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. Count with each breath until you reach 40. (Or 50, or 60 …)
3-Listen to a short guided meditation. You can find a 2:11 audiio meditation on https://mindfulsalespro.com/meditation/guided-meditations/
By doing this axe-sharpening work, you are clearing your mind, and improving your focus for the tasks that lie ahead. Walking and breathing meditations are available to you anywhere and anytime. It just takes intention – and remembering!
Walking Meditation at Work
Many people find that managing stress at work can be helped with regular meditation. One effective tool to use in the workplace is a walking meditation. Here’s a situation where a busy executive uses walking meditation to deal with a challenging situation:
While this executive is getting ready for a big presentation in her workplace, her top client calls and says he’s taking his business to another company. The executive is overcome with a whirlwind of emotion. Yet, knowing that she needs to focus for her upcoming presentation, she decides to practice a walking meditation. She knows that walking from one point to the next offers her an opportunity to take a meditation break.
She begins a process of walking mindfully down the corridor of her office building, noticing where her feet connect with the ground. She becomes aware of feelings each time they arise, then shifts her awareness back to her feet. She still has many mixed emotions, but the practice of shifting her awareness to her feet helps her feel more balanced and centered.
She uses a process of walking while silently repeating the words lifting, moving, placing, shifting to help keep her focused in the present moment. As she lifts her right leg, she silently says to herself, “lifting.” As she moves her right leg forward, she silently says, “moving,” as she places her foot on the ground she silently says, “placing,” and as she shifts all her weight to her right foot, she silently says, “shifting.” Then she begins the process again with her left leg: lifting, moving, placing, shifting. She continues silently repeating these words to herself as she continues to walk.
A walking meditation can be done most anywhere, anytime, even for just a couple of minutes. By using simple techniques to help manage stress at work, employee well-being and productivity can dramatically increase.
Meditation Tips for Beginners
Here are three simple tips for the beginning meditator:
1-Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. Meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts; rather, it’s about becoming aware of thoughts so you can choose to respond to life’s events consciously instead of reacting unconsciously.
2-Start small. Rather than trying to meditate for 20 minutes a day, start with 5 minutes, or even a couple of minutes. You can find a free two minute audio mediation here: https://mindfulsalespro.com/meditation/guided-meditations/
3-Regularity is key. Try to meditate every day so it becomes a habit. If you can, meditate in the same place in your home or office, such as a favorite chair, or favorite room. You may want to include inspirational items in that space, such as candles, smooth stones, or books with readings for before or after your meditation time. Once you get used to meditating there, simply by entering that space your mind may begin to settle.
Build Your Mind’s Muscle
Meditation is a wonderful way to build mental strength!
Consider this: Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to generate thoughts. Meditation is not a practice of suppressing these thoughts, but it’s a process of coming into awareness of them–by shifting attention to a neutral object of awareness (such as the breath) each time you notice another thought arise. Essentially, it’s like you’re taking your mind out of drive and shifting it to neutral–again and again and again, sometimes as often as every second or two. Just as the repetitive motion of doing abdominal crunches builds core strength, this continual shift of awareness helps build your mind’s muscle.