I recently gave a 20 minute talk about mindfulness to a room of senior software professionals. Most were engineers or software experts. Most were new to mindfulness.
But as people who creatively solve problems every day they were curious, and had an appetite to expand their knowledge.
I introduced this concept simply:
- the definition of mindfulness
- awareness of thoughts
- awareness of emotions
- a personal example
- an exercise to try it out
I shared a story of how my mind hijacked a thrilling experience of our bike trip down Pike’s Peak in 2013 and turned it into a tense, worried, fear-fest.
- I started with a video of us all pumped up by the tour leader, 14, 000 feet high in Colorado, on a gorgeous summer day, blue sky curving to the horizon, and the world unfolding around the mountain.
- A few minutes into the trip, the video had a very different energy as they heard me worried about the kids going off the road at 20+ mph, and how I was a “bad mom” to bring my children on such a dangerous activity.
What I wanted to show was our mind’s ability to go from one emotional state to another just by having different thoughts. In a few minutes mine went from “This is going to be amazing” to “I made a huge mistake”. This change was completely in my mind! My family was having a great time while I stressed. The scenery and weather hadn’t changed. The bikes were still reliable. The mountain was still spectacular.
Ordinary worries and fears hijack our minds even when we logically know better. At this point I could see this message resonate in the room. Many of us are parents. We know the powerful fear that comes with protecting the well-being of our children. Many of us are dedicated, and want to do a great job professionally. We know that day-to-day life is filled with to-do lists, meeting deadlines, meeting expectations, and dealing with fewer resources to do the same work. Sometimes we can’t get enough relief from this cycle of stress.
My message to this group — just be aware of your mind’s activities. This is mindfulness. It’s nothing complicated, hard to learn or privy to experts.
Just observe and see what’s going on. If analysis is part of your daily job, then this leverages that skill set – just turned inwards.
- The act of observation and understanding is enough.
- The “hijack” is less forceful.
- The mind can return logically to what’s actually in front of it: in reality, instead of what is in imagination.
Working in reality is typically kinder than what’s in our imagination!
This was true of my bike ride. It was an amazing trip. I probably lost close to an hour of enjoyment because of my mind. But eventually the sheer beauty of that day won over. To this day, that trip is one of our best family memories.
Once you get some practice at being mindful (e.g. observing and being aware of your mind), then you can do a few simple things to separate from what isn’t kind or true in your thinking, and this can result in more of the positive emotional states many of us seek.
Call to Action:
Just like in this photo, look for sightings – but of your own less-than-true or less-than-kind thoughts. Notice when your mind is hijacking your experience with a story that’s getting a little too creative. Be kind to yourself (and others) – by using reality as a convincing argument.
“When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.” –Byron Katie
Exercise – Reality Boost:
One simple exercise is to re-frame your thought.
- Instead of “______(insert stressful thought, e.g. mine was “I’m a bad mom”)________”,
- re-frame it to: “I’m having the thought that ______________________________”.
This is from Russ Harris, who wrote the Happiness Trap. It may seem too simple. But it works by bringing a touch of reality (the 2nd statement is more true), and a bit of separation from what your mind is presenting you with.
Let me know what you find.
If you’re curious and want to go further and then coaching may be a great option. Feel free to contact me to explore more.