Writing: A Pathway to Mindfulness

Albert Flynn DeSilver has written a book titled, Awakening through Writing:  The Space Between the Words, as a wake-up call to the power of writing as a means for exploring our inner landscape.

In an interview with Tami Simon, Albert identified some of the key messages in his book and I want to reflect on them here.

Time as a Construct

The concept of time is a human invention to enable us to communicate, collaborate and manage our lives singularly and collectively.  We need this agreed convention to be able to function in our world (and across the world).

However, own own sense of time – “I don’t have enough time”, “there are not enough hours in the day” – is a personal construction.  It is a consequence of choices that we make – the kind and level of work we choose to do, our commitment to the quantity and quality of our work, our family structure and established norms and rituals, and how we choose to spend our leisure or “left-over” hours.  It is a reflection of our prioritising, our sense of self-esteem and empowerment (“my time is not my own”), our goals in life, our need for recognition, our willingness and ability to negotiate “time” to meet our own needs.

When we discussed what you are going to do with the surplus in your life, we highlighted the need to create space in your life.  Albert reminds us that to realise the benefits of writing and meditation in terms of being able to achieve awakening or to grow in mindfulness, we need to look at the way we spend or “expend” our time.  We have to “make time” to engage in writing and meditation on a regular basis.

Assess your motivation – why write?

If your writing is aligned with your personal goals and values, you have a better chance of sustaining the effort through the ups and downs of life and the writing cycle.

I have to constantly remind myself why I write so regularly.  I’ve found that having multiple reasons for writing (some primary, others secondary) enables me to maintain the momentum.  So I have reflected on my motivation and identified the following:

  • to keep mindfulness at the forefront of what I am thinking about and doing
  • to use writing as a journey in self-exploration
  • to learn more about mindfulness and mindful practices
  • to engage my mind in learning new things
  • to share what I learn with others so that they can better handle life stresses and overcome the negative impact of depression and anxiety
  • to integrate what I have learned from my various roles in life – as a student, manager, trainer, educator & consultant
  • to help myself and others realise our creative potential
  • to better understand what I can contribute to creating a better world.

I used to say to my doctoral students, “Do your research on something that you are passionate about, otherwise you will not be able to sustain the effort through the vicissitudes of daily life”.  The same applies here if you are going to write on a regular basis, you need to be passionate about the topic and the audience.  The motivation has to come from you – not from what other people say you should write about.

Reading

Many of the great writers were great readers and this is often reflected in their books or novels.  You will often see writers quote poetry or the works of other authors to reinforce a point or introduce a new idea.

Reading can become a source of personal reflection, offer new perspectives on an issue, illustrate key ideas or points through life stories or act as a stimulus to your own writing.  I would include here podcasts and videos as a source of ideas.

I find that if I am stuck for a topic to write about or for something to say on a topic, I will read an article/ report that is relevant, watch a video or listen to a podcast as a way to stimulate my own thoughts and reflections.

Discipline

Albert stresses the importance of discipline to advance your writing and insights.  He points out that most great writers have a routine that fits their own lifestyle and personal work style.

You need to develop your own writing routine that will enable you to sustain the effort of writing.  Great writers often warn about not just writing when “you are in the mood”, but pushing through the emotional barrier in a disciplined way by sticking to your routine, even if ideas are not flowing.

It may sound trite, but the reality is to become a great writer, you need to write…write…write.

The immersive element

If you are able to persist with researching and writing about a topic or an area of interest, you gain the benefits of immersion – you see connections that you did not see before, you deepen your knowledge and understanding of yourself and the world around you, you improve your self-management (via discipline & insight) and you are better able to make a significant, original contribution.

You also gr0w in mindfulness and your capacity to be fully present to what is happening in your life and world.   Albert maintained, in his interview, that to make the commitment to develop mindfulness through writing requires courage:

I think for people to look inside, and to pause, and to really show up and be present in the world takes a tremendous amount of courage. And it seems to be more rare than ever, which is alarming. That’s why I’m so devoted to this work. Because I want to keep reminding people this is the most important thing we can do as human beings. Without changing consciousness and awareness, and having that positive influence, we’re really going to be kind of screwed as a species.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Social Skills – Communicating with Insight

Chade-Meng Tan (affectionately known as “Meng”), is the author of the book, Search Inside Yourself, a developer of the related Google course and one of the founders of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

Meng maintains that as we grow in mindfulness we develop calmness of mind and clarity of thought.  So whatever the stressful situation we are in, we are able to remain in control of our emotions – instead of being held captive by the primitive part of our brain, the amygdala. (Meng’s Google Talk)

We are able to notice our emotions as they occur and to choose how we respond, e.g communicate with compassion, instead of with anger.  We are no longer controlled by our emotions.

The insight we gain is not only insight into ourselves but also understanding and insight into others’ emotions, motivations and behaviour.  So we are better able to communicate from this position of increased understanding and insight, a position of increased clarity of mind not confounded by emotions.  We also gain a greater understanding and appreciation of our environment, both the natural environment and also the micro and macro work context.

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute’s two day program on mindful leadership and emotional intelligence offers a process to help leaders communicate with insight in the context of difficult conversations.  The process involves reflection on a conflicted conversation that you have been involved in with another person.  It aims to help you to gain insight into your own perceptions, emotions and motivation and those of the other person.

The two step process starts with an analysis of your involvement in the conflict.   Firstly you are asked to identify the content of the conflict (what happened from your perspective) and secondly, your feelings at the time (your emotions). The process then helps you to gain a deep insight into your own motivations.

The third step, then, is the critical one. The assumption is that both parties in the conflict are ultimately trying to deal with identity issues  – a fundamental motivation behind the conflict for each party.  These identity issues are expressed as three  questions:

  • am I competent?
  • am I a good person?
  • am I worthy of love?

Once you answer these identity issues questions for yourself, you put yourself in the position of the other person and repeat the three step process with respect to the other person in the conflict (the what, the feelings and the identity issues for them).

This then puts you in a position to communicate with renewed insight into the other person in the conflict  You should undertake the follow-up conversation only after you have first reflected on your intention on having the subsequent conversation.  You may actually decide not to pursue a further conversation at this point, but resolve to approach the next interaction with greater care and insight.

Communicating with insight comes with growth in mindfulness.  As Meng points out, if you have developed mindfulness, you are able to approach any situation, whatever it involves, with clarity of mind and  calmness (free from from the influence of uncontrolled emotions).

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Motivation

There are a number of ways to build our motivation and mindfulness as a leader and I will discuss four ways here.

1. Alignment with our values

When what we are doing is aligned with our values, we have more energy, focus and insight.  In an earlier post, I asked the question, “What are you doing this for?”  In that post, I explored the exercise involving the process of asking yourself three times “why?” i.e.  why are you doing the work/ activity that you are doing ?   This is one way to check your motivation and how aligned it is with your values.

2. Alignment with our core skills

Previously, I explored three elements that contribute to happiness- an intrinsic source of motivation.  One of the core elements was how well aligned your work or other activity was with your core skills.  Alignment with your core skills keeps boredom at bay, builds learning through challenge and maintains motivation.

3. Envisioning our future

The capacity to envision the future provides the opportunity to work towards some desired state or future condition – this clarity around an end goal helps to maintain motivation and guide action.  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute provides leaders with a way to discover an ideal future through a scenario and a series of questions:

If everything in my life starting today, meets my most optimistic expectations, what will my life be like in 5 years?

  • Who are you and what are you doing?
  • How do you feel?
  • What do people say about you?

Consciousness about what you are working towards is foundational to mindful leadership, because a core role of a leader is setting a future direction..  If you don’t know where you are heading, it is difficult for others to follow you.

4. Building resilience

Resilience is your capacity to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments in pursuit of a goal or end vision.  There are always things that create temporary barriers to goal achievement such as illness, loss of sponsorship or exhaustion.  Resilience enables us to overcome these impediments and persist in the pursuit of an end state. In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness develops resilience.  The mindful leader needs to be resilient if they are to persist in the face of difficulties and enable their followers to contribute to their vision.

As we grow in mindfulness, we develop the capacity to create a greater alignment with our values and core skills, gain clarity about our vision and build resilience in the face of obstacles.  Each of these elements contribute to our development and motivation as a mindful leader.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dweedon1 on Pixabay

 

Sustaining the Practice of Mindfulness: One Breath at a Time

You might have been inspired by a mindfulness workshop or the stories of other people who have experienced the benefits of mindfulness.

You could be convinced of these benefits by the neuroscience supporting mindfulness and just want to experience particular benefits yourself.

But all the knowledge, inspiration and desire alone will not help you to grow in mindfulness, if you don’t practice mindfulness.  You have to learn how to maintain the motivation for mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is like any other skill area – you need to practice to master the process and make it an integral part of your life.

Chade-Meng Tan, one of the creators of Google’s Search Inside Yourself course in mindfulness and emotional intelligence, likens sustaining mindfulness practice to developing the habit of going to the gym:

It is the same with sustaining a mindfulness practice.  You probably need some discipline in the beginning, but after a few months, you may notice dramatic changes in quality of life.  You become happier, calmer, more emotionally resilient, more energetic, and people like you more because your positivity emanates onto them.  You feel great about yourself.  And again, once you reach that point, it is so compelling, you just cannot not practice anymore. (Search Inside Yourself: The Secret Path to Unbreakable Concentration, Complete Relaxation, Total Self-Control, p.56)

Over the last ten years, Google has trained more than 4,500 staff and managers in mindfulness and emotional intelligence through their Search Inside Yourself course.  One thing the creators and facilitators of the course have learned is how to sustain mindfulness practice and realise its benefits.

Chade-Meng Tan shares his insights about a simple three-step process to sustain the practice of mindfulness:

  1. find a buddy to check in with on a weekly basis to share your mindfulness experience and make yourself accountable
  2. do less than you can manage so that it does not become onerous
  3. take one mindful breath a day.

Chade-Meng Tan explains the last step more fully below:

I may be the laziest mindfulness instructor in the world because I tell my students all they need to commit to is one mindful breath a day.  Just one.  Breathe in and breathe out mindfully, and your commitment for the day is fulfilled; everything else is a bonus. (Search Inside Yourself, p.58)

Practice increases our consciousness of mindfulness and its benefits.  It enables us to develop momentum that will help to sustain our commitment and motivation.

The secret is to develop a habit but start small with something that is easy to achieve.  This enables us to get over the early hurdles where practice is experienced as a chore.

If you don’t persist past the early resistance stage, you won’t experience the benefits of mindfulness.  So there is a lot of wisdom in starting with just one breath a day to grow mindfulness.

Image source: johnhain on Pixabay

Maintaining Motivation for Practicing Mindfulness

Maintaining motivation to practice mindfulness is a Catch-22 situation: to experience the benefits of mindfulness, you have to practice it; to maintain motivation for your mindfulness practice, you need to experience the benefits.  As you practise, you become more aware of the benefits and the benefits themselves increase.

However, the starting point is to believe that practising mindfulness will give you benefits that you value.  Having started your practice then, you are able to experience the benefits and to use these to motivate yourself to continue.

I found it hard to maintain my attendance at Taoist Tai Chi classes because of work commitments but I had experienced enough of the benefits of Tai Chi to find a way to maintain the practice.

As I persisted with the practice of Tai Chi, I started to experience an increasing number of benefits that now form the motivation for me to continue the practice.  These benefits that I value are:

Focus and concentration – these are essential skills for my work as a consultant and for my writing; they also help with playing tennis (my sporting passion)

Balance and coordination – this is a strong motivator for me because I have found over the years that there is a very clear link between my Tai Chi practice and how well I play during my weekly social tennis; I have written about this link elsewhere

Creativity – I noticed this benefit through my experience of greater creativity when designing workshop processes as part of my consulting practice; Google clearly values this benefit as it developed the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) mindfulness program which has been experienced by more than 4,500 members of their staff- the SIY program is now available to the public on a global basis.

Lower blood pressure – I inherited high blood pressure so anything that helps me maintain a lower blood pressure has many positive side effects

Flexibility – as I grow older, I find that my flexibility suffers. However, Tai Chi clearly improves my flexibility and I experience this on the tennis court and elsewhere; many older people throughout the world (e.g. in China) practise Tai Chi to gain this benefit, among others.

Calmness and clarity – mindfulness and Tai Chi, specifically, develop calmness and clarity and help me to manage stress

Reducing the symptoms of arthritis – this is a claimed benefit of Tai Chi which I had some skepticism about until I experienced reduced pain from arthritis in one of the fingers on my right hand when playing tennis; now I can play two hours of solid tennis without the pain recurring or impeding my capacity to play well

Reflective listening – Tai Chi and mindfulness practice generally are improving my capacity to listen reflectively, an important means of improving my valued relationships.

I think the moral of this story is that if you persist in the practise of mindfulness you will experience benefits that you personally value.  Both the choice of mindfulness practice and the valued benefits will be influenced by your own lifestyle and personal preferences.

Image source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Grow the Habit of Mindfulness

“Practice makes perfect” – a truism but particularly relevant to developing mindfulness.

People who know about habit forming suggest three basic steps to develop a habit:

  1. focus on one small and simple behaviour
  2. build the habit into your daily routine/structure of your day
  3. frequently revisit your motivation (s) for growing the habit of mindfulness.

Start simple and develop more complex behaviours as you master an initial starting point.  If you are trying to do something complex at the outset and trying to maintain the behaviour, you can easily become discouraged.  However, if you start simply and achieve mastery, this will add to your motivation.  You will avoid discouragement and frustration this way.

If you structure the new behaviour into you daily routine, you are more likely to be able to sustain the mindfulness practice.  So if it is something you do first thing in the morning, then each time you wake up you are reminded to undertake the behaviour.  One of the participants in the Search Inside Yourself leadership program decided to do mindful breathing whenever he put the jug on for a cup of coffee. I have started the practice of using open awareness first thing in the morning when I make my first cup of tea.  Providing an inbuilt structure (timing & location) to a mindfulness practice helps to embed it into your daily life.

It is important to maintain your motivation when the going gets tough or there are things that distract you from your practice.  One way to do this is to write down the reasons why you want to engage in the mindfulness practice.  As you begin to practice, you will find that you will be able to add to your motivation list because you have experienced some positive benefits that you had not alluded to earlier in the practice cycle. Some people even develop a personal mantra to help their motivation, e.g. “be mindful, be my best”.

Mindfulness is within everyone’s reach but each person is different. So a particular mindfulness practice may appeal to one person and not another.  You need to find somewhere to start (or extend) that suits your personal preference and lifestyle.

There are many pathways to mindfulness – mindful breathing, mindful eating, meditation, open awareness, reflective listening, yoga, and Tai Chi – to name a few.  Start somewhere and grow mindfulness from that point.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com