Professionelle resources

Mind Your Mindfulness!

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

Many years ago, a young Buddhist Monk trained in the way of the Buddha for years living in isolation. When he finally left his cave ready to test his progress, he travelled for two weeks by foot to the temple where his master was meditating. The master kept the apprentice waiting for days before allowing him to approach with questions about his studies and about the Buddha.

As the apprentice finally entered the room where the Master was meditating, he was simply bursting with questions and enthusiasm. The Master hushed him and said, “I have but one question for you. As you entered this room, there was a pot with a beautiful plant outside my door. Which side was it on?”

Not being able to answer, the apprentice was sent back to the cave for many years more.

The moral of the story, of course, is that one can study mindfulness all one wants but the true test lies in how it is applied. Being mindful, as the story implies, is about being fully aware of the present. When you are mindful you are aware of yourself, where you are, what you are doing and whether it is the right thing to do.

Sound simple? Well, as the story illustrates, it is anything but. Positive psychology has embraced mindfulness as a key strategy to increase well-being and happiness. There are numerous studies which demonstrate how mindfulness is linked with greater self-awareness and how increased mindfulness promotes greater well-being and reduced stress.

Most women acknowledge how important mindfulness is, and how hard it is to achieve, especially when you work so hard and have to juggle so many things.

The reason I believe mindfulness is challenging for professional women is because we are all very future-minded; indeed it is our future mindedness that has enabled us to get to where we are.

Future Time Orientation

Future time orientation is the bedrock of Western civilisation, according to ‘The Time Paradox’ by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd (reviewed in the preceding chapter). But there is a downside. In our focus to achieve, we miss out on the pleasures of life. We miss out on spending ‘non productive’ time with friends and family, we miss out on just chilling and smelling that proverbial rose. We miss out on being present, living the moment, in short – we forget to be mindful. And in the process we might miss out on the thing that is most important to our well-being: having meaningful relationships with others.

How do you know if you have a strong future time orientation? One way is to do the psychological test designed by Phil Zimbardo:

(https://www.thetimeparadox.com/zimbardo-time-perspective-inventory/). But to start with you can also ask yourself the following questions: Are you:

  • Always or nearly always on time?
  • Very well planned with great to-do lists?
  • Good at getting all regular health checks done?
  • Good at brushing your teeth at night?
  • Good at meeting deadlines?

You get the drift. Chances are that if you are one of our Professionelle members you answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions. The good news is that people with a psychological future orientation achieve more, have better jobs, more money and are generally more successful and are more likely to get the job done!

Why is Mindfulness so Important for ‘Futures’?

Knowing how to be purposefully mindful is what grounds us, gives us perspective and builds our psychological resilience. Learning how to recognise when we are not mindful can literally save us from experiencing a downward spiral of negative emotions.

I know when I am starting to lose it when I start doubting myself on whether or not I left the hand brake on or if I have to check whether I turned the oven off. These things happen because I get lost in my mind – in my future orientation, planning, thinking, organising and not taking time to be in the moment of what I am doing. As soon as this starts to happen, I know I need to do something. Unfortunately, I have observed many people, women and men, who just push on when they start to reach this stage. The result is never pretty. So: how do you ensure you are always mindful?

Tips for Mindfulness

There is a huge amount of literature on the topic now so I will share my secrets with you.

1. Right kinds of exercise

The first secret is choosing a form of exercise that forces you to be in the moment. I love walking and swimming but my mind wanders off and I start thinking, planning and organising. With yoga, I have to be present and through many years of practice I can recognise when I need to make a special effort to stop from launching down the negative spiral of stress and negative emotions.

2. Ten deep breaths

You’ve probably heard it before, but we all need reminding. Learning how to breathe correctly is key to mindfulness. Even if yoga is not your thing, learn how to breathe. At a red light, take 10 really deep breaths and notice how it reduces your stress and forces you to look around – I mean really look around. Being in the present, being mindful.

When you feel a growing sense of stress, that is the time to stop, push everyone away, and take 10 deep breaths. Don’t judge yourself, don’t be hard on yourself, just be. You’ll be surprised how much clearer your head will become.

3. Experience good times in the now to the full

As a ‘future’ whenever we had a holiday or a social occasion, I’d plan for it to be as perfect as possible and when the time came, I’d be thinking about planning the next one, thinking about my goals, in short, thinking about the future.

If you are a ‘future’ it’s important to learn how to take the time to savour and be mindful in many little minutes throughout your day. Notice as many different types of trees every time you take a walk…or the different shades of blue in the ocean and where the ocean meets the sky. Consciously take mental photographs of precious moments and ‘play them back’ later on. These are the mental photos that you can draw on when you feel overwhelmed.

4. Relive and enjoy past good times

Another trick is to use these times to reflect on the past, to think of all the good things that have happened to you and your family since the last time you had a holiday. Cajole your family into doing the same because positive past time orientation is linked to the most well-being benefits.

5. In touch with now Being mindful is experiencing the present in its fullest, without judgement or regret. When I am with family and friends, I try not to think about what I have to do once they have gone. The key is to recognise when you are ‘living in your head’ and losing touch with the now. And if you’re already there, stop, take 10 deep breaths and think what YOU can do to bring more mindfulness into your life.

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