Mindfulness – what is it and why is it important?


Awhile back (September 17, 2011) I wrote a four part series called The Zen of Product Management where I introduced the idea of rational theory aka mindfulness as a tool to manage product portfolios.  As I sat here thinking about what I wanted to write on this morning I went through my mental exercises that I’ve come to rely on to help focus my thoughts.  As I increased my awareness of the moment I was in, several things became apparent to me.

  1. I’m still sick.  I had a terrible head-cold all weekend and while I feel significantly better, I actually feel pretty bad still.  I need to continue to take it easy for awhile.
  2. I’m on a conference call “multi-tasking” and it would be better if I paid attention to the call exclusively and not multi-task.  I still need to work on that.
  3. It’s cold in my office still.
  4. I’m now aware of the present and no ideas for a post have come to me…wait…I wrote something on being aware, didn’t I?

It was at that point that I wanted to bring this idea forward in my chronicle of reality and give it a new lens.

Being aware of ones current situation seems very simple but it is also one of the toughest mental challenges I’ve ever accepted.  I use the following as some guiding principals in meditation and introspection.

Focus on now, not yesterday and not tomorrow.  

You cannot change yesterday and you cannot guarantee tomorrow but you can influence your own actions right now.

Pay attention to how often you use the word should.  

Should is a very irrational word.  When you use the word should what you’re doing is fighting the current state of things.  For example, I hear thing like this all the time, “Mike should work harder” or “Sarah shouldn’t do that she should do this.”  Should is a past-tense concept that expresses dismay and longing for things to be different – which is great – but things aren’t different.  Things are the way they are.

Everything is EXACTLY the way it is because all the conditions exist for it to be that way.

A supporting concept for not using the word should.  Once you accept that everything is the way it is and that’s OK then you can move to improving your current state.  Commonly at this point many will say that this position is one of weakness…simply accepting everything as it is means we don’t control anything and therefore we should just give up.  I agree with the middle part of that statement, we don’t control anything (but ourselves) but that doesn’t mean that we should give up.  I’ll use this example I read in Overcoming Frustration and Anger by Paul Hauck many years ago while I was going through my divorce.  In his book Hauck talks about a woman who is in an abusive relationship and how irrational it is for her to think that things should be different – I know right?  Shocking.  But when he presents the options she has before her it becomes evident that it’s the only rational approach.  This person is being abused by her spouse regularly but she hasn’t left – she loves him.  She wishes things were different and hopes that they will change.  This isn’t irrational – but expecting that they will change is.  Since we don’t control anything but ourselves we can’t really effect change elsewhere.  Sure we can influence situations and events but we cannot control them – they play out based on the factors that are present.  So given this information she has only two rational choices: 1 – accept her situation and stay or 2 – reject her situation and leave.

What’s the point Ernie?

The point is this – in all aspects of life, worrying about the past and fretting over the distant future are often fruitless efforts.  Focusing on the here and now, acting in good faith and with good intention to guide yourself along the path that you have chosen creates the ideal circumstance for you to have the experiences you desire.  It does not guarantee them, but it creates the best possible chance for them to occur.  Since your outcome is not certain, how do you ensure personal well being?  You envision and execute multiple paths to success.  Being rigid and having only one way to feel successful is a sure path to failure.

How am I applying this today?

Those that know me know that I have gained a substantial amount of weight in the last 6 months – almost 30 pounds at this point.  It’s getting a little ridiculous actually.  But there’s nothing I can do about the weight, it’s already here.  It would be better if it wasn’t but it is.  So I can either accept it and buy all new clothes or reject it and lose weight.  Since there’s no clear path I’ve created multiple paths to success.  I’ve told myself that I am what I am and there’s no changing that so I’ve added to my wardrobe.  I’ve also sectioned off all the clothes that don’t fit in my wardrobe for the day when I lose the weight.  In the interim I am successful if I lose weight or if I don’t lose weight.  I’ve told myself that I’m not successful if I gain anymore weight but I’ve also envisioned a world where I add a third section to my closet.  At the end of the day I’m not married to a particular outcome but rather understand and am comfortable with each of them AND have created an ideal situation (losing the weight) but not linked myself to that singular goal.  The result?  By removing the pressure I’ve actually started to lose weight relatively effortlessly.

Let me know your thoughts – post you comments here or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.