The concept of mindfulness has found its way into corporate speak, as professionals are encouraged to combat the frenetic pace of work by slowing down, pausing, and being more present. Creativity and learning require an ability to get off the hamster wheel and simply think. This is easier said than done, as we juggle multiple technologies, busy travel schedules, fatigue, and lengthening workdays.
Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelm, is igniting the debate on the unsustainable pace of our lives. As she recently wrote in the Washington Post, overwhelm is not just a big city problem – she focus grouped people in Fargo, ND who feel buried in demands. We often feel proud of our packed days even as we complain about our lack of downtime.
In fact, this busyness is the opposite of mindfulness, because we get lost in our activities in a sort of mindlessness. It takes us away from the state of creative thought that, increasingly, we need to do complex jobs.
Ellen Langer, the Harvard psychology professor who popularized the term mindfulness, recently reflected on our current state of affairs in an in-depth interview with Harvard Business Review. Langer has studied mindfulness for nearly 40 years, and has seen the tide turn a couple of times in society’s focus and acceptance of it. Langer has much to say about how anyone can increase their creativity, happiness, and effectiveness by harnessing the act of being mindful.
With so many leaders out there trying to balance hectic schedules with peak performance with enjoyment of a very full life, here are some of her reflections worth sharing.
I see many companies trying to encourage smart risk-taking. At the same time, they have a culture that punishes mistakes. When those two concepts co-exist, people will always play it safe.
Langer discusses the need for leaders to be open to challenging the status quo – even if it means not knowing the answer. She explains, “I tell leaders they should make not knowing OK…rather than acting like they know, so everyone else pretends they know, which leads to all sorts of discomfort and anxiety.”
By showing that it’s okay to not have the right answer, and even to fail in pursuit of it, you can help yourself and others break out of routinized, mindless thinking.
A great practice to ask is, “If I had to do this another way, what would that look like?”
When things go wrong, ask, is this a tragedy or an inconvenience?
Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously said that there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. The negative spiral of frustration leads swiftly to mindless reactions. Taking a moment to challenge your initial reaction to bad news can help shift your perspective.
When you realize that most disappointments are merely that, and not irreversibly damaging events or major losses, you’ll likely feel calmer and better able to face the problem and find a solution. I use the term “champagne problems” to remind us that all too often, other people would love to have the so-called problems we have.
Be open to complex solutions, not right-or-wrong answers.
Mindfulness isn’t just about being better in tune with your surroundings; it’s taking advantage of the knowledge you gain by doing this and using it to help you see the world and your problems in new ways.