3 Mindfulness Mistakes — And How Leaders Can Avoid Them
In last week’s blog post, I described how mindfulness can help leaders perform more effectively. It can help leaders like you reduce stress, remain open to new ideas and concepts, stay present and improve overall health. I can tell you that from personal experience, mindfulness has been an absolute game changer for me and my ability to perform. And I have seen how the cultivation of a mindfulness practice has helped countless leaders from various industries gain an edge in their respective roles.
When it is practiced regularly and consistently, mindfulness has a truly amazing and transformative impact on leadership. But it can be quite tricky to get into a sustained practice with a method that really works. In fact, a lot of leaders dismiss mindfulness because they just cannot seem to make sense of how the practice should look and how it should feel. From what I have seen, leaders often experience setbacks with their mindfulness practices when they make common, minor mistakes.
These mindfulness mistakes are widespread, and they keep people from grasping the real benefits of the practice. Some of them are based on misconceptions and misunderstandings of mindfulness. Others are based on faulty expectations of what mindfulness should do. Regardless, these common mindfulness mistakes are easily addressed and corrected. You just have to be mindful enough to notice them first!
Mindfulness Mistake #1 — Assuming There Is No Time for It
Everybody is busy these days. Leaders are particularly tied up when it comes to the time they have available in each day. But I think it’s a mistake to assume that time cannot be made for mindfulness.
Leaders tend to feel like making time for mindfulness means sacrificing time they would otherwise use to “get stuff done.” To me, this indicates a major misunderstanding of what it means to be mindful! First of all, mindfulness is a practice that doesn’t require you to stop anything you’re doing. Rather, it’s all about paying attention to what you’re doing and remaining in the moment. Yes, you can cultivate mindfulness by practicing meditation for 10 or 20 minutes each day, which will require you to take time from something else. But this practice will improve your ability to get things done efficiently. The time you spend in meditation will come back to you multiplied when you are more present, aware and mindful of your activities.
Even if you do not practice meditation, you can integrate mindfulness into your daily life. It can be done while you’re driving, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, exercising at the gym or preparing your breakfast. As long as you are paying attention to the present moment and watching your attention, you are practicing mindfulness.
Certainly, I recommend taking time to sit in meditation as a more formal manner of practicing mindfulness. But if you simply cannot justify taking the extra time for it, you can at least exercise your mindfulness muscles as you participate in the activities that make up your day. You will soon find that mindfulness can be applied to any activity or process, usually with tremendous benefits attached!
Mindfulness Mistake # 2 — Assuming Mindfulness Requires 100% Focus and Concentration At All Times
A lot of people who try meditation or other mindfulness practices give up after a short time because they find themselves unable to stay focused on it.
To them, I would say that the point of mindfulness isn’t to concentrate, focus or free your mind of thoughts! Rather, it is about paying attention:
- To the thoughts coming and going
- To how one’s focus and concentration change and shift over time
- To emotions that rise and fall
- To physical sensations that arise and drift away
I have noticed that a lot of people expect complete focus and concentration during a mindfulness practice. This should not be your expectation! Instead, go into your practice with an open mind and the knowledge that your thoughts and concentration will drift. If you begin by focusing on your breathing, for example, you may find yourself occupying your mind with something else entirely while you forget about the focus on your breath. This is okay! The point of mindfulness is to notice these moments and return to your focus. This is how you strengthen the mindfulness muscle!
As noted Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says, “The healing is in the return, not in never having left.”
Mindfulness Mistake #3 — Dismissing It as “Boring”
Whenever I hear someone describe mindfulness as “boring” I know they aren’t doing it right!
I can empathize with this response, though, especially when I hear it from Leaders. Leaders are usually dynamic, driven and exciting people. They are accustomed to high-energy situations and a fast pace of action. Mindfulness could not be more different from what they are used to in their “normal” lives. But in most cases, it is exactly what they need as the antidote to lives and careers that are running off the rails.
For those who find mindfulness boring, I would suggest some different tactics. As I mentioned above, mindfulness does not have to be practiced in still silence. So if you would prefer to engage in walking meditation or some other, more active method of mindfulness, I say go for it!
You can also try to shorten the time you sit in meditation, gradually increasing the time as your tolerance for stillness increases. For many leaders, the stillness and quiet aren’t the problem; rather, the problem is their negative reaction to the stillness and quiet. Learning to tolerate uncomfortable situations is a huge benefit of mindfulness, so I encourage you to do what you can to work through the boredom. I can promise you that on the other side is a richer, fuller and far less boring life!
As you develop your mindfulness practice, you will probably discover that it is the opposite of boring. Your internal world will come alive, and you will discover fascinating new aspects of yourself and your mind. It may seem boring at first, but trust me — when you have honed your mindfulness practice over time, it will become one of the aspects of your daily life that you look forward to the most.
We All Make Mindfulness Mistakes
These three mindfulness mistakes are very common, and they prevent a lot of individuals from experiencing the very real benefits of the practice. Thankfully, these mistakes are easily forgiven, and easily corrected. Remember, mindfulness is about the practice. We all make “mistakes” in our mindfulness practice, but the biggest mistake of all is dwelling on them. Instead, simply notice them happening and gently return to the practice. The more you do this, the more you will get out of mindfulness.