Our lives are governed by a voice in our heads.
This voice is engaged in an endless stream of thinking. This mental chatter starts the minute we open our eyes in the morning until the minute we fall asleep at night.
As someone who deals with moderate anxiety, learning how to tame this voice has become one of the most fascinating - and most frustrating - life puzzles.
Experts estimate that we have upwards of 50,000 thoughts per day.
Most of our thoughts are random. Many of our thoughts are short-lived. But in our overinformed and overstressed and world today, all of these thoughts can be a bit much.
We need to learn to turn the volume down when we want to.
This is the practice of mindfulness.
Before I go any further, I want to stress (no pun intended) I am by no means an expert on this topic. I struggle with the notion that I feel qualified enough to publish an article on this subject.
However, the more I research and reflect on the topic of mindfulness, I believe it is important I share my findings with others. While what I know about the topic is minimal, I realize there are many others who also struggle to turn off the voice in their heads.
By sharing the little I do know, I am hopeful others will realize they are not alone and as they try to cage the monkey mind.
In his book Own The Day, Aubrey Marcus suggests, “Mindfulness is not that complicated - it's simply being aware and conscious in the present moment. That's it. The next time you're supposed to be doing something and you catch yourself focusing on something else, that is a moment when you're not being mindful. You probably have more of those moments then you'd like to admit. But that's why mindfulness as a practice can be so powerful. It can help bring you back to the present moment, and in doing so expand and prepare your mind for what lies ahead of you the rest of your day.”
Whether you call it mindfulness, meditation, or brain training, there is something powerful about sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing. By closing your eyes and focusing on your breath, you can instantly put yourself into a relaxed space.
There is an absurd amount of data mounting about the beneficial impact of meditation on performance, productivity, memory, and focus. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Mindfulness is found to be a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness … Practicing mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological symptoms as well as positive changes in health, attitudes, and behaviors.”
One of my biggest apprehensions about exploring mindfulness were the negative connotations. I’ve often thought of mindfulness to be anti-religious or reserved for those involved in Eastern religions such as Buddhism or Hinduism.
I was happy to read mindfulness experts push back on this idea. In his book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, Dan Harris addresses these concerns: “When it comes to religious concerns, push back with science. Look at the brain research. No one has to give up any religion that they believe in. It's really just a practice. It's not a tie to being any kind of faith … mindfulness is very much mental and emotional skills that everyone can benefit from, regardless of the nature of their belief.”
Again, I am by no means an expert on mindfulness and am uncertain how to interpret its commingling with religion.
However, one thing I do know is the voice in my head is often fixated on the past and future, at the expense of whatever is happening right now. My voice is always making lists or rehearsing arguments. I’m always considering old mistakes or fearing some not-yet-arrived events. The voice in my head is always dissatisfied and nothing is good enough.
Therefore, I have found the art of letting go of those thoughts to be a worthwhile investment of my time and research.
Looking for one quick and easy way to work on mindfulness?
Try tactical breathing:
Breath through your nose for a count of four.
Hold in that breath for a count of four.
Slowly exhale for a count of four.
Hold the empty breath for a count of four.
That’s it. You’re practicing mindfulness.
As leaders, learning how to manage the voice in our head can be the difference limited potential and doing amazing things.
Do not be scared of mindfulness.
Control your thoughts rather than let your thoughts control you.