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When management consultants go into a workplace to review the processes and systems the company has in place, they like to ask: “Why do you do it this way?” When the answer is: “We’ve always done it this way,” a light goes on in the consultant’s brain.
We often do things out of habit. We forget to ask why. But what may have started as a shortcut process because of some technical issue may no longer be the best way to do things.
This is where mindfulness comes in. If we are mindful of our actions, we bring awareness to our behavior. Are we doing something out of habit or making a conscious decision? When we make a conscious decision, it gives our actions authenticity.
According to Greater Good Magazine, “mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” By becoming mindful of why we behave in certain ways, we can determine if we are responding in the best way.
How can we increase our mindfulness in our day-to-day life?
Meditation is just one tool we can use to help us be more mindful. It helps us focus on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. But if you’re like me and struggle to slow down your mind, there are other ways to work on your mindfulness. Mindful walking, for example, is walking with a focus on the journey, not the destination. In this practice, you use all your senses to bring yourself into the present moment.
Here are three great ways to increase your mindfulness and your effectiveness as a leader.
1. Take a bath in the forest.
Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese word for “forest bathing.” This involves taking a walk in nature and using all your senses to be present, in the moment. If you focus on the sound of the leaves rustling with the breeze, the smell of the damp earth and the sunlight streaming through the leaves, you are practicing mindfulness.
If you practice regularly, you will notice that your ability to be mindful and aware of your actions increases. This increased awareness will permeate the rest of your thinking. When you make decisions at work, you will bring increased awareness and authenticity to your actions.
I was working in my home office the other day when my young daughter came in to show me something. She made slime at a birthday party and she was so excited to show me. I had a million things going on. I was stressed out. I looked over and said, “Oh, that’s awesome.” Then I went back to what I was doing.
The lesson I learned upon reflection later was how big of a deal this had been to her — and what an opportunity I had missed out on to be present with her at that moment. I should have just stopped what I was doing and focused on her.
Just acknowledging this fact helped me learn and grow. Next time I know I will be more mindful and more present in the moment.
2. Practice mindfulness to increase your own authenticity — and trust among your team.
When we make decisions from a place of authenticity, we feel more comfortable because we’ve thought about our actions and arrived at decisions that make sense to us. And when people understand why they are doing something, it helps them buy into what they are doing.
An effective leader leads from a position of authenticity. They have thought about why they are asking their employees to do something. They have spent time reflecting on what they believe and why. They are also open-minded to changing their views based on new information.
Through mindfulness and authenticity, your behavior will become consistent, and consistent behavior creates trust. This helps the people around you know what to expect and trust you will do the right thing, always. That is one of the core values of our company: Our employees are made clear on the parameters of and reasoning behind any decision we make.
3. Avoid the trap: Don’t do things simply because you’ve always done them that way.
Take the time to question why it is you do certain things. Is it because you’ve always done them that way?
Do you vote for a particular party because your parents did? Our parents may have unwittingly instilled certain beliefs in us because of the era in which they grew up. Many of those beliefs are valuable, such as the frugality practiced by those who grew up in the Great Depression — but others may no longer be valid.
Practice mindfulness of your own circumstances. When you are faced with a decision, take some time to think about the “why.” If you are mindful of your thoughts, you will grow more aware of your own behavior, rendering your actions more authentic.
Become a more authentic, trustworthy leader through mindfulness.
In my experience, getting more in touch with the reasons behind your own actions through mindfulness can support enormous growth in both authenticity and leadership. Whether it’s taking the time to re-connect with nature or a loved one — or take advantage of an opportunity you might otherwise ignore — this practice can lead to the open-minded but consistent, authentic behavior essential to strong leadership.