The pow(d)er of now: mindful lessons from the slopes

After a week in the Austrian Alps, I’ve been of reminded how refreshing it is to be living in the moment, entirely focussed on what ‘s happening in the now.

I always choose activity based holidays. I find they’re the best way to switch off. In a way, they create a kind of enforced mindfulness. You focus on the task in hand (whether it’s skiing, cycling, trekking etc). You’ve no doubt heard about the concept of mindfulness. It has its roots in Buddhist meditative practices, and was largely adapted to be more accessible and help people deal with anxiety, stress and depression. However, a growing list of organisations (BT, Google, JP Morgan, PwC, Capital One, Transport for London and the Home Office) are using it as they see the benefits in improving concentration and memory, unlocking creativity and boosting leadership potential. So having now come back to reality, I got thinking about how I can be more mindful on a regular basis:

  1. Exercise: It’s easy to forget that the benefits of exercise extend beyond the physiological. But do you really focus on what you’re doing? As I thought about this blog, I realised that listening to TED talks while walking (which I started doing a few months ago) wasn’t allowing me to focus on the activity itself. So I’ve decided to ditch the ear-buds and opt for silence on some walks; focussing on the surroundings and letting my thoughts come and go. (I’ll always need a sound-track for running though).
  2. Devices: I hardly looked at my phone while skiing, and felt better for not checking it all the time; we check our phones on average every 6 minutes. So how would it be to ‘tune out’ for an hour to really focus on something? In an earlier blog I referenced Pico Lyer’s ‘Art of Stillness’ where he suggests one day a week of taking yourself off-grid. Nice idea, but for most of us unthinkable. I’ve adapted his idea, so in the evenings (Sunday in particular), I try to have at least 2 hours without using a device (and that includes my macbook). It’s hard. Sadly, the only way I can manage this is to physically put the devices in another room and turn them off. But it gives me a sense of freedom and time that feels good.
  3. Just sitting: When did you last sit down at home and just sit? No TV, no radio, no book/magazine. Just you and your thoughts (and maybe a coffee). I wanted to see if I found this useful in any way. It actually feels very alien to start with. I found I was thinking about what I was going to do when I stopped sitting. Not really the idea! But I persevered. Now I find a five-ten minute ‘sitting time’ really does rejuvenate, and you may be surprised about where your thoughts go.
  4. The little things: There has been so much written about enjoying the little things in life. But it really is true. We can be on automatic pilot so much that we miss the small changes and events in our everyday surroundings. Being present and noticing the little things can change your mood, make you smile and encourage you to engage with new people.
  5. Environment: We all feel energised by holidays, and part of that is the change in environment. But you don’t have to go on holiday to get the same sense of rejuvenation. Try altering your route to work, getting the bus part way and walking, or exploring new areas of a city you’ve lived in for many years. Alternatively simply find the nearest park, hill or coast and spend a little time with mother nature, moving away from your daily routine.
  6. Food: One of my work colleagues did a short presentation on mindfulness the other week (we have a ’15 minutes of fame’ initiative where anyone in the agency can talk on any subject). She got everyone to eat chocolate ‘mindfully’. Brilliant. It’s all too easy to shove food down our necks and see it as fuel. See how different it feels when you focus on what you’re eating and think about the flavours.

So, these are a few personal ideas on a subject that’s been widely written about. I hope you find some of it useful.