Mindfulness is all the rage these days, with companies like GE, Google, Amex, and Ford paying as much as $50,000 to show a large group of employees how to attain it. It’s certainly better than mindlessness. For a lot of people, though, mindfulness has become conflated with meditation, and that misses the point, not to mention mindfulness’s value in the workplace. Author Matthew E. May wrote an instructive article about mindfulness in a New York Times Preoccupations column.
Mindfulness in the West means being present in the moment. Its main point is developing the ability to view things more open-mindedly so that prior assumptions don’t cloud your ability to see things as they really are. It can free you to see otherwise hidden opportunities for good things to happen.
May uses a seemingly incorrect math equation to show the difference between a typical and mindful perspective.
New York Times
When asked what is the fewest number of sticks you’d have to move to correct the equation, the typical thinker answers “one,” seeing this a straightforward math question. The mindful thinker, on the other hand, might say “none,” having realized that if the equation is turned upside down or viewed in a mirror, it’s correct as is.
The key to mindfulness is remembering that your view of a situation is only one of many possible views, and therefore, things may be different than what you initially perceive. May suggests a great self-distancing routine to try. It has two aspects.
First, acknowledge you’ve been assuming the bad thing will happen. Maybe it won’t. Come up with three reasons it might not. This can help you feel less stressed because you’ve gone from “something terrible is going to happen” to “maybe that terrible thing won’t happen; maybe it will.” This subtle shift alone can defuse tension.
Second, come up with three good things that will happen anyway if — or even because — the terrible thing happens. This can be calming, since it helps you feel that even if your worst fear comes to pass, there may still be positive outcomes in addition to the obvious negative ones.
The idea is to let mindfulness help you be less defensively reactive in life and help you recognize and embrace opportunities in a positive, responsive manner.