Across the corporate world and beyond, mindfulness is all the rage. Consultants and gurus are selling books, lectures, retreats, and meditation classes that promise to make workers happier, healthier, more loyal, and more creative. Perhaps they can reach nirvana too.
A “mindfulness” search in my App Store produces an endless list of offerings. Guided meditation, relaxing ambient noise, 8-minute-(brain)-abs, improved aura, self esteem and more. My BS alarm has been sounding.
I always do my homework, so I decided to look a little deeper. What I see is a growing mindfulness-industrial-complex dedicated to selling people more of their problem — distraction. Apps seem particularly silly to me. Anybody who is engaged in their life should have plenty to keep their brain busy. Depending on a phone for meditation seems to miss the point, and I don’t need a book to teach me how to focus.
My grandpa taught me the ultimate mindfulness technique when I was 8 years old: pay attention to what you’re doing. That’s it — just the opposite of being absent-minded. Of course mindfulness improves performance. Multitasking means we’re not operating at peak performance on the task at hand.
Paying attention helps with everything, even if there is no task. Relationships are all about relating to another person, and that demands real listening. Even walking to the store calls for attention. I constantly see people wandering around glued to their phones and wonder how they get across the street without being flattened by a bus.
Focusing attention on the present moment, no matter what we’re doing, is one of the great keys to a healthy and high-performing life. Few things will leave me feeling happier or more refreshed than a workout. Stressing my heart, lungs, and muscles gets my in touch with my body and puts my attention into my senses. I don’t need a story to entertain me or a problem to solve. I can just be.
Whether it’s through exercise, sitting still, or performing a hobby at a high level, focus without distraction is definitely good for health. It’s calming, and unless we’re in imminent danger, stress isn’t healthy. I also believe that calm and happy people really are more creative.
I fully endorse taking time to clear your head. Whenever I’m stressed, I try to remember to step back, breathe, and focus on the present moment. As my petty troubles recede, I can see the big picture, and my problems rarely seem serious anymore. Then it’s easy to refocus my energies on what really matters.
The way mindfulness is thrown around now, it sounds like just another one of those buzzwords that sweeps the business world every so often. Much of the mindfulness industry is probably a fad, but there’s also something really valuable in the message. I’m glad to see that filtering out distraction and just paying attention is back in style.