Mindfulness is a very nebulous term and one that many people are confused as to exactly what it means. I do not claim to be a mindfulness expert, but I will share with you my thoughts on the subject as it relates to leadership and team development.
In short, mindfulness is about being aware of the world around you. The good, the bad, the pressures, the stressors, the people and the events around you and how you interact and respond to this world.
In my mind mindfulness can be equated to conscious competence. In all that we do we can interact in one of four ways; unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence.
Unconscious incompetence is the beginner’s experience. One in which you are so novice you do not know good from bad and right from wrong. As you navigate your way in this new world, and your eye’s and your mind are open you begin to learn and this is when you become consciously incompetent.
Conscious incompetence is a world of learning. It is not a place you want to stay for long, but it is an important place and one full of lessons. In this state you become aware of what you know and what you do not know. What you need to learn and who you need to learn it from. You become a sponge and soak in everything around you. As you pass through this state you move into the realm of conscious competence.
In conscious competence you are hyper aware of everything around you. Your eye’s, ears, and mind are open. Every task is a challenge to be met and you meet it head on. You consider all aspects of what is around you, your goals, your skills, your resources and you build a very deliberate plan for success. You become focused.
Lastly is unconscious competence. The panicle of learning and evolution. The term unconscious is applied because you are not consciously thinking, you are just doing. Your collective memory takes over and you fly on automatic pilot. This state has its applications and its pros and cons and in most instances I would say it is not a place one wants to operate in a team and business environment. Unconscious incompetence implies not deliberate thought. It is a place where you act from habit using what has worked for you in the past.
The idea behind mindfulness is to place yourself in a state of conscious competence where you are aware of all that is around you and how you and others influence events and one another. What you want to do is to knock yourself out of your unconscious competence state and become hyper aware of all of the nuances of all that is around you.
It is often said that to be mindful you should focus on: being non-judgmental, being patient, having a beginners mind, being trustful, not striving, being accepting, letting go, and being generous.
To accomplish this one often starts by learning how to shut out the noise and distractions that are constantly around us. You want to block out the unwanted, energize your powers, and open your mind. This puts you in a place when you can perform at your best and deal with pressures, stress, and challenges the best.
In the Summit Team Building Deliberate Success model we refer to this as reflection and one way many people achieve this is through meditation.
Many people do not think meditation is for them, but that is often because they have a narrow view of what meditation is. Many of us see meditation in its traditional form. The yogi or monk sitting on a mountain top, legs crossed and arms held out in a peaceful stance. They stay like this for hours and even days. Not talking and not thinking. Just being. While this is a form of meditation, the goal of meditation is really just to clear your mind and to become aware of all that is around you.
For our purposes we will ask you to give meditation a try as a way of leading you to mindfulness. You do not need to climb a mountain or go to your closest Buddhist Monastery. All you need to do is find a quiet place. This may be at home before the chaos of the day takes over or it may be at your desk during a break. Some even do it while going for a walk. You do not need to do this for an hour or two. Fifteen or even ten minutes will do. Shut out all distractions and just focus on your breathing. As your mind wanders to other things, bring it back and just focus on your breathing. You will no doubt struggle at this, buy do not beat yourself up and abandon the challenge. It may take you weeks to get to the point where you can sit still for ten minutes and just clear your mind.
Now you may be asking how this is related to mindfulness. Well, in order to be mindful you need to learn how to control your mind. Our mind is an immensely powerful tool and one that most frequently controls us. We act in what we believe is an unconsciously competent state, but without knowing it we sometimes are actually being unconsciously incompetent. When we are aware of our mind, our thoughts, our feeling, and the people, events, and interactions around us we are in a better place to choose the right course of action. The right words or the right emotional response.