Do you have a “monkey mind?” This wonderfully colorful description describes someone who starts thinking about the challenges of the day ahead the moment they wake up—their mind racing through a list of have to’s, should have’s and why did I’s? As Entrepreneur points out, a restless mind can cause trouble sleeping, poor decision-making, anxiety and even depression—none of which helps us excel during a demanding day. A monkey mind distracts us from the task at hand, creating stress and impairing productivity.
A useful way to address this, in addition to a healthy diet and exercise, is by practicing mindfulness. Founder of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the mindfulness movement that’s sweeping Western societies. By moving mindfulness-based stress reduction into the mainstream, he has helped many people improve their health and well-being—and to experience the pleasure of living in the moment. He called this the “awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose.”
Mindfulness is paying attention to the here and now; holding tight to the moment. Kabat-Zinn, who has trained everyone from the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team to employees at Google, argues that mindfulness is good for the workplace, as reducing stress can improve employees’ work and health. Certainly stress-reduction is central to Quality of Life and overall well-being, and research on mindfulness and meditation indicates that they have a positive effect on both mind and body.
It’s not mystical or difficult, although “quieting the monkey mind” takes some practice. Kabat-Zinn includes a variety of techniques in his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, which is offered in over 700 medical centers. You can start small to get a sense of what mindfulness means: participants at Sodexo’s Quality of Life Conference each took a single raisin and took time to feel it and smell it before finally eating it slowly. This exercise enables the individual to become fully aware of what he or she is doing as they take time to fully process and be in the moment.
Being mindful and living in the moment is freeing. When we give ourselves permission to focus on one thing at a time, we may find that our thought processes are clearer, our conclusions better and our quality of life improved. Try the raisin exercise or instead of jumping out of bed tomorrow morning, stop and take a few minutes to just lay there, breathe, and be present. Enjoy the “awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose.”
Deborah Hecker is Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility for Sodexo North America and a strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life. Ms. Hecker believes that sustainable practices and public-private partnerships are keys to driving better individual, organizational and community performance.