Staying in the Present

I finished 2011 exhausted and about as close to burnout as I have been in my short professional career. I took time over the holidays to read, reenergize and reevaluate. Through my reading, I learned that I am completely responsible for how I felt at the end of the year, and if I wanted to stay strong all year in 2012, I needed to make some personal changes.

My journey to understanding how I came to burnout and finding the solution started with reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO at Zappos, and in his book, he talked about his pursuit of being happy and the books he read to learn more. I did not necessarily need to find a way to be happier, but I was intrigued by a book he recommended called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt and another book that I came across called Mindfulness Solution by Ronald D. Siegel. I read both books and they led me to discover why I felt tired, and to my 2012 new year’s resolution, which is the subject of this career tip: to be more mindful.

The goal of being mindful is to focus on the present and what is happening at that moment. Too often, my brain is off in the future worrying about some potential event, planning the next work trip, worried if I am going to get enough sleep with the 6:30 a.m. flight departure the next day, etc. If it is not in the future, my brain easily wanders to the past and relives conversations, questions if I said everything right, or gets upset about a small conflict I had with someone. Then, my brain still had to focus on what I was doing right at that moment – driving, interviewing, presenting, writing, etc.

The books argued that by being mindful of the present, I would reduce my anxiety, conserve my energy, and find more enjoyment in my life. I started to make the connection that my mind is no different than my other muscles. I like to work out and I understand the fitness principle of giving muscles time to recover. I work on my chest and back on Mondays, cardio on Tuesdays, Yoga and flexibility on Wednesdays, arms on Thursdays, and legs and back on Fridays. Each muscle gets time to recover. I was not treating my mind the same way. I was constantly working it – in the present, the future, the past. I was even waking up in the middle of the night solving problems.

I learned to start slowly with informal mindfulness practices. For example, when I drive, I focus on driving and what I am doing. Most people drive and think and the mind wanders. Has it ever happened to you that you were driving and then suddenly you arrived someplace and you were not 100% conscious of your drive? Were you somewhat focused on the drive, but your mind was also wandering? Yes, this happens to me often. However, now I use my drive to work to be more mindful. I am focused on the drive. I try to keep to keep it focused (though my brain sometimes wanders) and enjoy what I am doing. I am using my mind for one thing, and not solving future problems not rehashing a conflict from yesterday.

I also started to take time each day to quiet my mind. I started a journal (my best companion now when I am on the road all by myself), continue to do Yoga each week, and sometimes just sit quietly by myself. I also started having my first cup of coffee in the morning by myself – no paper, iPad, or kids – just really sit quietly.

During this first month of 2012, I have really noticed a difference in my energy (not to mention my patience!). By keeping the journal, I recognized how often in 2011, my mind was always on and going in multiple directions. I noticed a significant difference and I committed to mindfulness in 2012.

This might be too “soft” of an idea for some, and I assure you, I was skeptical as well. I encourage you to at least research all 3 of the books I mentioned above, try to be more mindful, and enjoy the present moment. You will reap many benefits and so will those around you. The benefits I have seen so far? I lost about 6 pounds already in 2012 by being more mindful of what I eat, eating slowly and tasting and enjoying my food; I am more patient and energized; I am sleeping through the night, both at home and on the road; and, although I am not home more now than last year, I am more present when I am there.

Quote:“Thinking and planning, wonderful and useful as they are, are at the heart of our daily emotional distress because unlike other tools, we can’t seem to put these down when we don’t need them. They keep us worrying about the future, regretting the past, comparing ourselves to one another in thousands of ways, and forever scheming about how to make things better…Our constant thinking can make it impossible to wholeheartedly enjoy a meal or listen to our child, or fall back asleep in the middle of the night” – Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, The Mindfulness Solution

Joel Junker

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