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People often confuse the concept of mindfulness with the idea that one should “stop and smell the roses.” However, if you found yourself with your nose stuck deep into a flower in a field where an angry bull was bearing down on you, this would be the exact opposite of being mindful. Put simply, mindfulness is a state of mind where you are fully conscious and engaged in the present moment and with the demands of the present moment.

Mindfulness is a natural state of being. Throughout our lives we are frequently in this state without realizing it. If you have ever heard a noise at night and went to investigate, the level of attention that you bring to that situation is a good example of being mindful. However, we frequently divide our attention and, by necessity, we will selectively ignore aspects of our environment. When watching a sporting event on television, for example, a particularly enrapt fan might tune out conversation that is occurring around him or her in order to pay closer attention to the game. If the sports fanatics in this scenario consciously thought about paying attention to the conversations around them rather than the game on television, they could. In this sense, mindfulness is a mental skill that you can develop through practice.

While improving mindfulness is helpful as an intervention between our emotional cues and our reactions, it won’t prevent us from feeling emotions or having angry thoughts at times. Nor is this desirable. In order to make effective use of the intervention that mindfulness provides, we need to better understand how we feel, why we feel, and what to do with those feelings. Psychologists use the term emotional intelligence to refer to this understanding.

Whenever you feel emotionally ill at ease, it is completely natural for your thinking to become distorted as well. During high arousal periods when our thoughts race, we can make both logical and intuitional leaps that may or may not hold up when further examined. When our focus narrows, we close ourselves off to possible information and circle over the same types of destructive thoughts repeatedly. Cognitive psychologists refer to these as automatic thinking, which falls into various patterns. Using mindfulness to identify what our thoughts are doing helps us to make the necessary changes in our thinking which will allow us to improve the situation. These next two modules focus on various kinds of distorted thinking patterns.

As you become more mindful and aware of your own distorted thinking in times of distress, you may notice your own tendency to fall into specific distorted thinking patterns more so than others. Before describing additional distorted thinking patterns.

Identifying distorted thoughts and counteracting them is one option for how you can choose your reaction to emotions. Typically, though, in order to have the wherewithal to identify an emotion or a distorted thinking pattern, you have to be in a place of calm already. While correcting a distorted notion with logic sounds simple, in practice it isn’t always the most practical approach. An alternative to choosing a reaction to your emotions is to do nothing altogether. In order to do this, however, you have to get to a point where you see your “self” – the person you refer to when you say “I” – as separate from your thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) seeks to foster this form of detachment, which has been vitally helpful for those who suffer from extreme anxiety in particular.

Becoming mindful of your mental and emotional states, logically counteracting your distortions in thinking, or detaching yourself from them – all of these approaches to handling emotions will reveal two fundamental truths about the emotions: first, they are transitory; and second, the “negative” emotions tend to attract the most attention. It is perfectly natural to notice and even fixate on the negative – all the things in your life or in others’ lives that are going badly. The positive emotions, such as optimism and enthusiasm, they come and go, and frequently we take them for granted. There is a way to keep yourself oriented towards the positive, however, and being positively oriented is helpful in cultivating the high arousal, high performance emotions that can be the difference between a job that is tedious and a job that is rewarding. The secret is cultivating a sense of gratitude.

As you become more mindful of your patterns of thinking and feeling, and as you become more grateful and pos itively oriented, you may note that when you approach a task with the right attitude, you tend to do better at that task. Although swing emotions such as anger and anxiety can motivate us to improve our circumstances, being able to incorporate emotions characterized both by high arousal and a wider focus will improve our performance in both our professional and personal lives.

Businesses can only be successful to the degree that they keep their customers happy. A single bad customer service experience can affect a business as drastically as numerous positive customer service experiences, so it’s vital to approach these types of interactions with a clear and mindful focus and a positive outlook, even when it appears to be a difficult experience, especially then.

As you develop a greater awareness of the interplay of your thoughts and emotions, you will find that you have a leg up on your peers. Practicing mindfulness actually helps to make you a better leader, and modeling mindfulness for the rest of your co-workers helps to make your corporate culture a more positive and productive one. While the recommended approach to practicing mindfulness has been to engage in a mindfulness meditation for 10 to 20 minutes a day, this serves well as an introduction. To take your mindfulness practice to another level, engaging in two twenty minute meditation sessions daily is ideal. A mindful approach to leadership will enhance your mental toughness, increase your ability to focus selectively on that which you need to focus on, improve your capacity to feel compassion, and loosen the constraints we naturally place upon ourselves that inhibit our creativity. When studying these aspects of mindful leadership, it is important to remember that each concept overlaps and builds upon all the other concepts.

We have more information about Improving Mindfulness in our Resource Centre

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