The first time I heard about Eckhart Tolle was when he was a guest on Oprah. I was in high school, and Oprah promised that his book, “The Power of Now,” would change my life, so I immediately ran out and purchased a copy along with millions of others around the world looking for change through mindfulness.
I wish I could say that he immediately changed my life, but I admit, I was confused. “Live in the present,” “discover the ego,” and “you are not your thoughts” were just some of the ideas that flew over my head. I don’t think I even knew what it meant to be mindful!
I recall several instances where I was doing a yoga practice and trying to be present, but I couldn’t calm the voices in my head worrying me about my work or other things that I needed to get done.
I wondered if I would be able to accomplish everything I wanted if I took time to focus my mind on a present moment, as if it were a waste of time to live in the present when there were so many supposedly crucial things to stress about!
It was as if I wondered if I needed the worry in order to achieve, or if focusing on the present moment would somehow lessen what I was able to do.
I remember having a professor during my graduate studies who was asked by a student how he was able to accomplish so many great things in his career. He replied that he neglected his physical and mental health so he would have to time to do more.
Our modern culture certainly does applaud individuals that do a lot. We apply pressure to younger and younger students to learn more and study longer hours, and when it comes to growing up and getting a job, the more work you do, the better!
I admit, I’ve always been a doer too – an anxious busy-body type. And as I began a mindfulness practice like that taught by Eckhart Tolle, I wondered if I would have to sacrifice some of my lofty career goals in order to gain the promised benefits of living in the now.
What IS Mindfulness?
As a professional mindfulness coach, I teach people how to live in the present moment and learn the balance of accepting things that cannot change and working to change the things that can.
To me, mindfulness is learning to accept that you cannot change the past or the future, so the best thing you can do in any moment is to live in that moment. One of the first benefits of this practice is less anxiety, but the list of benefits goes on as long as my arm, and as a man of 6’3″ I have very long arms!
If you are already on board to include mindfulness in your busy schedule, that is great. If you are still unsure, check out this article by the American Psychological Association.
Why Aren’t We Mindful?
Research of mindfulness is still relatively new, but the proven benefits are hard to ignore. So why do millions of people around the world still find themselves ignoring their minds and overworking themselves like I did?
Perhaps it is because people think they have to give up everything in order to have a truly mindful existence. I have often thought it would be nice to build a mindfulness practice with some monks in the mountains. I could possibly reach enlightenment if I didn’t have work or family responsibilities distracting me.
But what good is a mindfulness practice if I have to give up my career and family that are so important to me?
That is exactly the balance I wanted to find as I started to work on my mindfulness.
What Are The Benefits of Mindfulness?
Instead of thinking of mindfulness as escaping from my world, I started finding ways to incorporate it into the mundane, everyday activities. In other words, I still have things that I need to get done, and not only have I found some simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into that work, but I have discovered that mindfulness enhances my work!
A study on mindfulness in the workplace found the same thing — it concluded that “the practice of mindfulness can help employees reduce stress and be more effective and focused.”
What about after work? Is it possible to come home to a family and see improved relationships there?
This meta-analysis concluded that “mindfulness interventions for parents may reduce parenting stress and improve youth psychological functioning,” although they did report some methodological weakness in the reporting and said further research is required to confirm these conclusions.
How Does Mindfulness Help?
Instead of viewing mindfulness as an opposing force to my career and life achievements, I now see it as part of the balance that helps me to intentionally achieve more of what is important to me.
Sure, inviting intentionality into my life with mindfulness has taught me to say “no” to things that I used to think were so important. But now I spend more time focusing on the projects that are most important to what I want to do, rather than what I think everyone else wants me to do.
For example, as I examined my life, I realized I wanted to set some boundaries spend less time with clients and more time with my kids and my wife. As I took that step, I had fewer clients, and could potentially make less money. But for me, it is a small price to pay for creating better work-life balance.
But the story does not end there. Due to my mindfulness practice, I also felt energized to learn from a business coach who encouraged me and taught me several techniques to confidently raise my rates and offer greater value to my clients without taking too much of my time.
Before I started practicing mindfulness, I felt depleted of mental resources. I never realized that there were other ways for me to spend less time working and still provide income for my family. So even though mindfulness taught me how to do less initially, I was able to gain double rewards by being able to spend more time with my family and still increase my income.
How Do You Start Practicing Mindfulness?
Your life balance will not necessarily look exactly like mine, and that is fine. You may already know how to leverage your time in your business. But mindfulness is the gift that keeps on giving. You will continue to discover benefits the longer you practice.
Where to get started? Yoga and meditation, right? Well, sure, those are some possibilities, but there are some other, simpler ways that you can begin to get the benefits you are seeking without taking gobs of extra time out of your schedule.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Instead of doing a brainstorming session at your desk, take it out on a walk. Take your phone and record yourself as you come up with ideas. Use the empty space in your mind to enjoy whatever weather you experience. I did this while planning for this article and got over some major writer’s block!
- Eat slowly and actually think about the food you are putting into your mouth.
- Take 2-3 minutes at the end of your work out and lay in corpse pose. Let your mind and your body drink in the moment instead of rushing off to get dressed for work.
- As you walk in and out of work, focus on taking some deep breaths in and out. Think of something you are grateful for and feel your face relax into a gentle smile.
- Try doing one household activity, such as washing the dishes or vacuuming, without listening to a podcast or watching a show. Try to do it in silence and watch your thoughts as you get bored. You don’t need to believe your thoughts or judge them, just watch them. This was especially tricky for me, but also especially powerful.
- Look at other people as you grocery shop. Lift up your head and see who else is there. Try to envision their stories and how they might be feelings. Send some positive vibes to each person.
If you love what happens, and I suspect you will, you might start scheduling more time to practice other meditation practices as well.
As you create space in your mind, no matter how small, you will experience less stress, more creativity, more satisfaction in your work, improved authenticity in relationships, and more peace in your own body.