Type-A’s are achievers. A more aggressive breed characterized by a drive to constantly produce/push an outcome. Beat out the competition. Get shit done and get a high off the challenge. Google defines “Type A” as:
Type A noun
a personality type characterized by ambition, high energy, and competitiveness, and thought to be susceptible to stress and heart disease.
lol. That exact stress is viewed by many Type-A’s as a badge of honor — a sign that you’ve been alive, a conquest over the easy way out, a feat of willpower. Masochistic, but thrilling. The cost of greatness. I know this because I’m a (recovering?) Type-A. Go-getter traits are rewarded handsomely in the working world. People listen to you, shit gets done, you get money and recognition.
Mindfulness is an emerging trend, particularly among highly educated urban circles — San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. The go-getter capitols are seeing unprecedented levels of anxiety, a growing restlessness to find true fulfillment after years of climbing up to an enviable position. Why was it so much more fun scaling Maslow’s hierarchy than arriving at what I thought was the peak? Was there nothing there waiting for me but a sobering reflection in the mirror? These questions have spurred a movement toward looking inward for happiness, facing one’s very premise of operation, and searching for one’s authentic self. This movement is mindfulness.
…where Type A success factors don’t apply.
In cosmic irony, the traits of relentless execution and never-good-enough that serve so beautifully in the workplace have little bearing on the quest for authentic wellbeing. In fact, on my own quest, I found Type A traits often counterproductive because my mind was so busy — on all the goals and the expectations and the anticipations — that it never had time to get to know itself.
Below is a quick guide for my Type A brethren who choose to brave the rewarding and challenging journey of mindfulness. These were and continue to be some of my greatest learnings, and I hope some of them resonate with you as well.
1. Slow down.
Being goal-oriented often comes with impatience and a need to knead and mold an outcome. Mindfulness is a way of being and not a goal that can be achieved and completed.
Mindfulness is an act of listening — getting still enough to perceive not just your external environment but also your inner climate. With the distractions of managing a team, running a business or beating deadlines, that can be a seemingly insurmountable challenge for the Type-A. My advice, as I was once advised, “find the slowest version of yourself, and let that person make the decisions.”
2. Quiet the inner critic.
I spent many years pushing myself to achieve — to surpass myself despite the “weaker” me who wanted to give up. I said mean things to weaker me. “You should have said that differently.” “Get to the ball faster.” “They wouldn’t be interested in talking to you.” Many Type-A’s have a relentless inner critic, one that has driven them with a whip in hand throughout their lives. That same critic is the holder of “standards” upon which Type-A’s tend to place equally harsh judgements upon others. Mean things said to weaker me turn into mean things said to weaker people. Mindfulness is a practice of love and acceptance—the first and most difficult of which is toward one’s own self, and thereafter flowing naturally to others. By quieting the unaccepting inner critic, the Type-A can be driven by goals that are authentic and aligned with his/her true happiness, rather than driven by avoidance of fear — fear of not doing well, fear of not being accepted by others, fear of losing control.
3. Stop competing with everyone.
In James Redfield’s “The Celestine Prophecy,” the protagonist began observing the subtle power exchanges that occur in everyday social interactions — from aggressive confrontations to coy flirtations. The book describes, quite accurately in my opinion, the two sources of power — one that’s taken from another in a zero-sum game, and another that emanates from all parties through authentic inspiration. Note, the latter should not be confused with tricking people into thinking they have the same idea as you, as we’re taught in management training. I used to compete with everyone — co-workers, bosses, teammates, family members, strangers. If I lost, I had a feeling of being slighted by life. In the same way that a chihuahua barks for relevance and importance, the competitive spirit is at its root less about accomplishing great things and more about gaining validation through comparing oneself to another — constructing the physics of a winner and loser in order to feel satisfaction. We benchmark against others when we can’t approve of ourselves. Mindfulness is the letting go of fear and acceptance of oneself in a way that is absolute and not relative.
4. Listen to your emotions.
“You can’t argue with feelings” was one of the most intellectually heinous statements to me. Because feelings couldn’t be rationalized and were therefore not to be trusted. I spent so much of life ignoring emotions that I no longer knew what mine were trying to tell me — the “me” above the neck ruled and became the only “me,” and the “me” below the neck was just the machinery that the former operated. It wasn’t until I began meditating that I began seeing the wisdom of the heart and gut, which held not only knowledge I could consciously articulate but also the much larger body of knowledge and experience that was stored subconsciously. I would like to pose that the conscious mind that lives above the neck may merely be the translator for the speechless body of knowledge, pun intended. The conscious mind as we know it is only the filter through which limited strands of knowledge can be processed and communicated in verbal language. Emotions occur as physical reactions even before the conscious mind registers they’re happening milliseconds later. The subconscious, intertwined with the autonomic nervous system (regulator of stress, inflammation, heart rate and metabolism), is the frontier that mindfulness seeks to bring into one’s conscious awareness. Only with awareness do we now have the choice to decide who we are and want to be.
Meditation is the best tool to get in touch with your authentic self. The more you meditate, the more quickly you can get into the meditative “zone.” This is important because meditation isn’t something you can only do with your eyes closed in a quiet environment. Just a few weeks of a consistent meditation practice helps you develop stillness even during everyday life interactions, as they’re happening! This stillness of mind enables you to observe situations instead of reacting immediately to them, and that gap between action and reaction allows you to check in with your authentic self before you act on the fear-driven self. In addition to training the conscious mind and its subconscious reactions, meditation has a myriad of similar effects on your physical health — a slowing of self-harming reactions such as allergies, muscle tightness and various other autoimmune responses!
6. Make some mindful friends.
Being the sole mindfulness practitioner among your friends and family can be a lonely gig. It’s sort of like starting a business by yourself. When it gets hard or feels fruitless, mindful friends remind you of your authentic goals, are a sounding board for your challenges, and inspire you with their own journeys. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been kept in the game by amazing friends and mentors. Also, you will with 400% certainty have profound and at times strange experiences as you develop your mindfulness practice — there’s a whole lot going on in that mind ;). It can be hard to for people to understand, so find some likeminded companions you can journey with.
Life after mindfulness
I have been asked by Type-A friends, “What does it mean to be mindful?” Just be happy with everything? No more ambitions? Give up everything and surrender to permanent kumbaya?
My answer is this: Far from it. Here’s what I can say with confidence:
- You will be a happier person.
- You will be kinder to others.
- You will do things that make your life feel meaningful and exciting.
- You will learn what makes you come alive.
The rest is a beautiful unfolding for you to individually experience. Enjoy getting lost. Enjoy taking care of yourself in the deepest possible way. Let yourself be surprised, curious and humbled. Above all, be authentic to yourself — always do what feels right to you and don’t look over your shoulder at the competition ;).
I wish you amazing things, ambitious friends. Happy journeying, and recommend this article with the heart button below if you enjoyed it!