Ten years ago, when I left my corporate job to start a mindfulness consulting company, a fellow consultant gave me some advice. He told me being a great consultant is about having the mental space and capacity to think deeply about the projects I’d be hired to support and to avoid the temptation of taking on too many projects and losing the perspective that comes from an uncluttered, present mind.
His wisdom still rings true for consultants, freelancers, independent contractors, and the millions of self-employed people in today’s gig-economy. To be great at anything, one needs to be fully present. For most people, a present mind state doesn’t come easy — not because it is difficult to do, but because most people are not taught how to do it; it’s not a skill we learn growing up.
Mindful Awareness: paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be okay with what is.
Mindful awareness is a valuable tool to build your mental capacity and can help cultivate the skill of being present. The practice of mindful awareness can unclutter the mind, help you build deeper connections with people, and help manage the stress and anxiety that comes with the modern work world.
Presence can be thought of as the absence of multitasking and reduction of rumination about the past or future while being attuned to what you are hearing, feeling, and seeing in the current moment. To build this skill, start by paying attention to all the times you are not paying attention. Do not be surprised if it’s a lot; just by noticing how often your mind wanders you’re practicing paying attention.
Meditation can also be a tool to enhance your ability to stay focused. In mindful awareness, meditation an object is used, like breath or sound, to focus one’s attention. When the mind wanders (which it will because that is what the mind does) attention is brought back to the breath or sound. Over time, the mind will build attentional resiliency, like building a bicep in weight training, and eventually, your mind will wander less and the duration of presence will increase.
How to Practice Mindful Awareness
- Next time you are in a meeting or talking with a colleague, notice when your mind wanders and kindly bring it back to the present moment conversation. Repeat as necessary.
- Explore limiting your multitasking by putting away all devices when you are engaging in conversations and notice what happens to your quality of those relationships.
- Try a breathing meditation for two minutes each day. Focus your full attention to your breath coming and going, and return to the breath each time your mind wanders. Notice how your body feels after.
The best part about learning presence as a skill is there are endless opportunities to practice each day, and with each day, just like learning to read, it gets a bit easier until one day it feels natural.