Mindfulness

Posted by: awp-webmaster | March 11, 2019

A few weeks ago, I attended a mindfulness retreat for financial planners. It was definitely unusual having a bunch of finance people sitting there and thinking about nothing. Mindfulness is one of those things that’s gotten a lot of attention over the past 10 years. The internet defines mindfulness as a mental state that focuses on the present moment and accepting what is. While I cannot speak to the therapeutic qualities of practicing mindfulness, I am definitely experiencing the performance enhancing aspects of mindfulness. I’ve found it easier to make tough calls and take difficult actions.

My understanding of mindfulness centers around the following:

Focusing on now instead of being stuck in the past or worrying about tomorrow.

It is easy to see, logically, that we cannot change the past and we cannot know the future with absolute certainty. Therefore, worrying about the past and the future is not very useful. At the same time, we don’t want to repeat mistakes of the past nor do we want to head blindly into the future. One big factor of how the past and future can hurt us; it is the emotion or meaning that we’ve assigned to past and future events.

As human beings, we are predisposed to look for what can go wrong. This has allowed the species to survive over the millennia. It also means that we are very good at remembering bad things that happened and projecting future things that can go wrong. However, while these tendencies help us survive, they don’t do so much to help us thrive and be happy.

When we are stuck feeling bad about things that happened in the past, we become fearful and avoid anything that could result in something similar in the future. This fear keeps us from realizing that we’ve grown since then and the environment is most likely different. It is difficult to make strategic decisions when we focus on what to avoid rather than where to aim. By accepting the past and focusing on now, we incorporate the lessons but forget the fear. As result, we are much more present to handle situations as they really are today.

Realizing where I am at right now, emotionally and subconsciously

Sometimes, we are impacted by events that have nothing to do with what’s in front of us, but, nonetheless, impact our ability to handle what’s ahead. Maybe the kids got up late and there was a big rush to get them out the door. Maybe there was a minor argument about who forgot to pickup the milk. We, especially rational business owners, are frequently unaware of the emotional undercurrent running beneath our conscious mind. Perhaps we are just a little more impatient right now or a bit more prone to anger. These unconscious emotions can result in poor decisions that make no sense when we look back.

If we take a moment to notice what we are feeling, we gain awareness and have a shot at calming our minds. Or, perhaps, take actions to compensate for these emotions. In my corporate finance years, I’ve seen many decisions, made by others and myself, that would have been made differently if we weren’t so afraid or angry at that moment. Today, I take a few minutes to breath and identify what I am feeling before going into meetings.

It’s not that difficult to start a mindfulness practice. Though, as with any new habit, it takes intentionality and consistency. This may mean meditating for some period of time each day. Or, it can mean taking a few minutes to breath and center ourselves before a business meeting. It may take a while to see the benefits or, more likely, you’ll suddenly realize that you are reacting to things differently without noticing the change at first. I invite you to try this for a month and see how it works for you.