Thursday 17 March 2016

What I Learned from the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge

Like most endings, day 30 of my MindWell 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge program snuck up on me. On day 28, I realized that my daily learning videos and buddy support messages were about to end.

As mentioned at the beginning and middle of my challenge, I had looked forward to the few minutes I spent each morning learning about mindfulness, renewing my commitment to be more present, and sharing my experiences with my challenge buddy, Matt. They were positive additions to my morning routine.

I had set three goals for this online learning program: 
  • Maximize performance by being more present-focused and "in the zone"
  • Document the benefits I gain when I am more present
  • Identify applications for leaders and their teams when going through change

Maximizing Performance 
Learning how to focus on the present exposed the amount of time I had wasted thinking about the past and future. Most of my thoughts weren't positively contributing to my personal or professional life. Being informed by the past to plan the future is still important. Being grounded in the present as I do so keeps me on task and avoids mental distractions.

The first step to staying in the present is to realize when you are not there. The ability to assess where my mind was became a new skill. If I was not in a productive frame of mind, I would trigger the Take 5 breathing exercise to snap back into focus. I was back in productivity mode in less than two minutes. The more I used this tool the faster I refocused on my work. Now, I employ Take 5 before starting a task to avoid slow starts or drifting to other activities  multi-tasking is a time waster.

Documenting Benefits
The research that underpins the program states that mindfulness makes you present, focused, calm, less stressed, insightful, resilient, engaged and energized. I experienced all of these throughout the challenge.

Recording which benefits I perceived after each day was an eye-opener. I experienced greater presence and focus more often than engagement and energy. These traits are usually high for me, which might explain not feeling more so than usual.

Two of the biggest benefits were greater awareness of how I spend my time and an improved ability to redirect my thoughts. I am now mindful of the time traps that reduce my productivity.

Applications for Change
Change management is a structured approach to helping leaders and their teams be their best as they transition to new ways of working. Helping them stay focused through the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that comes with change is a key requirement.

In times of change, many people cling to the past (the good old days) or worry about the future (the brave new world). This causes them to freeze or lose focus on what they can do to navigate new requirements for success. Unproductive thinking leads to inaction and greater worry.

The skill of identifying distractions is one that I will use and develop in my clients. 'Calling it' when leaders or teams get waylaid by past practices or future speculation will focus them on the tasks at hand to more quickly deliver outcomes. Improving the team's effectiveness will represent a quick win that may suggest that the change will lead to better results.

As the final program video states, the mindfulness challenge is never done. We must continue to be mindful about where we are at the moment  past, present or future  and get back into the present when we are distracted. Like most capabilities, the ability to be mindful will decrease without practice.

I completed a survey to end my 30th day module. One of the questions was, "Would you recommend the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge to a friend? After replying "yes," I thought a slightly different questions would better measure the personal benefits gained from the program: "Would you give the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge as a gift to a friend? Who wouldn't want our friends to be more present, focused, calm, less stressed, insightful, resilient, engaged and energized? My answer would be "yes."


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