It’s Tuesday afternoon and you walk into a coffee shop to meet a colleague for a quick hello. You’ve rushed to get here, squeezing in the meeting amongst your overly filled calendar. You haven’t seen your “frolleague” for a few months due to travel and work commitments and you know you have so much to catch up on. You scan the café and find them sitting in the corner, beaming ear to ear. You walk over, you both smile and greet each other warmly.
For the next 60 minutes you have a choice:
- Option A: show up, be present and listen fully or
- Option B: be pulled and distracted, plan the next thing on your to do list and turn your head for every person that walks by or opening of the door.
While many of us would *say* we choose Option A, in reality… we subconsciously default to B with a light spattering of A mixed in. We are human, after all. We are hard wired to scan for threat, living in the past or future…removing our attention from what is right in front of us.
I have chosen paths in my life where being present and focused creates a more fulfilling experience. I am a Change Expert, Coach, Facilitator, SAP Global Mindfulness trainer and yoga instructor. In these roles, and the many others I play (mother, wife, friend, sister, etc) I try to see every interaction as an opportunity to build emotional intelligence through mindfulness. It takes more energy to do this than “option B” but by doing this I experience greater connection with others and myself.
Mindfulness is simply the act of being fully present. While meditation is a dedicated practice (think of it as going to the gym for your mind, for a specific period of time), mindfulness is an integrated life practice that can happen anywhere at any time (more like taking the stairs vs the elevator). According to the Mindful Nation UK Report mindfulness is “a capacity that enables people to focus on what they experience in the moment, inside themselves as well as in their environment, with an attitude of openness, curiosity and care.”
How can we be more present in our presence? Here are 3 habits I have learned to build mindfulness and strengthen my emotional intelligence.
- Put aside your stories and arrive with curiosity. Curiosity is a cornerstone of mindfulness practices. As I practice, I start by being fully aware of my emotions, I notice anything that triggers me … the thoughts, sounds or physical feelings that create a reactive emotion. Then I pause and ask myself “I’m curious, what is causing this reaction?”. According to a recent Huffington Post article (“Why is it so Hard to Pay Attention?”), Judson Brewer sites that the feeling of curiosity draws us in acting as a reward. He states that “when curiosity is strong, “we” aren’t even in the picture. There is just curious attention when we are completely out of our own way.” This trains our brains to seek out curiosity and be rewarded by it. Apply this to our interactions and we can be curious about what is being said and not reactive or tempted to tell our version of the same story.
- Practice self-awareness by challenging yourself to stay and be in the moment. I’m competitive by nature, think of Monica from Friends but with a dose of mindfulness mixed in. As my attention starts to wander, which it will, I gently bring it back to the conversation. I recognize when and why my attention strays – noting it. I do not judge or criticize myself, I simply come back to the moment. I even practice this as I walk down the street… noting different sights, sounds and objects along the way. Observing and not creating stories around what I see, just being present.
- Train your brain to scan for opportunity, not threat. Back in the cave man days, we had to scan our environments for threats that literally meant life or death. If our brain senses perceived threat it sends out a cue to our bodies to respond in fight or flight mode, also referred to by Daniel Goleman as the amygdala hijack. Instead of scanning for the grizzly bear about to attack, I scan my environment for moments I can connect to on a deeper level… a slight smirk that I inquire about or a sigh that might otherwise go unnoticed. Pulling in these body language cues challenges you to stay present in not just words but also emotions.
So the next time you are in a meeting, having a coffee with a friend or talking with your sister on the phone… How can you use this moment as an opportunity to strengthen your connection with others with your full presence?
Check out more blog posts in the series: Coach’s Corner.