Mindfulness is something that you’ve undoubtedly heard more and more about over the last few years. There seem’s to be an endless line of celebrities and high profile business leaders getting behind Mindfulness and going so far as to say It changed their lives. Fueled by the momentum shift towards the current wellness trend that seems to be sweeping the globe, Mindfulness claims to help us find peace within ourselves.
I confess I was one of those who jumped on the Mindfulness bandwagon and honestly, I’ve never looked back. Mindfulness changed my life in so many more ways than I hoped. I originally tried it to help manage a chronic illness, but soon realised the profound effects it can have both in your personal and professional life.
A couple of years back I was told that I would probably need a third major operation on my stomach. It was going to put me out of action for at least three months and would definitely not be a pleasant experience. I’m not sharing this with you to gain sympathy and I’m certainly not a ‘victim of circumstance’ type ‘sick boy’, but it does lay down a backdrop to the story and hopefully add some context.
In a last attempt to keep me from going under the knife, my consultant suggested trying to see if symptoms could be managed with an extensive lifestyle change. His solution was to seek help from a number of different health professionals to collectively see if we could make everyday life comfortable. I liked to call it my crack team, although the medical industry calls them a multidisciplinary team.
Under the guidance 2 dieticians, a consultant, a gastroenterologist, a therapist (CBT), and my GP we set about our task of managing my condition with lifestyle and medication. I also had to start exercising! There seemed to be a common message coming from my crack team “Rob you should try Mindfulness”, “Mindfulness can help chronic conditions, you should give it a try”. I had heard a lot in the press about mindfulness, and as somebody who follows successful business leaders, I was aware of a growing number of them who had found it really useful in business. In Tim Ferriss’s recent book Tools for Titans, he claims that 3/4 of people he interviews, practice some form of meditation. Being quite open-minded about things, I figured I had nothing to lose, so thought I’d give it a try.
I started out with an app called Calm, before moving on to a Buddhify and subsequently HeadSpace after a free trial. Quite quickly I realised that not only was I benefitting from improvements in my health, but mindfulness was offering so much more and changing me in so many different ways.
How Mindfulness changed me personally & professionally
With just one goal of helping manage my symptoms, I never expected the amazing transformation it brought with it. I genuinely believe it has changed me and that I am a better person as a result. Here are the 14 ways that Mindfulness changed my world.
- Chronic illness – Nobody can say exactly why, but there is a clear and proven connection between meditation and improvements in symptoms of chronic illness. In some cases, people have experienced a complete reversal. In my own experience, I have now almost eliminated the need for all medication. I’ve gone from having 3 different types of medication daily, to just taking 1 type, as and when I need it – probably once a week. Mindfulness invites you to explore your relationship with your symptoms. In a weird sadistic way, this is kinda cool.
- Stress – Stress is evil and ruthless. It will hunt down where you are weakest, both physically and mentally, and use that weakness to attack you. We all experience stress, it’s just how life is. What changes amongst us is how we deal with that stress. Mindfulness helps you to accept this and choose how we deal with stressful situations. I’m sure there’s been a time in your life when you’ve felt stressed and wished you didn’t feel the way you did. Imagine, how much better you’d feel if you could accept that and be comfortable with the situation.
- Acceptance – Hopefully you can see a pattern emerging here of how everything ties in together. The easiest way to manage stress is to choose how we respond and we do that by accepting things the way they are. Sometimes things are out of our control, so we can either accept that or not accept it, and work ourselves up into a frenzy. Once we learn to accept things as they are without trying to change them, we’re able to change our relationship with them, and thus choose how we respond.
- Anxiety – I didn’t ever think I suffered from anxiety, but it turns out I did. When you learn acceptance, mediation allows you take a step back from feelings and emotions like anxiety and see them for what they are. Subsequently, this allows you to realise that we are not our thoughts and feelings and thus create a separation between you and the anxiety. Mindfulness encourages you to explore these feelings which help us build a more profound understanding. Again, it won’t cure anxiety, instead, it will change the relationship you have with it and allow you to manage your anxiety at a level you are comfortable with.
- Listening – Now, I think it’s fair to say, I was never a good listener. I wasn’t being rude and it certainly wasn’t intentional, but my mind just wasn’t in the room. I was absorbed in my own busy world and constantly thinking about the next thing I had to do. Even socially I was permanently distracted. Mindfulness taught me how to be present in whatever I was doing including in conversations. By giving someone your undivided attention you naturally become a better listener. You will find that you are remembering more things too. More detail. This is because when you’re present you are actually taking in what is being said. I have also realised that I look people in the eyes and smile more now I am present during conversations. Note – All this goes out the window if you try and talk to me before I’ve had a coffee in the morning!!!
- Concentration & Focus – Mindfulness is an amazing way to learn how to focus the mind on one task at a time – preferably the task at hand. One of the techniques used on mindfulness encourages you to focus on the breath. One breath at a time. Nothing else, just the breath going in and the breath going out. Everytime you get distracted by thoughts, which you will do, you gently guide the focus of your concentration back to the breath. Focussing on the breath is a great technique to use as it is an anchor to the mind. Because it is always with us, it doesn’t matter where we are, or what we are doing, we always have the breath.
- Patience – Naturally, if you are able to accept things the way they are and you are comfortable with that, you are going to be a more patient person in general. Patience isn’t something I specifically wanted to focus on when I started meditating, but I did find myself becoming less angry about things and found myself remaining very calm in troubling times.
- Empathy – You often find that people who are not empathetic towards others are also often people who are quite critical of themselves. I was very guilty of this and empathy towards others was something that I actively wanted to change. What I wasn’t expecting though, was to discover a deep level of empathy towards myself. I learned that to show empathy towards others I first needed to love and accept myself. This has had a profound change in my happiness in general. I am no longer my own harshest critic and as a result, I am now able to have much more empathy and compassion towards others.
- Awareness – You will be really surprised at the number of wonderful things you miss in everyday life. You will start to spot things that have been in front of your eyes every day but have never sunk in. Colours, smell, noises, these are all things that we need to be present to, in order for us to enjoy. Mindfulness teaches you that awareness.
- Sleep – Have you ever lay in bed not able to sleep with thoughts rushing around in your mind? Sometimes our minds can be so busy you can lie there for hours worrying about sometimes trivial things. Meditating the last thing before sleep will help gather the mind and help it settle down, making it much more likely that you will fall asleep. My sleep used to be shocking and I was definitely guilty of having a million and one thoughts. When you learn to calm your mind and combine it with the reduced stress and worry that you will also benefit from, it makes for a much better night’s sleep.
- Productivity – It’s my view that we don’t need to work all the hours under the sun to be productive, we just need to be smart about how we work. A clear, uncluttered, unstressed mind, is far more productive than a tired, distracted one. It won’t as any surprise when I say that my productivity has gone through the roof since I started meditating. It has taught me to use short, laser focussed bursts to yield highly productive days and because I’ve already learnt how to focus, I’m not getting distracted.
- Work-Life Balance – Mindfulness has helped me accept that my work is not the most important aspect of my life. Although I knew this should be the case, I could never accept it. In my mind, I saw that I had an opportunity, a window, in which leave my legacy. The reality is that is not the case at all. My family are the most important thing to me, followed by my health and since I realised this the results have been profound. I have a much better relationship with my family. I exercise a lot and more importantly, I enjoy it. My health is better and my work is better than ever. The work-life balance is probably the hardest thing to master as a business owner and is something I want to talk about a lot in the future. for now though, know this… The key to me getting the work-life balance right was discovering mindfulness!
- Appreciation – When we learn to accept things how they are we learn to appreciate them much more. There’s not much more to say about this one, it’s beauty is its simplicity. needless to say, I appreciate people much more than I did prior to meditation.
- Self Confidence – Do you think if you became healthier, reduced your stress levels, became a better person, and kicked on your career at the same time as mastering the work-life balance, you could learn to love yourself? Of course, you could, and with it, you’d bring a level of self-belief and confidence you didn’t think you were capable of.
Did it work?
How to start with Mindfulness
Do you see what I mean about it all tying together? Now I am not saying that you will see all of the above benefits straight away, but with time and patience, these are all achievable. To help you get started I’ve put together started. Here are a few of the resources I use.
The Little Book of Mindfulness: Patrizia Collard – My mum lent me this book and I love it so much, I bought it myself. It’s one of those books you just keep revisiting and dropping into all the time.
Mindfulness: Mark Williams & Danny Penman – There are loads of accompanying material to go with this book.You get a CD with it with some great guided meditations on. Don’t bother with the app. It’s not very good at all and the content is just the meditations on the CD. Much better to spend the money on the book. I really like the structure and how it builds you up week by week. I think this book is great for people who want Mindfulness to be part of their life, but don’t think that committing 30 minutes a day is possible. This book will change that perception and break you into it gently.
Calm App – Calm was the first Mindfulness app I tried and I would definitely recommend it as a starting point to dip your toe in the water. Although I didn’t go for the paid version, some of the free content you get on there is really good. After the initial trial period, I realised that meditation was for me and decided to move on to some of the other apps.
Buddhify – Bhuddify is my go-to app for everyday meditations. The app has about 12 subjects for all occasions, like getting to sleep, travelling, or a work break. each subject has 5-7 guided meditations lasting anything from 5 minutes up to about half an hour. I use this app throughout the day depending on what I am doing or how I am feeling. I also like to use it for my bedtime meditations. All three of the apps I have suggested have their place, but if I was going to recommend just one it would be Bhuddify.
Headspace – I’m now well into my second one-year subscription of HeadSpace. It is by far the market leader in Mindfulness apps and is awesome for working on particular areas of your life like anxiety, self-esteem, relationships etc. It has an extensive menu of what it calls packs, which are mini-courses of guided meditations, designed to help in certain aspects. I have found these really useful for fine-tuning the areas in my life that I felt needed the most work. Headspace can be pretty pricey but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve found if you let your subscription lapse and don’t renew, they will email you with some pretty decent offers and you can save quite a bit of money.
OK, so that was a pretty long post and hopefully, you’re still awake. If you are then well done and now it’s over to you.I do hope you decide to give Mindfulness a try. The results I have seen over the last couple of years have really changed my life for the better. I genuinely think that taking up mindfulness is the best thing I have done. I’m not just a better person, but in my life as a business owner and a marketing consultant has also seen amazing results. As always, I would love to hear about your own experiences.