Mindfulness for Westerners

The practice of mindfulness, which is defined as an active and open attention to the present*, has become fully immersed in the Western world. Many Westerners struggle with the concept of mindfulness. Imagine how many Westerners would interpret the following quote from the book The Power of Now:

“At the deepest Level of Being, you are one with all that is”

Echhart Tolle

Cue the eye roll.

What we (and by “we” I mean my readers from the Western Hemisphere) need to have is concrete evidence. Saying “you are one with all that is” doesn’t cut it. We need data points to track our growth. Data is the new bacon. And dang nab it, we Westerners want some juicy bacon.

The problem is mindfulness doesn’t exactly entail bacon. Mindfulness isn’t something you chart on a board and write down your KPI’s (key performance indicators). Buddhist monks, who were the originators of mindfulness, weren’t discussing their quarterly progress towards enlightenment.

So how do Westerners, caught up in a data driven society, become in tune with mindfulness? Management consultant and author Peter Drucker famously said “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Let’s think like Drucker for a moment. What if there were KPIs to track our progress towards improved mindfulness?

If Drucker built a time machine and teleported back in time to collaborate with Buddhist monks, here are two strategies they’d come up with.

1. Count The Number Of Times You Return To The Present

If you’ve ever tried meditating, you know how hard it is to remain present. The purpose of a meditational practice is to clear your mind from the millions of thoughts that run through your noggin.

I’ve heard countless people say they have trouble meditating because their minds continuously wander. Instead of clearing your head, you plan out what’s for dinner, think through your workday, and contemplate your weekend. Some may consider their mind drifting off as a bad thing.

Here’s the catch, by recognizing your mind has wandered off, you’re able to return to the present. By realizing you’re not present, you return to the present. That in itself is a win.

Let’s say you meditate for five minutes, and in those five minutes you catch your mind drifting off 25 times. That’s 25 times you bring yourself back to the present moment. The act of returning to the present goes beyond meditational practices. The same goes for whatever you’re doing at any moment.

Don’t beat yourself up when you drift off. Instead, pat yourself on the back when you recognize the distraction and return to the present moment, no matter how brief of a return it is.

Mindful KPI #1 – Tally how many times you return to the present

2. Make Time For Activities To Be Fully Present

For large portions of our days, there are things we aren’t excited to be doing. Taking the trash out, commuting to work, and staring at your monitor screen are not likely to channel the mindfulness we strive for. If your entire day is filled with activities you couldn’t give two hoots about, your mind will begin to wander, and sometimes not to the best places.

If your day is filled with nondescript activities, it’s critical to schedule activities in your day that promote being present. Keep in mind meditation is not the only way to center yourself into the present. Depending on the person, this can include such things as working out, watching your favorite sitcom, or calling a friend.

Regardless of the activity, you should experience total immersion in what you’re doing to the point you lose track of time. Psychologists call this being in a state of flow. Athletes call this being in the zone. Actors call this being in character.

All you’re thinking about (if you are thinking at all) is the task at hand, whether that’s running through a park, nailing a 5-foot putt, or solving a crossword puzzle. Your mind is focused to the point you aren’t wondering what time it is, when a Covid-19 vaccine will be readily available, or who’s going to be sent home next on The Bachelorette.

Mindful KPI #2 – Tally how many daily activities cause you to “lose track of time.”

Mindfulness Opportunities

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to practice mindfulness and being present. We’re surrounded by gazillion distractions, worst of which is the buzzing smartphone attached to your body. We’re constantly reminded how much we suck at this mindful gig.

But don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself credit for the moments you are fully present. And the best way to give yourself credit is by recognizing measurable KPI’s that demonstrate your mindful gains. Reflect on each day and think about the activities that got you in the zone. If you didn’t allocate time today towards mindful activities, whether that’s swinging a golf club or solving a puzzle, think about implementing those activities tomorrow.

The same goes for the number of times you return to the present. Don’t think of losing sight of the present as a failure. Instead, recognize the success of taking a moment and bringing yourself back to the present.

Learn to combine practices from the Eastern and Western Hemispheres to make the masterpiece that is your life. It’s one of the most important things you’ll ever do.


*For a deeper analysis of mindfulness, check out this resource from Psychology Today

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