October 2014

Be Mindful

It's the Best Game in Town

Being in the present is much more effective than being anywhere else.

We begin our exploration of the principles of Mindful Conversations™ with the title principle: Be Mindful. Being mindful means being aware, not only of yourself, but of others. It means listening, noticing, and attending to what is going on within yourself, outside of yourself, and between yourself and others.

The Sally & Donna Show ended last month with Sally ducking out on her boss, Tom, who has just told her that he senses something is up with her. Donna, on the other hand, has just spent the evening celebrating with her family.

Let's see what's going on with Sally and Donna in relation to being mindful.

Following a difficult meeting, Sally returns to her office and speaks with a headhunter and then her husband. Neither phone call goes as she hopes and she's feeling trapped, misunderstood, and frustrated. Her boss has just stopped by to find out how she's doing as he has noticed that something is going on with her. Sally puts him off, saying that she is about to step out for a lunch meeting and asks if they can speak together the following morning.

“We can wait until the morning if you prefer,” Tom begins. “But I can make time for you this afternoon after you return from your lunch meeting. Perhaps I can be of help, Sally.”

The tone of Tom's voice and the caring in it surprise Sally. She looks at him quizzically and then looks away. She knows that she's blushing. She wishes she could slip through the floor. Stammering, she says, “Well, I'm not sure how long this meeting will take and I don't want to hold you up. Why don't we just meet first thing in the morning, if you don't mind.”

“Sally, I don't know you well yet,” Tom responds. “Yet, I sense that something has gone awry. You aren't acting like the woman who I interviewed and who started here two weeks ago. I'll look forward to our conversation in the morning. I hope your lunch meeting goes well.” Tom looks at Sally, once again using his eyes to say that he cares and is interested in her well-being.

Sally quickly gathers her belongings and hurries out of her office. She tucks her head down and walks briskly, hoping that no one will stop her. Karen, one of her direct reports, has other ideas and begins to walk in step with her.

“Sally, do you mind if I walk out with you?” Karen asks. “I want to apologize for not briefing you sufficiently on the project before your meeting. I'm really sorry.”

Sally slows down a bit, looks at Karen and retorts, “Well, you should have thought about that yesterday.”

Stunned, Karen stops walking.

Sally continues down the hall, turns the corner, and waits for the elevator. She is trembling. She just can't believe how these people have gotten under her skin. She can't wait to get in her car and away from these people.

As she approaches her car, she realizes that she doesn't have the foggiest idea about where she's going. There is no business luncheon. It was a lie to get away from Tom. Now what? What is she going to do all afternoon? Should she go the headhunter's office and see if his head got screwed on straight? Should she look for other headhunters? What is she going to tell Tom tomorrow?

Sally drives to a nearby park. Maybe being outside will help clear her head. Her cell phone rings. It's Margot, one of her peers from work. Sally doesn't answer the phone. She listens to the voicemail. Apparently, she had agreed to be at a meeting that just started. Now what does she do? All of her choices seem wrong. If she goes to the meeting, Tom will ask about her lunch meeting. If she misses the meeting, the team will want to know what happened. Every thought she has makes her more and more anxious. She decides to text Margot with a message that says “I double booked by accident and am sorry but I will miss the meeting. I'll get caught up tomorrow. What time can you meet with me?”

Margot texts back, “You were going to lead the brainstorm session about making our processes more efficient. Maybe we can wait for you. When will you return to the office?”

Sally knows that she is in no state to lead a brainstorming session with her peers. She remembers now that she had promised to do this with them after being critical of some of the processes used in this office. Boy, did she get herself into a pickle. Now what should she do?

Sally looks at her calendar and sees that she's booked for the next two days. She texts Margot: “How about shifting the meeting to Thursday afternoon or Friday morning? Would that work for you and the others? Sorry for my mistake and for the inconvenience.”

She waits for Margot's return text. It seems to take forever. Each moment makes Sally feel more and more anxious and desperate. Now she is certain that they all think she's a loser and someone who doesn't keep promises. That's a new one for her. She's always been proud of being accountable. What in the world is going on with her?

Finally, Margot texts back. “Thursday afternoon works for all of us. No problem. See you at 2. We're all looking forward to the brainstorm session with you.”

Sally breathes a sigh of relief. At least this mess up can be rectified.

Now, back to her situation. She considers going for lunch but isn't hungry. She would like a glass of wine though. That will settle her down. She looks around and sees some cafes outside the park and walks to one. Sally orders a glass of wine and a cheese platter. She knows that she has to eat if she's going to have wine at lunch time. At least she is sane enough to remember that. This thought brings a slight smile to her face. It is short-lived. Back to her worries. What in the world should she do?

She gulps her wine down, eats a few pieces of cheese, pays, and drives to the headhunter's office. Hopefully, he'll act sanely now that he sees her.

Now let's look in on Donna...

Donna's husband and her two children make a celebration dinner for Donna in honor of her accomplishments at work. They have a sweet and joyful experience together. Donna puts the children to sleep while Darren cleans up. Then the two of them sit together and talk about their day. There is a lovely ease between them. Their talking is punctuated with laughter. It is obvious that they enjoy each other.

Donna looks at her watch. She jumps up saying, “Wow. The time has flown by. I'm having such a nice, relaxed time. But, I have about a half hour of work to do before bedtime. I'm sorry, honey, but if I do it now, I won't have to get up before the crack of dawn. I know you understand.” Darren is nodding in agreement. Donna gives Darren a quick kiss and goes to her office.

Darren flips on the TV as he calls out, “I'll come to steal you away in half an hour so work hard!”

Donna feels the impulse to open her email and go through it. She stops herself, knowing that this activity will be a time suck and will take up her half hour. She opens the agenda for the meeting she will lead the next morning. As she reviews the agenda, she realizes that she needs a few slides that she forgot to ask her team to produce. She decides to email them to find out if they'll have time to produce the slides in the morning before the meeting.

Opening her email program, she finds an email from Elaine, one of her direct reports. She opens it, and to her delight, she reads that someone on her team realized that she would need a few other slides and has already produced them for her. Donna gets tears in her eyes and her heart swells with happiness. She is floored that the team is so responsible and supportive.

She writes an email to Elaine and the team, thanking them for being so on top of things and supporting her so well.

Donna goes back to the agenda and looks through the slide presentation, then writes a few notes about topics she wants to be sure to cover in her presentation and questions she wants to ask the group.

Feeling content, Donna shuts her computer down, turns out the light, and returns to Darren.

Darren looks up happily and asks, “Are you all finished?”

“Yup, all done!” Donna responds. “Let's go to bed.”

Darren turns off the tv and the couple turn off the lights and begin getting ready for bed.

Using mindfulness as a measure, let's evaluate Sally and Donna's experience:

Sally is the quintessential opposite of mindful. She is so flooded with anxiety and worry about the future that she has little bandwidth for the present. When she isn't anxious about the future, she's angry and blaming others about the past. She isn't tuning into herself at all. Her choices are determined by obligations, 'shoulds,' and desperation. Her interactions with people are reactive rather than responsive. She is in a survive state for sure, so every decision she makes is focused on ensuring that she is safe. However, she doesn't feel safe in any way. She feels trapped, which contributes to her state of fear, anxiety, and reactivity.

Sally is mostly aware of how much she wants to get out of the situation in which she finds herself. Rather than looking inward to learn about herself, she is grasping at straws to get someone outside herself to solve the problem.

Donna, however, continues to ride the waves of joy. She does not take this for granted and is aware, during each encounter, of the hard work she's put in to have the consciousness to be able to experience the joy and success that she is feeling.

Sometimes, Donna becomes aware that she is holding her breath. When she pays attention to what's happening in her body, she realizes that she is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. When she notices this, she breathes, calms her nervous system, and often says something to the other person in her presence. This might sound like, “I'm so glad to be working with you. I am appreciative of all that you bring to the table. Thanks for your support.” Sometimes, Donna doesn't say anything out loud but simply breathes and reminds herself to stay present.

As Donna stays present with her encounters at work and at home, with people and tasks, she's seeing the profound effect it is having. She is noticing that she has more ease and joy, less anxiety, less worry, and to her great satisfaction, everything, including relationships and work, are going more smoothly. It is really astounding. She didn't believe it before, but now she is experiencing a sense of spaciousness and ease even when work is extremely demanding.

Donna is aware that the outside has not changed. She realizes that it is her response to her environment, internal and external, that is changing.

She is also aware that taking credit for how hard she has worked and for what she is achieving, as well as expressing gratitude to others, is making a big difference in how she feels and in how her relationships are going. Donna attributes her success to her increased awareness and mindfulness practices. For her, life is good.

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