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Here's why mindlessness is so dangerous and how you can stop it

Sep 24, 2022

by Anne O'Connor

Since well before Ram Dass urged us to "be here now," ancient philosophers and practitioners of yoga, meditation, and other forms of training our minds have known that we're a lot happier and life works better when we can be mindful. 

Remember that being mindful isn't just about being aware, right? You can be mindlessly anxious and self-absorbed all day long: that's not mindfulness. 

My favorite definition comes from Jon Kabat Zinn, the teacher who systemized mindfulness into the very-effective Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction method. After years of pain and suffering from car accident injuries, this is method gave me back my life, you all. 

Outside of my personal experience, Jon Kabat Zinn is largely responsible for popularizing the concept of mindfulness in our time. 

There are lots of ways to be mindless--to go through our actions, our conversations, our relationships, and not really be involved or aware of our feelings, our thoughts, or our actions. We can live in our bodies and be almost entirely mindless--blind to the vast information that our bodies are trying to tell us. 

Also, we can be hyper attuned to what's happening. A lot of times when I teach about mindfulness, I'll hear people say things like, "The problem is I'm too aware of what's going on around me--I'm overwhelmed." Or stressed, or anxious. 

Then we can be short-tempered, resentful, and say or do things that we don't really want to do. 

None of that is mindfulness. Here's how Jon Kabat Zinn defines it: 

 "Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally."

 So it may be that we can see what's happening in our mind, but we have all kinds of judgements about it--and we're freaking out in some way.

Maybe a colleague is coming down hard on you.

Maybe you need to say hard things to someone you love.

Maybe you have to share your idea with an unwelcoming group.

What would it look like to be mindful in these moments?

Mindfulness might look like allowing some part of ourselves to freak out and having the skill to notice this, allow it, and let it be.  We slow down and notice what's happening in our minds. Simultaneously, we are able to rise to the challenge no matter the pressure, and behave skillfully and in alignment with our best choice--in alignment with our values. 

Not so easy, sure. But training our minds to be present, to stay with what's in front of us, and to stay out of judgement allows us to make actual choices--to not be forever reacting from our habitual minds. 

When we can make mindful choices--we have so many more options. 

If this makes sense to you and you want to work on these skills in your own life and leadership, consider booking a free, no-obligation call with me to hear about how I can help you break the habit of mindlessness so that you can have true choice in your life. 

Meanwhile, here's to paying attention--and doing our best to accept what is without judging it. 

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