The challenge of mindfulness

To know that I have done enough and the best I could when the day draws to a close is important. For work and also private matters.

Expecting too much of ourselves is quite common and a recipe for making us unhappy. There is always something each day that falls through the grid making me feel guilty once I realize it. Something that I  have forgotten for whatever reason, wondering whether my sub-conscience mind is trying to tell me something.

  • That task from my action list that I still did not get around doing.
  • That call to a friend I have been thinking about for a week, or the letter I wanted to write still lying half-finished on my desk.
  • That matter needing clarification with a colleague. And so on…

Of course, with a full agenda it is bound to happen, and I am far more aware of it now than I was in the past. Getting older I am becoming more conscious of having limited time. Juggling so many tasks feels exhausting, and cramming more and more activities into my day is not going to work. 

You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

What helps me is to acknowledge and remind myself at the end of the day how much I have actually accomplished and learned. Things that brought me a step further, interesting insights which gave me a good impulse, support I could give to others. Instead of easily dismissing it as “normal and not so important” I’m actively shifting my focus to it.

The rest can wait until tomorrow. After all, the sky is not going to fall down on me if I am not dealing with something immediately. Funnily enough, I gave exactly that advice to my manager this week;-)

It also helps to realize that we are not alone with such thoughts. Others struggle in a similar manner, trying to find their way through their very own jungle on a daily basis.

A good reminder of that I got yesterday when listening to a video panel discussion on “How to find a good work-life-balance”  in my company, with colleagues sharing their own experiences about how they are dealing with a big workload, managing family life in pandemic times, having too many conference calls while consciously trying to stay balanced and being mindful. Big expectations limited by reality which regularly bites. 

It was like looking into the mirror making me nod in agreement and smile,  recognizing my own behaviour and my own mechanisms dealing with daily life. And it made me realize how many things I actually handle well already, and where there is still some room for improvement. 

What I took away was nothing new, but an important reinforcement and encouragement: 

  • Being compassionate and kind with ourselves, managing our energy in a good way, listening to what our body is telling us and what our heart needs – and not ignoring it. Because if we do our body will pull the brakes sooner than we think, simply to get some rest. 
  • Acknowledging that we just have bad days but there is no need to beat ourselves up for it. It is part of life, it happens but neither will it last forever nor does it put us in question as a person. We need to manage our own expectations toward ourselves, and take it one day at a time.
  • Saying no. We always have a choice. Decline a call or ask for more time to complete a task. Setting boundaries is essential. Yes, we do have the right to do this. And it’s a way of taking control of our own agenda, our precious time. We are the ones who prioritise what we do and how. It takes courage and effort though, being conscious at all times that this decision is ours to take. It is our own responsibility. Don’t blame it on your boss or the person putting a request to you.
  • Prioritise and set aside time for taking a break, spending time with your family, doing sports or taking a nap, going for a walk etc. This is important recreation and we need it to recharge. Slow down.

Compassion for others begins with kindness to ourselves. – Pema Chödrön

An important message, especially for junior colleagues to set the record straight. It is so easy to fall into the trap to responding quickly each time, neglecting oneself’s needs and regretting it later, feeling exhausted and stressed out. Neither our private life nor work has to be like this.

Essentially, it is about feeling in sync with yourself. It is not an automatism we achieve but rather a constant learning process leading to more consciousness. It is a very individual matter finding out what is good for you and then do it. If it’s going for a walk in nature, enjoying a good meal, doing creative work or reading a book, having a conversation with a friend, listening to an inspiring podcast, taking time to do yoga or sitting still in meditation… 

And it certainly takes practice. It’s never a given.

My favourite remedy is going outside to visit my friends’ sheep which are grazing in front of my house. Breathing fresh air, the wind in my face, connecting with these peaceful animals which know me for so many years now is pure enjoyment every time.

We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Whatever helps you to get you back into balance is good. Sometimes it could even be a breathing exercise to calm our ever busy mind. Integrating some of these elements into my day helps to keep me grounded, and I notice quickly if I fail to do them, by feeling uneasy and even angry with myself.

Interestingly, when I started working for my current company more than 20 years ago, there was no awareness at all around this topic. Luckily, times have changed and the focus on wellbeing and mindfulness has increased in the past years, recently of course, even more, amplified through the pandemic and its impact on the way we work. 

A good example by the way, how even a negative event can bring about positive change.

Take good care of yourselves, wherever you are.

Interested to learn more about mindfulness? Check out the mindfulness chapter on my resources page.

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