A mentor in the leadership field who I deeply respect recently shared that he has seen some leaders go down the path of mindfulness only to get overly focused on their inner experience at the expense of their outer mission- developing the potential in the people around them. A leader, he suggested, can’t afford to become isolated in a loop of introspection.
Have you ever struggled with coming out of a loop of introspection in a constructive way? Have you wondered how to bridge that inner world with the purpose you are here to fulfill? We now know that mindfulness- awareness of our inner and outer life- is essential to health, performance, and leadership. But how do we integrate mindfulness into our everyday mission?
Imagine that mindfulness is the ability to dive into the depths of your experiences and observe your thoughts and feelings with acceptance and witness-mind. With each dive, you experience the joy and awe of observation. Sometimes, from that underwater stillness, you gain a new perspective or insight, a pearl. This is mindfulness part one.
Let’s say I’ve just left a meeting and while all seemed to go well, I have an uneasy feeling. Returning to my desk, I take a moment to mindfully reflect. I observe the thoughts connected to the feeling of unease. I pause there. I recall another moment. It hits me- maybe my colleague isn’t really thriving on the project I asked them to do. Hmmm. A pearl?
Now I’m coming back to the surface of daily life. Where do I go from here?
I might get super busy with something else and the insight slips away. This is like dropping the pearl.
I might take the insight and go for another dive. And I can keep diving, never letting the pearl rise above the surface. This is the isolating loop of introspection that I think my mentor was referring to.
So here is mindfulness part two: Can you come back to the surface with the pearl in hand? Can you contribute to others by sharing your insight? Can you turn your insight into action? In this example, it might mean initiating a conversation. It might mean asking a few questions. It might mean sharing your thoughts and saying, “you know, I felt some concern and I was wondering if …”
There are three benefits of acting on your insights:
Experimentation– until you put your insight to the test by sharing it, you won’t know the true nature of it- is it helpful to others? Do they share your perception? Does it require further action?
Contribution– if you don’t dare to share your reflections with others, then they won’t have the chance to benefit from what you’ve found.
Learning and Growth– if you don’t take action, your insights will remain in a private reserve, where they lose realness and value. Every insight needs visibility and feedback to make an impact.
We don’t want to swing the pendulum too far away from mindfulness and focus on action alone- those deep dives are where so much of our wisdom comes from. But then we want to put that wisdom to good use. Give reality to your inner world by sharing and acting on the fruits of your mindful reflections. We will all benefit from it.