The complexity of our work, the intensity by which we constantly get interrupted, and the competing demands for our attention have reached a critical level.

Think about the sheer number of tasks, the number of folks reaching out to us at any given time, and the myriad of competing priorities. They have all grown exponentially. Multi-tasking by way of spreading our attention thinner and thinner to make everyone happy or checking all the things off our lists is just not feasible anymore.

The result is that we feel scatter-brained, burnt-out, and that we’re not doing anything of importance. By the end of the day we feel exhausted, frustrated, and without really understanding what we did and how it contributed to the larger picture because, quite literally, we never finished something through its whole process — All these little bite size pieces seem insignificant.

This is not sustainable. We can’t continue on this road of constant fractured attention.

The Mindfulness Pie

Think about a pie. You’re at a party, and after dinner the host begins to ask who wants a piece. One by one folks around the table say they all only want a very tiny sliver. And as the pie is cut into smaller and smaller pieces to make sure everyone gets a piece; the pieces begin to crumble and fall apart – until the pie breaks.

This is what’s happening to our attention. At work. And at home.

There’s got to be a better way. Who is asking for a piece of pie that doesn’t really belong at the table?

It’s not that we don’t care about those people. But for our own health and own ability to be present for the folks who do belong at the table, we must be in control of our own thoughts.

Get rid of self-defeating thoughts. Thoughts that say I’m not good enough or I can’t do this or the last time this didn’t work so it won’t work this time. These are the uninvited guests who don’t belong at the table – and they are not serving us well at all. Mindfulness can help break up this negative though pattern.

Regaining More of Our Attention

There are a lot of cognitive psychology studies that suggest that upwards of 90% of our thought processes occur in the subconscious. We’ve also heard we only use a small amount of potential in our brain.

It’s anecdotal, but it seems like these two concepts are linked. If we can use more of our brains, then we are becoming more conscious of what’s going on in our minds – and vice versa.

If we are trying to make what usually occurs 90% of the time subconsciously to be more conscious that is incredibly hard work. It takes check-ins. It takes reflection. It takes asking hard questions. And most importantly, it requires time and effort.

It’s not going to happen unless you create a goal around it. Check in around the goal and make progress around the goal. And if things aren’t working, make changes and adapt to meet your goal.

Put in the Hard Work

I can teach people to do a mindfulness exercise in 1 to 2 minutes. If they follow along and do it, they can get a boost of mindfulness. They will be more focused after that exercise. And we can see meaningful change. But it’s not going to last unless they commit to the hard work of building it into their life in a fundamental way.

The promise is there. This will change your life. But it won’t change your life overnight. It’s really a lifelong journey.

That’s what mindfulness is all about. It’s not about getting to the destination. It’s about the journey to get there.

Author

Christopher Reina

Christopher Reina

Dr. Christopher Reina is the founder of Leading Without Ego, LLC and an assistant professor in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at Virginia Commonwealth University. He coaches leaders and leads trainings on mindful leadership and how to more effectively navigate the intricacies of the modern work context. His work focuses on the intersection of leadership and mindfulness and how organizations and employees can achieve higher levels of engagement, performance, and well-being.