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Reprogramming Your Wandering Mind

Hannah Grove | State Street Corporation

October 20,2017

Our mind is likely to be wandering 47 percent of the time, and it’s often heading to a negative place.

Think about that – almost half of the time1 that you're conscious, not only are you not focused on what you're doing, you're actually putting yourself in a bad mood. And that remains true even if you're doing something enjoyable!

Researchers have found2 that we release the most stress hormones within minutes after waking. Just thinking about the day ahead triggers our fight-or-flight instinct and releases the hormone cortisol into our blood. So "waking up on the wrong side of the bed" might actually just be the cortisol-driven stress kicking in. I personally have what the gurus affectionately call a "monkey mind," meaning I have trouble switching off. Every time I close my eyes, visions of my to-do list start dancing in my head. The fact that we can now work from anywhere, at any time, certainly doesn’t help.

Enter mindfulness.

Meditation and mindfulness help retrain our brain so that it wanders less, keeping us away from the negative emotions that often come from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. You have to give yourself both the permission and the skills to switch off and not worry about it.

Avid meditation practitioner and Founder of Zen Compass, Julio Rivera points out a common misconception about meditation is that you are just trying to stop thinking. In reality, it's about building a new relationship with your thoughts and emotions. After all, thoughts are healthy, they mean you’re alive! It's how you react to those thoughts that matters. Meditation is simply a tool to help us be aware of ourselves in the moment.

Our lives are built around how we interpret the moment we are in and how we make decisions based on those moments. Often, our decisions are driven by habit. Mindfulness helps us get to the root of our habits so we can change them. Running may relieve stress, but it won't change our instinctive reactions the next time we're faced with a stressful situation. By looking at your thoughts and sorting through them one by one, you're better able to let them go. This impacts more of your life than you might think. We sleep better. Feel more energized. Put less strain on our relationships. Mindfulness may not be a cure-all, but if we take care of ourselves physically by eating right and exercising, why keep our minds out of the loop?

Meditation is simply a tool to help us be aware of ourselves in the moment.

As a buzzword, "mindfulness" may be on its way to becoming overused, but there is real value in the practice, especially at work. I used to think that mindfulness and meditation required vast quantities of incense and an ability to grow one’s own denim. Ergo, not for me! But then I read a great book that convinced me that meditation is not only for everyone, it's also something that each one of us can personalize.

Karolina Jasica, a colleague from our Poland office, says that her dedication to yoga (which achieves mindfulness through breath and movement) at home led to major breakthroughs at work. "The yoga school of thought says that until you learn how to control your body you cannot master your thoughts. That's why I started with meditation in movement and breathing. But one of the biggest things that yoga taught me is to not compare myself with others. This really was a revelation for me. People often avoid yoga class because they are afraid of being compared with those who practice regularly and can do more advanced positions. I have learned to stop concentrating on what other people have, what other people know, what support they get, what connections they have – it became irrelevant to me. I focused my energy and thinking on what is important to me, and because of this I get better results on the mat and at work."

It took me about six months of powering through to really see the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. And plenty of times my mind did wander. Mornings are usually a sprint to the finish and the idea of carving out space to sit quietly didn’t seem possible. But we're talking about five minutes – at least at the beginning – and scheduling this, like everything else in our lives, is absolutely possible.

I also think that there's a link between mindfulness and the behaviors I want to espouse within my team like being open-minded, curious, bold, optimistic and kind. If in just five minutes a day you could have six-pack abs, wouldn't that be worth the work? I think being a kinder, more creative and overall happier person is worth the same amount of effort.

So mindfulness it is.

1. Tierney, J. (2010, November 15). When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/science/16tier.html

2. Carter, R. H. (2017, September 27). How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day. Retrieved October 03, 2017, from https://hbr.org/2016/03/how-to-practice-mindfulness-throughout-your-work-day

CORP-3328

Topics: Employee Development


Hannah Grove | State Street Corporation

Hannah Grove is our chief marketing officer. She focuses on using technology to help us approach the market in new and different ways.  Hannah is currently listening to the Reveal Podcasts and Damien Rice.