We are like fish and the thoughts are like the bait
Early morning I went for a walk by the sea. The weather was pleasant and the mild breeze created little wavelets on the surface of the sea. In the distant, skydivers’ colorful parachute dotted the sky. Fifteen minutes into the walk as I reached the end of the path, I came across the sign “Fishing Prohibited”, it had the drawing of a fish looking at a bait/hook. It just occurred to me that I was like that fish and my speedy mind was the bait, and it had hooked me for the last fifth minutes or so in the web of thinking and thinking. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you get carried away by thoughts and stories when brushing your teeth, driving to work and back, in meetings, at dinner table or watching TV? Does “your” mind check out regularly even before you know it? What’s the impact of that on your work/home/life?
We are often entangled by the mind stories wandering from one thought to the next. Each automatic thought hijacks our attention and takes us on a wild ride of stories, narratives, commentaries and accompanying emotions and physical sensations. We go through the loops repeatedly – without much awareness of it. Research at Harvard has found that people spend around 50% percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering is typically cause of their unhappiness.
“I free myself not by trying to be free, but by simply noticing how I am imprisoning myself in the very moment I am imprisoning myself.” – Rick Carson
Each time we free our attention from the furry of automatic associative thinking and consciously focus it on what matters in this moment; the client we are talking to; the project at hand; the surrounding environment or nature, the strong emotions … we see them afresh and new possibilities and choices for responding emerge. This does not mean associative thinking is bad. It can actually be a source of creative ideas when applied out of conscious choice. The problem arises when thinking becomes automatic and takes over much of our attention.
At its most fundamental core, the practice of consciously freeing the attention from automatic fusion with mind-stories and guiding it back to the here and now, where the freedom of choice resides
At its most fundamental core, the practice of consciously freeing the attention from automatic fusion with mind-stories and guiding it back to the here and now, where the freedom of choice resides is the initiation into personal leadership – living from creativity and choice rather than being ensnared by limiting knee-jerk reactivity. A leader in an article in Harvard Business Review on Mindful Leadership sums this up as “I now have moments of choice that I didn’t have before.”
Re-Claiming the 50%
To accomplish anything we need energy. To coach and develop our team, build partnership with stakeholder, learn that new skill, direct our career … all need energy. What would/could you do with 50% more energy?
It is not that we don’t have energy, rather a whole lot of it (50% is simply a staggering number) is wasted away when we operate from auto-pilot mode. We need to consciously guide attention to claim back our energy.
Practice: Freeing Attention
Practicing parachuting down from our head into the body as a regular exercise loosens our identification with mind stories. Just as the surface of the sea is wavy but when we go deeper the sea is quiet, in the same way, dropping down into our core/body opens us to a centered witnessing state that is not identified with the torrents of repetitive thoughts.
Find a place that you will not be disturbed for the next 15-17 minutes. Listen to the track ‘mindfulness of the breath’ using a headset and totally devoting your full attention.
Kamran is an International Coach Federation (ICF) accredited experienced Professional Certified Coach (PCC). He focuses on executive coaching and leadership development coaching assignments. He leads a highly engaging and practical Workshop Series on EQ & Self-Reflective Practices for professionals in Dubai, UAE.