Decision Making

Mindfulness For Performance – Importance, Definition, Practice, Examples, 19 Activities <1 min

 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is not sitting in lotus position on a mountain top.

Below is the often-cited definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn (author and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts).

“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Why is it important?

I wrote recently about mindfulness being a critical practice in performance settings. In situations of stress and pressure, mindfulness is the scalpel that sits between my reaction (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can choose).

By connecting to the present moment, I can focus on doing what matters (task-focussed attention) and align my choices, decisions and behaviours with importance (values, people, goals, objectives, purpose, impact).

Modern science continues to validate the beneficial effects of millennia old mindfulness practices on attention, memory, executive function, and cognitive flexibility – all great things for both wellbeing and performance.

 

How to practice mindfulness

What does that definition of mindfulness actually mean in practice?

In simple terms there are three parts to mindfulness:

  1. Focus: We focus on something (eg breath or sound).
  2. Drift: We inevitably drift away from the focus with thoughts, feelings or sensations.
  3. Come back: We notice we’ve drifted and come back to our focus.

Focus, drift, come back, repeat.

The beauty of mindfulness is that it can’t be done “wrong”.

It’s the inevitable drifting and coming back that are the reps in the gym that, with practice, can lead to the benefits described earlier and even change the physical structures in your brain.

Daily mindfulness examples

There are a tonne of apps out there (Headspace, Calm etc) to practice mindfulness in 10 min blocks.

But the reality is that there’s no need for an app. Mindfulness can be practiced in literally every moment of a day.

There are plenty of times when I just slam a coffee down first thing in the morning to stave off the effect of a child-interrupted sleep.

When I’m more mindful though, I sit with my coffee and really try to appreciate it.

  • How does it truly smell?
  • How does it truly taste?
  • What is the temperature of the cup on the palm of my hands?

For just a couple of seconds, I’ve purposefully focussed my attention on a subject and in the present moment, tried to truly experience it non-judgementally.

That’s it.

It doesn’t take up more time. It doesn’t require a special place. It just takes a choice to really engage with that moment.

I do something similar with my first glass of water each morning.

I hold the glass with both hands, and as I drink the water, I recite my values to myself in my mind: Love, Gratitude, Humility, Exploration, Contribution.

Building a practice for yourself

In helping people develop a mindfulness practice, my first question is:

What is something you do everyday (or nearly everyday)?

Like the examples above, it could be your first glass of water, a shower or a coffee.

This becomes the anchor.

The next step is:

How can you really pay attention to this experience?

It might be through any or all of your senses sound, sensation, taste, smell, sight.

With these two questions you’ve built yourself a personalised mindfulness practice that slots perfectly into your existing patterns and habits.

[If you want to explore more about building positive habits check out Atomic Habits by James Clear.]

19 mindfulness activities that take less than 1 minute

Below is a list of mindfulness activities and practices that I’ve tried over the years that I find useful in all sorts of settings including work, leadership, parenting, home, health, fitness and difficult conversations.

I use them as a situation requires but as you’ll see, opportunities for mindfulness are as varied as I’d like to make them.

Most are framed as questions to help to purposefully bring my attention to the present moment.

Breath

  • 4-7-8 breath. Breathe in for 4, hold for 7, out for 8. Repeat three times. (Pioneered by Dr Andrew Weil.)
  • Breathe through my nose: Do I notice the difference in humidity on the inhale vs the exhale? How far down my throat can I follow my breath?
  • Am I breathing with my chest or diaphragm?
  • Am I breathing through my nose or mouth?

Outside

  • Can I feel the sensation of the wind or sun on my face?
  • What sounds can I notice close by? What sounds seem further away?

At work

  • Wiggle my toes in my shoes: what sensations do I notice?
  • Sitting down: What is the sensation of the chair on the back of my legs?
  • Air conditioning in a meeting room: Can I notice the sound of the air conditioning in the room I’m sitting in? Are there different tones?
  • Can I take a mindful sip of water to pause before I respond to a question or situation?

At home

  • Shower: Can I notice the droplets hitting my skin? Can I separate them individually?
  • Washing up: What does the water feel like on my hands? How does the scrubbing brush feel in the palm of my hand?
  • Parenting: Where in my body do I feel the frustration at the toys not being put away? What are the sensations in my thumb when my daughter holds it as she falls asleep?

Exercise

  • Strength work: Can I notice the contraction of my muscles? Can I notice each of the individual fibres?
  • Swimming: Are the tiles on the bottom of the pool in clear focus? Can I notice the different colours on the bottom of the pool as light refracts through the water?
  • Walking/running: Can I notice the sensations in my feet? The airflow on my face?

Food and Drink

  • Food: What does the meal actually taste like? Can I separate the flavours? Can I feel the different textures?
  • Water: Can I notice the temperature? The texture?
  • Coffee/Tea: Can I notice the smell, taste, temperature, the steam rising from the cup?

As Greek poet Archilochus says:

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

And this list is really just a prompt and reminder to me to explore how I might bring mindfulness into my day.

I want to practice it daily so that when the pressure is on, I can use mindfulness as a tool to notice my reaction and choose my response.

I’d love to hear about any other favourite mindfulness practices you’ve tried or that have worked for you in the comments below.

[Podcast] How To Thrive As A Leader And Be Your Best Self – Olympics, 3 Questions, 4 Ideas, Crucibles, Buddhism

Toby, what was driving you back then?

I just knew I wanted to go to the Olympic Games. In reflection, I would say that I was trying to prove something to myself. I think that ultimately, I was trying to prove that I was enough.

It was great to be a guest on Jeff Bullas’ podcast recently.

Jeff is an online entrepreneur, influencer, author and speaker on all things digital. He has been featured on Forbes as a “Top 20 Influencer of Chief Marketing Officers” and ranked #1 Global “Digital Marketing Influencer”. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Inc., and Huffington Post. Having built a social media tribe of over 700k followers, he now advises startups on marketing and influencer strategy.

Jeff and I met back in my Bluewire Media marketing days and have become great friends, sharing highs and lows of our journeys both personally and professionally.

In this interview we cover a bit of ground:

  • The three questions that have guided my professional journey.
  • The rocky road to Athens Olympics and my physiological response to the stress and pressure.
  • The four business ideas that we assessed before starting Bluewire Media and our decision criteria.
  • The role of crucible situations in my development.
  • How death forced me to look in the mirror.
  • Why Jeff as a social media influencer has reduced his social media interactions.
  • The tweak in my understanding of a key Buddhism story that made me realise that acceptance is a never ending practice.
  • How an evidence-based triangle can help people work better with stress and pressure.

You can find Jeff all over the web:

Please enjoy!

“Who Am I?” (v15,493) – How To Regain Momentum In 3 Mins

If you’re anything like me, you might like to just get straight to the “how to” part.


So here it is.


I’ll explain the backstory afterwards.

Regaining Momentum

As an experiment, I’ve tried this exercise recently with people feeling stuck in different situations: intense negotiations, family troubles, stepping down from their business and assessing job opportunities.


They found it useful. I hope you do too.



Do What Matters Exercise [3 mins]

  1. Open up a new note on your phone.

  2. Title it Daily Practice.

  3. Write in a sub header: Do What Matters

  4. Then allow yourself only 30 seconds to write your responses to each of the 6 questions below in the note you just created.

[NB: I say 30 secs for 2 reasons – firstly to stop perfectionism taking over, secondly to get you up and running as quickly as possible. You don’t need perfect answers here. If you don’t know an answer just write something down. Something is infinitely better than nothing. In my experience, you’ll have a very good gut sense of what matters to you. You can always refine it later.]

Questions (copy these directly into your note)

  1. What are your values?

  2. Who is important to you?
    It can be specific people or groups of people. An important note: I find people often don’t include themselves. This is an exercise in self awareness. Without you, there are no other relationships. So please make sure your name is on the list.

  3. What is important to you?
    This can be broad or specific. They might be goals or more generalised concepts. Up to you.

  4. What is your purpose?
    If you don’t have one, take a guess.

  5. What would you willingly do for free?

  6. What energises you?

Then check this note ideally every day or, if not, then at least whenever you’re feeling stuck.

Add to it and edit it as you see fit. Then use it to guide your decisions and actions.


That’s it.


[If you choose to give this a crack, please let me know how you go in the comments or contact me directly.]



I’ve found that connecting to importance is a pathway to regaining a sense of momentum. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. Other times acceptance and mindfulness are a required part of the process too.


Bringing some definition to who I am and then reconnecting with it helps me create an internal locus of control and helps me distinguish between my reaction to the situation (which I can’t control) and my response (which I can).

The Backstory

When I resigned recently, I was trying to decide what to do next. I had identified so strongly with my role in my business that when that was removed, I felt I’d lost a part of my identity. I felt stuck.


“Who am I?”
wasn’t a question I could easily answer.


When I did begin to think about it, there was a risk of my response becoming a philosophical swamp.


I opted for extreme utility instead.

Decoupling

I drew this sketch one day and it helped me to think about the situation.

Obviously, the circle in the middle represents who I am.


The radiating lines represent, at a macro level, the expression of who I am into the relationships I have in the world as a husband, father, friend, coach, founder, colleague and into various areas of my life – work, spirituality, health, fitness, social, leisure etc.


At a micro level, a line might represent the expression of who I am into very specific situations like a difficult conversation or my choice to do my work outs at home rather than going to a gym.


(I realised through COVID that the opportunity to train at home was in service of role modelling exercise for my daughters. This has been the single most important factor that has helped me stick to my strength and mobility program.)


Seeing things in this way allows me to decouple who I am from what I do.


It also allows me to choose how I engage in these various activities.

Definition

Once the decoupling became apparent, the next step was to bring some definition to answering “Who am I?”. (Some would say there is no “I”, but that’s for another conversation.)


There are a myriad of ways to do that and I’ve tried a bunch.


Values finders, strengths finders, psychometric profiling, vision building tools etc. I’ve always enjoyed these kinds of rabbit holes. Some reports really resonated. But more often, they have ended up buried as attachments in my email, never to be seen again.


The other challenge with these exercises is that they can take a long time. The time investment becomes a barrier to getting started and a barrier to putting the insights into practice. And to me, that’s where all the value is created.


So 8 weeks ago, rather than starting from a blank page, I opted to grab what I had – my values and a vision statement that I’d done in past exercises. I hadn’t created the Do What Matters exercise at that point.


I added them to a note to reflect on each day before I started work.

Editable

I found myself editing that note most days or simply highlighting parts that didn’t sit well or I felt needed updating. I also added some things like purpose and behavioural principles.


By having it editable, I’d stumbled across an empowering insight: I have the chance to change it every day if I choose; to make it more of who I am; to remove parts that no longer fit.

What my note currently looks like

This is different to how your note will have turned out. I didn’t have that exercise structure when I started this.

It absolutely captures the essence of my responses to those questions though. They’ve just been captured and rewritten in a different format.

Feel free to copy this too if you’d prefer to use this as a starting point. I’ll leave up to you.

Daily Practice

Version 15,493 [NB: I’ll explain this next]

Do What Matters

Purpose

  • To build a better world by helping people bring all of who they are to everything they do.

Values

  • Love ❤️
  • Gratitude 🙏
  • Humility 🌱
  • Exploration 🌌
  • Contribution 🌅

Vision

I earn respect by being deeply connected to my family, friends, work and life; by exploring ways to bring all of me to everything I do and helping others do the same.

People say that I am humble and a voracious learner; that I integrate all parts of life; that I’ve connected them with fascinating people and had a tonne of fun together.

I build trust by doing what matters; acknowledging when I’m wrong; listening and asking questions first; sharing my stories; living my strengths and walking my talk.

The highest standards I uphold are characterised by focus, patience, reflection and action.

My legacy will be that I loved deeply and was loved in return; that I impacted the lives of my family, friends and millions globally; that I made the world a better place; that I had an impact on the grand challenges of our time; that I contributed far more to humanity’s pool than I took away.

Behavioural Principles

  • Committed action I am all in. I bring all of me to everything I do. It’s hell yeah or not at all. Pressure, stress, fear, vulnerability are the price of entry.

  • Ideas are free, strategy + execution is everything. I pause and consider then execute fast to test and learn.

  • Do what matters I manage priorities not time. Importance is my compass, as is fear. Time is non-renewable.

Version 15,493

A few weeks after I’d resigned, a friend asked me: “How’s Toby 2.0 going?”.


It was the editability of the note that made me think that this wasn’t really version Toby 2.0.


How many versions had there actually been?


I realised that this note was an imperfect but workable definition of who I am today. And that there have been thousands of versions prior and hopefully many more to come.


I really like the idea of being an architect of who I am, so I found a calculator (link below) that would tell me how many days I’ve been alive.


Turns out it’s 15,493.


If versioning happens daily, and assuming I make it, then tomorrow I’ll be at version 15,494.


I realised that the work of being myself is never done, it doesn’t have to be perfect and I can always update it tomorrow as I reflect and learn.


Until death that is.


I find that liberating.



Associated Links

Calculator

Other posts about transition