By Catherine Wilson, Protocol Specialist, PDI-POA Board Director
There is a lot of talk about mindfulness these days. Smart watches remind us regularly to take time for mindfulness. News outlets send out stories about mindful eating. The internet is filled with people extolling the benefits of being mindful in myriad ways. You might be wondering how mindfulness can be a part of your daily routine, and whether it can affect your professional life as well as your personal life. I am certainly no expert, but here are a few of my observations about why and how to go about bringing some mindfulness into your day:
Spend the time to learn mindfulness. It will have benefits for you that go far beyond the moments of meditation.
Once you have figured out what form(s) of mindfulness fit your personality and that you feel good about practicing with some regularity, you will be able to use it in your everyday activities: working, exercising, practicing a hobby, and so on. The conscious practice of being aware of experiences that tend to send you down a path toward negative or positive emotions will give you a better understanding of what is happening in the moment. You are then empowered to take control of your response when something triggers one of those negative reactions.
The more control you have over your automatic responses, the better you can handle whatever life throws at you.
Consider a hypothetical work situation where all sorts of things are going wrong, you and a coworker are having a “failure to communicate” (a la Cool Hand Luke), or a client or customer is insisting that everything you did is wrong and you purposely mistreated them. These situations happen frequently and can completely derail your mental state for the day. Once your mental state is off track, so is your thinking, your effectiveness, and your ability to focus on the tasks at hand. With the help of mindfulness, you become aware of your automatic reactions, and are able to take steps to be more in control of the effects of those triggers. You have the tools and the knowledge to decide how you react in situations where you might otherwise have felt overwhelmed or blindsided.
You can respond better in positive situations as well by developing the awareness and focus that comes with mindfulness. In my work I have to be particularly attuned to nonverbal cues and cultural nuances. This requires using all senses to understand what is going on and how I can best work with a visitor or colleague to accomplish our goal. Things move fast, so the better I can home in on what is relevant and let the noise fall into the background, the more quickly and appropriately I can act. By using the focus and keen awareness that I am developing in mindfulness practice, I am prepared and can more quickly take in, properly process, and appropriately respond to the wealth of information coming at me.
The practice of mindfulness takes time, so give yourself the grace to fall off the practice and go back.
Early attempts to practice mindfulness and meditation did not stick with me. Candidly, at times, I felt like a meditation failure. The habit just wasn’t forming.
Why couldn’t I have the self-discipline to stick to it? What is wrong with me that I can’t meditate but other people can? Am I just hopelessly stressed out?
First, we all need to give ourselves space to falter and try again. I recently saw a post on social media with a quotation attributed to Winston Churchill: “success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Fortunately all my earlier failures, or let’s call them attempts to become someone who practices mindfulness, did not result in an overall loss of enthusiasm, so I guess I can say I am still on the road to success.
Second, don’t consider yourself a failure at mindfulness because that awesome teacher or amazing app your friend told you about doesn’t work for you. Find another one that does. While Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics and Ten Percent Happier fit my needs and personality, any number of other approaches like Calm, Headspace, Smiling Mind, Pause, Insight Timer, or others may click better with you.
Third, and most importantly, give yourself a break for not being perfect. Just as you would never talk down to another person or call them a failure because they could not get a new practice right on the first try, treat yourself with the same kindness and patience. Let yourself stumble from failure to failure and maintain the enthusiasm.
Not only will the practice of showing yourself tolerance be good for you, it will also improve how you approach others. Learning the vocabulary of patience inside your own head creates “muscle memory” for managing your reactions and sets you up for success in treating others with the same generosity. We never know what others are dealing with. Frequently a person reacting in a moment of rudeness or frustration has very little to do with the situation in front of them.
Your ability to pause, take a breath, and refrain from knee-jerk reactions will enhance your interactions with others and allow you to build better relationships.
Business etiquette behaviors and professional presence apply everywhere, and practicing mindfulness can help you to remain in the mindset where you can be your best no matter the situation. You develop the tools to reset your mind and focus on behaviors that foster consideration and respect, professionalism and polish, relationships and connections. No matter what your industry or your role, you can be a Better Professional through mindfulness.
About the Author, Catherine M. Wilson
Catherine M. Wilson is the Protocol, Stewardship, and Partnerships Program Director for Notre Dame International at the University of Notre Dame. She works collaboratively with units across campus to develop strategic priorities for international visitors and to coordinate and execute event and protocol management for distinguished international visitors to campus. She organizes executive-level international delegations traveling from campus overseas. She provides training and consulting on business etiquette, protocol, and intercultural communication. Wilson manages NDI donor stewardship and leads project management of international partnerships.
A native of Georgia, Wilson earned both her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and her master’s in nonprofit administration magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. She is a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington®'s protocol officer training and is licensed through the Protocol School of Washington® as an intercultural protocol and etiquette trainer and consultant. She also earned a certificate in hospitality and tourism management from Florida Atlantic University, and holds certifications in GlobeSmart Profile (intercultural communication) and Inclusive Behaviors Inventory assessment and facilitation through Aperian Global. She is a member of Protocol and Diplomacy International - Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA). In PDI-POA, she is the Vice President for Communications on the Board of Directors (elected 2020), as well as a member of the Virtual Planning Team and the Select Committee on Professional Behaviors, Ethics, and Responsibilities.
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