Leading The Quiet But Informed Life: Mindful Self Management

saint_paulWe here at Mindful Your Own Business are religion-neutral. We’re super keen on wisdom though. And certainly there is a lot of wisdom contained in many of the world’s spiritual traditions, not just Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, the three that tend to be most typically associated with Mindfulness and meditation.

What about the more common phrase that has inspired Mindful Your Own Business, namely the exhortation: “Mind your own business!”?

The command usually is taken to mean: “Respect other people’s privacy” and/or “stop meddling in what does not concern you.” However, some etymologists think the phrase might have its origins in the Christian Bible (i.e. The New Testament).

St. Paul advises in I Thessalonians 4:11 to 13 that followers should lead an undistracted, focused life. The Greek phrase attributed to him is “manage yourself.” The full quotation is:

“We urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. Behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. But do not be uninformed.”
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Before There Was Mindfulness There Was Thoreau

henry_david_thoreauThis is not literally true, of course. But for many Americans, including me, this is the author who lit the flame, somewhere around 8th grade.

To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
– Henry David Thoreau

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Is Your Self Perception More Accurate Than the Rest of the World’s?

Marshall GoldsmithThere is almost always a discrepancy between the self we think we are and the self the rest of the world sees in us…often the rest of the world has a more accurate perspective than we do. If we can stop, listen, and think about what others see in us, we have a great opportunity. – Marshall Goldsmith
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Leaving a Little Earlier Could Buy You a 1/2-Hour of Free Mindfulness

Mindful_driving_2Many people would like a bit more Mindfulness in their lives. The reason they don’t is because let’s face it, there is a cost. That cost is usually time, although sometimes the cost is energy as well as time. A lot of us have time to spend an hour or two “vegging” out on the couch, watching vapid entertainment on the television or flitting about from one gossipy piece of news on the internet to the other. In this case, what we lack is the *energy* to sit up straight, concentrate and focus on our breathing.

And yet there are times of the day when most of us are energetic enough to immerse ourselves fully in the present moment and gain the clarifying, head-clearing benefits that totally concentrated awareness often brings. But how often do we unnecessarily leave things to the last minute so that the result of our actions is needing to proceed at the greatest possible speed from one place to another?

Driving is a great example. Typically ahead of any excursion, I try to determine how long it takes to get from Place A to Place B. Sometimes I’m even meticulous about it and use Google maps to calculate the travel time. Let’s say Google tells me it takes 23 minutes, under “normal” traffic conditions. I then round the time down to 20 minutes, ignore the fact that I’ll be driving in the middle of rush hour and hey presto! I’m now running late, well before I even set out. Add to this a tendency I have to answer “one more” e-mail in my inbox and clear out “one more” task on my list before leaving, and before you know it I have 15 minutes to accomplish a trip that actually requires about 25 minutes.

Now here’s the “Mindless” part: Because I now realize I’m running seriously late, I jump in the car and am in full-on “flight” mode, with adrenaline and other stress chemicals starting to pump. Eyes bulging now, muscles twitching. Instead of driving calmly, safely and fully obeying the traffic laws, I am now searching frantically for shortcuts, intensely worried about making a wrong turn, annoyed at traffic lights, tempted to run them, and, of course, annoyed at every minor error and unskillful maneuver made by the drivers around me.

But did it really have to be this way? The benefits of driving calmly are considerable. I could have floated over the road, listening to some beautiful music, or basked in perfect quietude. I could have glanced around the countryside, I could have marveled at the wonders of a finely tuned car that drives so smoothly. At each red light, I could have done a mini breathing exercise. The cost? Stopping all my usual “busyness” about five minutes earlier than usual. In a 16-hour waking day, that’s not actually a big investment.

Mindfulness practice and time management



Five Tips for Mindfulness Every Day

Simple Mindfulness practices for every day, edited extracts from Elephant Journal.

Mindfulness_meditation_face1. Know that the red light is not the enemy.
This driving metaphor comes from Thich Nhat Hanh. When you reach a red light, instead of seeing the halt in movement as a hindrance, take it as an opportunity to be still and to breathe. Instead of the anxious energy anticipating arrival at your next destination, thinking about where we will be instead of where we currently are, breathe more deeply into the present moment

2. Notice noise
External sounds are a great way to remind yourself to breathe. Any time you hear a church bell, a phone ringing, a cuckoo clock, or a car honking—take that as a reminder to breathe and reconnect with your body. We are constantly projecting our energy to move outwards, to create, to connect, to give off the frequency we’d like to attract and magnetize back towards us. To be aware of what we are manifesting externally—constantly checking in with ourselves internally is essential.

3. Look people in the eyes
This encourages clarity and truthfulness in speech. Whether you are speaking or listening, looking at people in the eyes will bring more presence into the conversation. It grounds the erratic mind and stabilizes the heart. The human mind is flighty if not trained and controlled properly.
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You Really Are Special But You Still Need To Be Extremely Nice


“Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive,” Bill Bryson writes. “I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By a most astounding stroke of luck, an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.

“For endless eons, there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between, you have this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life, nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having managed to get yourself born. Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.

“But not that special! There are five billion other people on this planet, every one of them just as important, just as central to the great scheme of things, as you are. Don’t ever make the horrible, unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital and significant than anyone else. Nearly all the people you encounter in life merit your consideration. Many of them will be there to help you – to deliver your pizza, bag your groceries, clean up the motel room you have made such a lavish mess of. If you are not in the habit of being extremely nice to these people, then get in the habit now.”

― Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away


Jeff Bezos On Cultivating Courage to Slow Down and Seek Certainty


An excellent article from the Huffington Post about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ approach to Mindfulness. My favorite is:

“It takes courage to say ‘wait. Slow down. Get more information.’ Perhaps even (gasp) ask for help. Begin to unhook from cultural expectations of how to do it (whatever it is), and instead, cultivate the elegant discipline of getting at the deeper truths. Take your business, and your life, into your own hands with a mindfulness practice.”



If You’re Not Making Mistakes, You’re Not Taking Enough Risks

Taking-risks-learning-from-mistakes 29jun15That’s a great quote from Debbie Millman cited by Daniel Dennett’s in his book: Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are. … The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark, Dennett writes.

He continues: “We have all heard the forlorn refrain ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!’ This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Anyone who says, ‘Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!’ is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

A unique hallmarks of human intelligence is our ability to remember our previous thinking and reflect on, learn from it, use it to construct future thinking. Reminding us to beware our culture’s deep-seated fear of being wrong, Dennett advocates celebrating the “ignorance” that produced the mistake in the first place:

“So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity.”

“You should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them.” — Daniel Dennett


Topics: Taking risks, learning from mistakes, self-awareness, mental toughness, resilience


It Will Never Be All Good And That’s OK: Social Authenticity

have_a_nice_day_tshirtClosely aligned with Mindfulness are the notions of honesty, sincerity and authenticity. Mindfulness is partly about – to use the hippy vernacular of the 1960s – getting real, being real and keeping it real.

But many of us start the morning and continue throughout the day telling others and ourselves little untruths. Sometime they’re called “social lies” or “white lies.” Many consider them harmless. But are they? Or do they cause little distortions in our social system that accumulate like little bits of malignant bacteria, resulting in distance and even alienation from others and even from ourselves? Do they make our day-to-day lives less genuine, more fake?

When asked “How are you?” most people will respond along a boisterously positive and narrow continuum that starts with the base position “fine,” escalating to “excellent, “great” and ultimately to “fantastic!” A lot of this is culturally dependent. The inflation in reporting positive mental states is particularly prevalent in the U.S.

Insincere social niceties are often very different elsewhere, with some countries expressing quite a bit more negativity when responding to another’s greeting. In Britain, many people also reply “fine,” but a sizable minority say “not too bad.” That’s a curious response because taken literally, it means things are indeed negative, but they are bearably so. In Germany, people will frequently tell it exactly like it is, occasionally with too much information. Asked “how is it going?” quite a few Germans will say “it’s a bit difficult at the moment” and sometimes continue with a litany of highly specific complaints.

Social authenticity

Back on the relentlessly sunny shores of the United States, an even more insincere – and frankly annoying – reply has emerged in recent years: “It’s all good!” But this state of affairs is very, very rarely literally true. Except maybe for rambunctious twenty-somethings in perfect health and in fulfilling, secure employment who are so self-absorbed that they don’t understand what’s going on in the lives of their less lucky friends, their older relatives and their countrymen inhabiting different social milieus.
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Simple Truths in Saccharine Sweet Syntax

days-of-of-livesSometimes truth is to be found hidden in jagged rocks of 19th century philosophy, encrusted in gigantic Germanic sentences, obscured by words we’ve never fully understood the meaning of. But just as often, I find, there is wise counsel in everyday language, no more sophisticated than a Hallmark card.

“A happy life is just a string of happy moments. But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they’re so busy trying to get a happy life.” – Abraham Hicks

At once profound and banal – there is also the introductory voice-over of a soap opera that has been running since 1965, almost exactly as long as I’ve been alive. “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives.”

And from around the same era, a song reverberating in my subconscious mind since singing it for my middle school graduation ceremony:

If the hands of time were hands that I could hold,
I’d keep them warm and in my hands,
They’d not turn cold!

Hand in hand we’d choose the moments that should last,
The lovely moments that should have no future and no past!
The summer from the top of a swing,
The comfort and the sound of a lullaby,
The innocence of leaves in the spring,

…All the happy days would never learn to fly,
Until the hands of time would choose to wave good-bye!