Are You Living on Autopilot?: How Mindful Leadership Training Can Bring You Back to the Present

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By Janice Marturano 

Is it September? What happened to the summer?

Stop for a minute. Do you ever feel this way? How could it already be September? It feels like it was just May.

Or do you ever look at the time and wonder, how could it be 6 pm? I’m exhausted, but I’m not sure what I accomplished today. My “to-do” list seems just as long, maybe longer, than it was this morning.

This certainly was often true for me. As a senior executive, my days were always filled with meetings and calls, and there was a “to do” list that was quite long. And so, I always felt I was busy, too busy in fact. But I also felt as though days, and often months, were slipping by without me noticing them. What was happening? I was living much of my life on autopilot, and I didn’t know it.

If you are like most professionals in the workplace, you also go through your rushed day, filled with meetings and deadlines in a state of autopilot. Your body is in the room, but your mind is time traveling. It is busy with something other than the task at hand. It may be planning for the next thing or ruminating about the last thing, or just drifting into places unknown. It is not where you want it to be…in the room. 

And when you are not in the room, your influence is diminished in many ways whether you know it or not. For example, when you are in a meeting and your mind is still in the tough conversation from the last meeting, you miss what is going on, and you cannot fully engage with the group. You need to be present in body and mind to feel connected to others. And for them to feel connected to you. Presence is felt--and the opposite is true. When your body is in the room, but your mind is somewhere else, it is also felt. And it feels disrespectful. 

Learning to notice when your mind has left the room and learning to escort it back to the present moment is one aspect of the training of mindful leadership that is offered by the Institute for Mindful Leadership to professionals around the world.  

Twenty years ago, when I began my own practice, I quickly began to notice that I wasn’t having many of those “how could it be 6 pm already?” days anymore. And more importantly, it began to make a difference in the way I was leading--my life, my team, and my family.

So, if you would like to have a taste of the training, try this little exercise for 5 minutes:

  1. Right now, as you are sitting and reading, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath--the stretch of your ribs or belly with the inhale, and the softening with the exhale. Just breathe, sustaining attention on the sensations.
  2. When your mind begins to wander, escort it back to the sensations of your breath.

Simple but not easy, right? With practice, you will get more accustomed to noticing when your mind wanders away and to bring it back. Then when you are in the meeting, you can sit and breathe (no need to close your eyes), and when your mind starts to slip away, you can bring it back to the room.

When you are attentive to the moments of your life, they are much less likely to slip away without you noticing. Just imagine how productive a meeting would be if everyone were paying attention! And just imagine what family dinner would be like if everyone put down the phones and connected for real.

Are you Ready to Deepen Your Mindful Leadership Journey?

Deepen your journey by joining me on October 10-13 for the Leadership Communication and Resiliency Retreat

There are a limited number of partial scholarships available for non-profit professionals with financial need. Please contact Peter@InstituteforMindfulLeadership.org for details.

Janice L. Marturano, J.D. is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership and author of Finding the Space to Lead.

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