Crowded Minds and Learning to Breathe.

Everywhere I turn lately I feel like someone is talking about mindfulness. It has been an interesting observation for me while going through a time where I have felt really stressed and disconnected, and find myself often getting really caught up in the emotions that come hand in hand with that headspace. It was brought to my attention recently that my most frequent answer to ‘how are you’ has been either ‘busy’ or ‘I’m ok’ ... for quite some time. ‘Busy’ is a lazy word. There is a lot to do yes. There is a lot to do and sometimes it feels overwhelming and a little stressful and that can leave people feeling like they are losing control. ‘I’m ok’ is almost worse. It’s the equivalent of saying ‘I’m actually not great but until I totally lose all control I won’t be exploring that any deeper’. Neither of those answers contains a shred of what I am actually feeling. Not that I think about that when I say them ... because I don’t generally take the time to explore what I am feeling any deeper than ‘not great’. Many of us don’t.

The idea of mindfulness is to be aware, and be present in the moment. That means giving your full attention and focus to the task, person, situation, or in this context, emotion, in front of you right now. Rather than pushing feeling away, repressing emotion (or wallowing in it) or just ignoring the way you feel completely, mindfulness is about allowing and accepting the present moment, whatever it is.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop run by Mel Rowsell (of Peepsly and Vend), called ‘The Intersection of Business and Wisdom’. Business and self enquiry have never really seen eye to eye in the past. There is a prevailing attitude that to succeed in a business focused environment you need to have thick skin, and more importantly, that having thick skin means leaving emotion out of it and just doing what needs to be done to make that money. Go hard or go home, and don’t ever, ever complain. That perspective has far reaching effects. The way we measure success in high stakes business industries often means that the most healthy, fulfilling and grounding habits and relationships in our lives are the first to get sidelined in order to focus on a career. This can often mean substituting that grounding feeling with whatever quick fix makes you feel good temporarily. Beyond the personal, taking the emotion out of business means critical decisions are often made that can effect huge amounts of people on a massive scale without empathy or compassion for that human toll. I don’t believe that this is how we as social and emotional people are naturally hard-wired, and it was really validating to sit in a room full of extremely talented, creative, driven and successful people who felt the same.

Mel decided to run the workshop after her third time attending the Wisdom 2.0 summit in San Francisco earlier this year. There were around 20 of us, from so many different (awesome) industries, and ranging from entry level positions to senior management and experienced leadership coaches. Apart from having more raw, honest and open conversation in one day than I felt like I had had in months, we learnt some really valuable tools for dealing with stress and what can feel like negative emotions in positive and productive ways. One tool I have found extremely useful since then is the R.A.I.N method. R.A.I.N stands for Recognise, Allow, Investigate, and Non-Identification. To give a really quick breakdown - when you can feel you are overwhelmed or close to the edge (in any situation) stop for a minute. Recognise what it is that you are feeling. If it helps, say the emotion out loud. “I feel stressed”. Allow that feeling to be there. You don’t have to change it, in fact, you can’t change it and you don’t need to right now. It just is. Investigate why you are feeling that way. Really investigate. Why are you stressed? Do you feel this way often? What makes it worse? What helps? Non-Identification is about disassociating yourself from that emotion. The emotion is not actually you. You are not a ‘stressy’ person, you are just experiencing the emotion of stress right now. Learning to keep the ‘self’ separate from the emotions you are feeling is a really awesome way of keeping a still, calm place at the core of your being.


Such a simple process, once mastered, could potentially transform your personal and professional life in profound ways. There is a growing awareness that people are not as a rule either intellectually intelligent or emotionally and spiritually intelligent, but rather tend to prioritise one aspect of growth to the neglect of the other. Summits like Wisdom 2.0 (and workshops like Mel’s) are springing from the growing understanding that unless you focus on a version of self-growth that encompasses and supports both intellectual and emotional wellbeing, you will likely find it much harder to reach your full potential, and as a leader, to encourage your team to reach theirs.

If you haven’t heard of Wisdom 2.0, you probably need to. Its really incredible and the quality and impact of the humans who present and those who attend is enough to make the world seem like a more hopeful place. The conference is described as one that ‘brings together leaders and individuals, working at and with large and small organisations and individuals, who are impacting how we can live and work optimally and mindfully in this digital age. The Technology and Business founders and leaders we invite to speak provide their own wisdom of how to optimise innovation, creativity and mindfulness in the contemporary workplace.’

Conferences and large learning events like this with a focus on mindfulness are bringing the practice out into the professional mainstream. Global companies like Google, Intel and Aetna have already incorporated extensive mindfulness programs into their wider wellbeing philosophy, and are seeing the results in the increase of productivity and employee satisfaction, and in the decrease of health issues and turnover.

The business world is slowly but surely beginning to realise that there is a really big difference between being Brian the super calm guy who thrives in a stressful environment and being Brian the dick who brings the stressful environment with him everywhere he goes. We work in a space that is naturally conducive to stress. Starting companies involves long hours, high risk, and a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. Days start early and end really late, the fears don’t go away when you leave the office, and it can very quickly all start to feel overwhelming (turning good humans into Brian the dick in record time). This makes learning how to ground ourselves effectively in a small amount of time a hugely beneficial skill to have. It is about gaining the understanding that you can centre yourself rather than expecting the people around you to perform that function. I would encourage everyone to at least explore how mindfulness can be applied in their life.

If you would like to learn more, the wonderful Mel Rowsell is holding her next workshop in the GridAKL event space on Wednesday May 11th. You can register here