What is mindfulness? According to Boyatzis and McKee, mindfulness “is the capacity to be fully aware of all that one experiences inside the self—body, mind, heart, spirit—and to pay full attention to what is happening around us—people, the natural world, o ur surroundings, and events.” 1 Ajahn Sumedho, 2 in Teachings of a Buddhist Monk, wrote that mindfulness is about a full awareness of what is going on inside; it not necessarily about concentrating on a particular object or thing, because our concentration does not last long. Rather, being mindful means allowing for the experience of the moment to arise, whether that experience is confusion, hurt, laughter, or excitement.
Many people equate the concept of mindfulness to Eastern philosophers who look at mindfulness as a process of self-awareness that directs the self to take part in being in the “present moment.” This reflective process is nonjudgmental, meaning that mindfulness is accepting whatever is happening. Mindfulness is not thinking in terms of categorizing experiences or labeling them; rather, it allows the experiences to just be. It does not associate with the ego—“I,” “me,” and “mine.” Instead, it looks at only the experience(s) in the present moment from an objective stance or that of an observer. In this way, mindfulness provides experiences so profound that it can, and has, changed perspectives and relationships.
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in innovation and creativity. The phrase “think outside of the box” eludes to mindfulness. To “think outside of the box” means that you cannot categorize, label, or see the issue or object in the same perspective as you did before. You must choose a different way to look at what is in front of you. This would mean that you need to challenge yourself to do things outside of your comfort zone, and, oftentimes, you are doing something you would not even think about doing. In this way, mindfulness is a process, not an outcome.
Culturally intelligent leaders who use mindfulness are generally more open to possibilities and different perspectives. They allow themselves to receive new information even if they believe that what is in front of them is indeed fact or true to them. A state of mindfulness helps to create possibilities and different avenues for growth. Take, for example, the following situation:
Two politicians from opposing parties are in disagreement about actions to take regarding a potential new immigration policy. Both politicians recognize that there is an immigration issue in the country and that it has a significant impact on the economy. Both believe that controlling immigration into the country is the key to maintaining national security and ensures the health and well-being of the country’s citizens. One of the politicians believes that a way to control immigration is to round up all illegal immigrants and deport them. The other politician believes that only specific illegal immigrants should return to their country. Enter a third politician who has been listening to the argument. This politician sees both sides of the arguments and recognizes the truth in each statement. As a result of mindful listening, receiving, and reflection, this politician offers a third alternative that may contain components of the two opposing arguments or it could be a completely different way of thinking about immigration.
Mindfulness techniques help you to come to an awareness of your self-efficacy. Through mindfulness, you learn to see your perspective of a situation, whether objects, people, places, or ideas are involved. The connection between mindfulness and self-efficacy is such that when you use mindfulness, it helps you to focus on your performance and goals.
This next exercise is to help you use mindfulness to accomplish a goal. On a piece of paper, write down one goal you have (i.e., “My goal is to…”). This may be related to work, your family, your finances, starting a new business, purchasing a new car—anything you would like to obtain. Below your stated goal, write down five things you plan on doing to achieve this goal. Next, have two people (e.g., friends, neighbors, strangers) each write down five things you can do to achieve this goal. Then, review what you have written down to achieve your goal as well as what others have said for you to do to reach your goal. Now, respond to the following questions:
- How would you react if none of the plans you made turned out the way they were supposed to?
- What if, in the middle of working toward your goal, the goal changed?
- If you reached your goal exactly as you planned it, what would you have learned about yourself?
- What type of life do you think you would lead if everything went according to your plans? Asking these questions not only helps you to be more mindful, it helps you to be more focused on your goals.