There is so much focus on mindfulness these days – which is incredible, but it is also intimidating for those who are new to it. The data on how quiet breathing can improve health, wellness, relieve stress and reduce anxiety is significant and growing. “To our grandchildren, mindful meditation will be as consistent and commonplace as brushing our teeth is today,” says Biologist Richard Davidson, author of Emotional Happiness for Your Brain.
Here’s a way to think about mindfulness in layman’s terms. It allows all 37 trillion or so cells in our body relax, expand and open up to new possibility. And, in that opening, healing, creativity and new perspectives can be born. Powerful stuff, right?
Breath Calms the Mind
If we consistently practice quiet breathing, our body can relax into a state of expansion and possibility quicker and we can go deeper into the present moment. A mindful practice can begin with only a few minutes a day. At Six Minutes Daily, we like to focus on a word – Love, Patience, Focus, Peace, Compassion – whatever word speaks to you. Just breathe it in and out. Or, just focus on your breath. Commit to a 3 minutes of quiet breath every day. Track it. Don’t judge it or yourself. Just keep practicing. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath or your words.
So what comes after the quiet breathing?
With quiet breathing, we can slow down our mind and our respiration. In that new space, consciousness can grow along with the awareness of our own power and choice in how we act and react to life’s events.
Awareness and Personal Leadership Begins with Intention
Here’s where the real fun begins because your personal power and leadership will expand. Below you’ll find a Six Minutes Daily exercise that will take your mindful meditation up a notch. Now we are not just healing. We are also gaining clarity and commitment around who we want to be and how we want to live our lives.
Spend two minutes a day journaling or giving voice to you positive intentions.
In preparation for Six Minutes Daily practice, take 10 minutes to define the Values you want to manifest in your life. Think of it like this: If four or five people who know you well from different parts of your life happened to all be standing in the same grocery store line and began talking about you, what do you hope they would say. REMEMBER THERE ARE NO RIGHT OR WRONG WORDS. YOU GET TO DECIDE. You might hope they said you are thoughtful and accepting of everyone.Or you might hope they said how organized and reliable you are. Another way to think about your VALUES could be in writing the speech you hope people would give when you retire. Walk into the way you want people to remember you. Make it yours – not what you think you should say. These are your intentions.
The point here is that you become AWARE of the core VALUES that are most important to you in life. Thriving health, joy, abundance and success come from this ongoing practice of giving our inner knowing a VOICE so that our external decisions come from a place of alignment and resonance with who we want to be.
Gratitude Activates Your Brain
Studies on gratitude show that gratitude improves optimism by activating the brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is considered the “reward” center. Scientists have found that increases in dopamine make you more likely to do the thing you just did again, reinforcing the ability to live your values.
I first did the exercise listed below when I was 23 years old – single, paying off college debt, living in Cincinnati and working at Procter & Gamble. A couple of years ago, I found my worksheets in a file and sat and looked at what I had written. I was a bit dumbfounded. The core values that came up for me were Adventurous, Family-Oriented and Positive Impact. I found it interesting how powerful Family was for me then, considering I didn’t have any living family besides my mother at that time.
As I look back over the 32 years since I first did that exercise, I see how those three VALUES are what make me feel whole and full of good energy. On the family front, I had three sons, adopted two children and take care of several other young adults who we consider part of our family. Beyond the formal definition of our large family, I realize that I’ve looked at and navigated the world thinking of almost everyone I work with as my family. There is little emotional distinction between my level of caring for the people I work with to the people in my personal life. I bring my whole heart and being to the people I interact with. It is a core component of who I am and how I want to be in the world. Many people frown on that perspective, and that’s okay. THIS IS NOT ABOUT SHOULDS. It is about learning and growing authentically into who we are.
On the adventure side, well let’s just say it is an important part of who I am. Taking smart risks, going where no man has gone before (not really but sometimes in nature it feels that way – and I’m a huge trekker), and living life with the mantra that “life is a great adventure or nothing at all” is ingrained in who I am. Much to my mother’s chagrin at times, I have been known to make decisions to do things with no tangible benefit other than it will be an interesting adventure (professionally, athletically, personally). Again, the more I’ve grown to accept that this is who I am versus judging what I think I should be, the happier and more confident I’ve become and the more successful I’ve become.
Repeating the mantra “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” as Mary Oliver wrote in the poem “The Summer Day” reminds me to live authentically, not for someone else’s definition of success – and especially not by society’s definition of success. Remember, the only thing we know is that at some point there is an expiration date to our lives. Developing a daily practice to lean into the life we want helps us realize who we want to authentically be in this life.
Using this list of VALUES, circle 10 that you see as important in defining who you are and how you want to show up in the world. These words do not have to be fully true right now. They can be aspirational.
Now, cut out 5 of the words.
Write your top three words that holistically speak to you as fundamentally who you want to be (in every role that you play in life – as a friend, professional, family member, parent, child, community member, spiritual member, hobbyist, home creator*, etc…) on three sticky notes.
1. Put one sticky note on your bathroom mirror
2. Put one on your computer or desk
3. Put the third on your wallet or credit card
Finally, use these words in all three parts of your Six Minutes Daily practice: Three minutes of quiet breath, two minutes of positive intentions and one minute of gratitude.
Think about these words each day for a month. How do they speak to you? Do they inspire you? Is something missing? Keep a pad and pen nearby or use a voice recorder on your phone to capture your thoughts. It may sound crazy, but just the act of bringing these words to your consciousness and reflection begins an opening or a shift. You will inevitably increase your awareness and step into who you know yourself to be. The shift may be rather quiet and incremental. Rarely does the biblical, sea-parting shift that we may be waiting for happen. But we believe wholeheartedly that it will come, as David Whyte says in his poem “The True Love,” subtly and intimately in the face of the one you know you have to love. Accept that that person is YOU and abundance will come.