Mindfulness

A friend once told me, “Depression is worrying about the past, anxiety is worrying about the future, but mindfulness is living in the moment.” It made me think about all of the stress in our lives – relationships, work, money, etc. – and the impact those have on our lives. In my last blog post, I talked about how embracing failure is what makes us the most successful. I also talked about how people resist failure, either because they are exhausted (pseudo-fixed mindset) or believe they cannot be any better than they are now (fixed mindset). These ideas suggest that resisting failure is a manifestation of depression and anxiety. So, how can we overcome our worries of the past and future so we can grow? The answer, I believe, is not just what we can do as individuals to help ourselves, but what we can do collectively to help each other.

A 2010 TED Talk from Brene Brown discussed the power of vulnerability in how we live our lives. Brene talks about how we are hardwired for struggle when we are born, but some people are taught to focus on perfection as they get older. This pursuit of perfection creates unhealthy ways of living. I connect it back to the fixed mindset. When we believe we cannot be any better than we are now or do not feel we have the will to take a chance, we feel shame, we feel unproductive, and we spiral into depression and anxiety (or perhaps manifestations of these, like anger). So, what differentiates people who can take those chances to fail? According to Brene Brown, it starts with vulnerability. Just like we are born to deal with struggle, we are born with a need for connection. Vulnerability is about a willingness to show our true selves to others, without a guarantee on what we will get back from them (ridicule, support, etc.). True and meaningful connection is not possible without vulnerability. As I see it, this means asking for feedback or help, in particular when we think we are not performing well or don’t have the answers we need.

Instead of asking for feedback, all too often, we choose to hide our shortcomings and hope no one will notice. In the book, Spiritual Capital: Wealth We Can Live By by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, the Scale of Motivations is discussed. This scale, which can be found here, suggests that what motivates us can be good or bad. My belief is that what puts people on either side of the scale has everything to do with Brown’s discussion around vulnerability. When we are open to feedback, feel connected, and are willing to embrace struggle, we will be motivated by things like curiosity, creativity, and power-within (for a fascinating discussion of turning struggle into opportunity, see the TED Talk Embrace the Shake). When are close ourselves to feedback, isolate ourselves, and avoid conflict, we will be motivated by things like fear and shame.

Getting back to my original point about how we all have a role in whether or not people are willing to embrace failure, let me suggest that the key word here is connected. Brown, in her talk, said, “Shame is a fear of disconnection.” Again, we cannot be connected to others without being willing to share our shortcomings; to be seen for who we really are. We cannot share our shortcomings if we cannot overcome our shame about them. She also says that those who are willing to be vulnerable have a sense of worthiness; a sense of love and belonging. In the book Spiritual Capital, the authors suggest that someone higher up on the Scale of Motivations can move someone lower on the scale up. So, we all have a responsibility to show each other that we are worthy of connection. Individuals cannot do it alone; we need to help each other. This, of course, means it is really important what we assume about, say to, and act towards those we come into contact with each and every day.

As the title of this blog would suggest, this is connected to mindfulness. In the book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that mindfulness is “being in the moment.” When we are too hyper-focused on what has or what will happen to us, we miss everything taking place right in front of us. We fail to see the beautiful and inspiring aspects of day to day life. He also suggests that, even in the worst of situations, these things exist. When it comes to how we interact, I believe that when we are too focused on what has or will happen to us, we miss the chance to see the beauty in others around us. We act out with anger and blame or disconnect completely. This has a profound impact on those around us, whether we choose to see it or not.

So, the main point here? We all have a responsibility in setting up others for success. We have to pay attention to our environment and the people in it. If we can, we have a responsibility to pick up those around us when they need support. We also need to work on asking for support and feedback when we need it. Einstein defined insanity as doing things the same way and expecting different results. Change in our environment and others begins with change in ourselves. Take time to listen and be “in the moment.” Take a risk and open up to those around you. These are the building blocks of an environment that embraces failure and promotes the success and well-being of everyone in it.