I was on a short hike with my wife last week. As we descended a quiet, wooded trail near our home, I noticed something scampering through the underbrush. “Look! A squirrel!” And she looked—first at the squirrel, then at me…. “What’s with you and the squirrels?!”
It was a fair question, because it wasn’t the first time on our hike I’d pointed out one of those well-coiffed rodents! Was this a hangover of some childhood obsession, I could see her wondering, as she shook her head and continued down the trail….
Every summer about this time, a couple of squirrels take up residence in the vine maple tree in our back garden. It’s not unusual to see their portly bodies hanging upside-down from their tails to reach the nuts on the slimmer branches below. The whole tree shakes, and our cats look upward, longingly, licking their lips.
How does a busy CEO find time to sit and watch squirrels harvesting nuts?
Another fair question, I’m sure. And I’ll get back to it in a minute. Suffice for now to say it’s a symptom of something bigger….
Mindfulness has gone mainstream.
Recently, Andy Puddicombe was a guest on The Tonight Show. Andy co-founded Headspace, the mindfulness app that’s become a runaway success. Andy guided Jimmy Fallon, the studio audience, and more than two million television viewers through a two-minute meditation. (Check out the video here.) If you’ve been looking for confirmation that mindfulness has gone mainstream, surely this is it.
On their website, Headspace cites ample evidence that meditation can help reduce the psychological and physiological manifestations of stress, contribute to better sleep, enhance couples’ relationship satisfaction, alleviate anxiety, and sharpen concentration. And all it takes is 10 minutes of sitting still every day!
I started using Headspace just over a year ago, on the recommendation of a friend who swore by its benefits. Every day since, I’ve spent 5, 10, or 20 minutes each day listening to Puddicombe guiding me through a simple, accessible meditation. Typically, it’s first thing after I wake up. (Yes, pre-coffee!) Occasionally, it’s in my parked car, before I go into the office. Once in a while, it’s the (incredibly effective) ‘Sleeping’ meditations, specifically designed to help me drift off at night….
Headspace has changed my outlook at work, at home, and even with myself.
The benefits in business are perhaps not surprising. As the absurdity of startup ‘unicorns’ continues to dominate business headlines, entrepreneurs are too often reporting anxiety and even depression, such is the pressure of the vaunted ‘startup.’ Shaping life and defining success with a string of KPIs too easily strips the humanity from business, making us feel like we’re just cogs in the machine of business.
Putting humanity back into business life is an essential tenet of the new economy.
Headspacers are learning to lift their awareness of this outdated, mechanistic view. They’re making the (dare I say it!) headspace to prioritize their own health and vitality, and in turn they’re more focused, delivering better work, and driving more value for themselves and for their employers.
Mindfulness also helps us create the mental space to step away from work and into the home, focusing on relationships, family, and fun—not to mention hobbies, learning, and other personal pastimes. Rather than having work in the back of our minds 24/7, we’re reminding ourselves of a perspective we held long ago (before we dove headlong into the rat race!) that our work is supposed to be just one aspect of ‘the good life.’
Ultimately, the personal benefits to me have been immense. Headspace has helped me learn to be more intentional, rather than letting momentum carry me along. I now think more actively, rather than letting assumptions shape my perspective. And I’ve slowed down—way down—giving myself the time and space to see all that’s going on around me, and make better decisions for my business, for my family, and for myself.
All of which brings me back to the squirrels…. When I notice them, I know I’m present and aware. And connected to the world around me—just as we used to be as kids, when squirrels and butterflies and bumble bees filled us with awe.
Do you stop and notice the squirrels?!
So what’s my message to you? On one level, I suppose, it’s just, ‘stop and smell the roses.’ The problem with that advice is that when we’re moving at the pace of our frantic, gotta-get-there culture, we don’t even notice the roses!
What I really want you to understand is that this frenetic pace you’re feeling, this sense that you can’t get it all done, that failure is lurking just around the corner, is all just a figment…. Learn to sit. Learn to listen. Learn to see all that’s going on around you. Believe me when I say, you too should watch the squirrels. It will make your world slow down….
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion. He has been described as a “peace warrior” and thought leader on issues of social importance. This is one of a series of letters he’s writing as he seeks to embrace transparency, step in to courageous conversations, and be in service to a new era.