I am the definition of a planner. Every week, between home, school and everything else in between I spend hours just planning things literally because I can and because my mind just goes there. Some people call it daydreaming. I prefer to think of it as considering possibilities.
I get a thrill from the anticipation of what’s coming next and what I might do about it. Even worse? I am admittedly a perfectionist. (Oh, I know what you’re thinking – my poor fiancé.) When things go perfectly as planned, you’ve never seen a happier camper than me. But the truth is, much to my fiancé’s dismay, I am not much for camping, and things seldom go perfectly as planned.
In fact, I find that “perfectly as planned” is largely the exception, not the rule. When things aren’t so smooth, I can usually trace it back to a single defining moment; a moment when I should have realized what was actually happening and when I should have done something differently than I did. Little did I know until recently, there’s an app for that. Just kidding but there is a practice for it.
Taking a Mindful Minute
Mindfulness, at its core, is non-judgmental present moment awareness of one’s situation, feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. It’s a practice that is unsurprisingly trending – at home, at work, you name it. A recent article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) suggested that practicing mindfulness can literally change your brain — for the better.
In more casual terms, I like to think that mindfulness is the subtle difference between the outcome you want and the outcome you end up with. It’s that split second where you actually focus on what’s happening in the present moment and do that one thing that yields the perfect part of the plan. It’s the exception, not the rule. Another article in HBR reports that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. Holy auto-pilot.
Ironically enough, a peer of mine, Pat was just telling a story about this a few weeks ago – a story from years ago that still haunts her. She tells the best stories. Because, of course, I don’t have enough of my own stories that highlight moments where mindfulness could have been the difference between the outcome I wanted and the outcome I got.
In any case, Pat was a normal middle school kid. She got good grades, she had some friends and, like many of us at that age, she wanted to be more like the cool kids at school. There was something about them that was just so perfect. She was in her Home-Ec class one day when her teacher split everyone up into groups to do a project. They would be making muffins as a team, each person with their own unique responsibility. Once the class was divvied up, Pat was shocked to realize that she was on a team with the cool kids. These weren’t just your average cool kids; they were the quintessential popular kids. As if.
They got into their groups and started prepping to make the muffins. Pat was so captivated by her group she was hardly paying attention to anything she was doing. All she remembered was how intensely she wanted to impress the cool kids. The class continued. Another ingredient went into the bowl. A mix here, a blend there. Pat threw her sugar in, and they went about their fun muffin making business. The mix went into the muffin tins, and shortly thereafter the muffins came out of the oven – and they looked perfect.
Albeit a total victory – Pat teamed with the cool kids – it was a totally short-lived one. Pat’s teacher explained that they were the absolute worst muffins he had ever tasted in his life. The sugar Pat threw in? That was actually salt. And if that weren’t embarrassing enough, Pat’s teacher also explained that their entire team failed the project because of Pat’s mistake. Pat would not go on to be friends with the cool kids and made a personal promise to herself that she would never be that link on the team again; all because of that one single defining moment.
This happened almost 20 years ago, and it’s still a big deal to her.
Someone once told me that it’s not what you do that matters. It’s what you do before you do what you do that matters. Imagine what Pat’s outcome may have been had she taken a mindful minute to focus truly on what was happening and done something differently – like say, grabbed the sugar. Imagine if we all took that mindful minute and spent all of our hours (rather than just 47% of them) off of auto-pilot.
Would we get more of the outcomes we want? More importantly, what if the “perfectly planned” outcome was less often the exception than the rule?
I know I’d be a happy camper.
P.S. Pat’s is among the most wonderful people I have had the pleasure to work with in my adult life – both for her team mentality and fantastic stories. Thank you for the inspiration, Pat, the muffins at your last party were great.
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Want a Different Outcome? Take a Mindful Minute
Today we call it mindfulness, but back in 1910 Arnold Bennet described it in his own terms in a very short book.