Tag Archives: philosophy

How I Achieved Mindfulness (Without Meditation)

(The image at left, created by artist Alice Popkorn, is licensed under Creative Commons.)

Thanks to a tweet from Valdis Krebs (@valdiskrebs) yesterday, I was directed to an article entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure in Eight Weeks.” The bottom line is that people who participated in a mindfulness program – where they meditated and did other “mindfulness exercises” for at least 27 minutes a day in an effort to reduce stress – overwhelmingly achieved that goal. At the end of eight weeks, using MRIs, the researchers observed:

increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.

Wow! So that means all I have to do is learn how to meditate, practice it daily, and all of a sudden not only will my anxiety and stress fade away, but I’ll be smarter, more self-aware, and more compassionate.

There’s only one problem here. I really suck at meditation. I’m easily distracted, and furthermore, I’m a “quality expert” which means I can’t NOT try to be more efficient, effective, productive, etc – avoiding waste is my nature!! Even if I had the skills to do it properly, meditation has always felt, to me, like wasting time. (Darn it.) I even spent weeks and weeks last summer trying to become more mindful. Didn’t work. I finally stopped beating myself up for not focusing hard enough on being mindful and letting it slip away.

I’m sure there are a lot of people like me. You’d like to become more mindful, more self-aware, more able-to-enjoy-the-moment… but it’s hard to do. And meditation is just not helping. And so you keep anxiously moving from moment to moment, trying to be here now, but there’s way too much to think about and get done and it’s never going to end.

One day this past December, I was driving on the interstate in the middle of the afternoon. The road was laying itself out in front of me, the trees were swaying in the light wind and the low solar angle, and I was checking out the dents in the Nissan driving in front of me. And then it dawned on me… Wow, I am TOTALLY here in this moment RIGHT NOW! This must be what mindfulness is all about! I was experiencing all of the tiny details of the moment, perfectly content where I was in my seat, and where I was along the path from there-to-home, and it really didn’t matter what I was doing or not doing. Or what I had or didn’t have. Or what would happen tomorrow or not. Or what would happen an hour from now… or not. Or who thought what thoughts of me… or not.

It just didn’t matter… none of it. I was just pleasantly entangled in the moment, and totally content. (And this is not like me… I knew something had changed.)

I spent the next few days wondering how in the world this instant mindfulness happened. All of a sudden, it was all over the place. I remember mindfully eating chicken wings. Mindfully cutting my nails. Mindfully packing my bookbag to go to work. It was all around me, and there’s nothing I did to make it happen, or so I thought.

A few weeks later I figured it all out. Mindfulness is not something you can GO GET, it’s something that comes to you. All of the focused meditation and breathing I could have done would not have made me more mindful, at least not beyond the ephemeral moments of its immediate impact. And it comes to you when you consciously choose to do things that make you happy.

I had made a decision a few weeks prior to do something that would make me happy at least once a day, and to stop doing things that did not make me happy. If I really had to do something I didn’t like, I consciously found a way to do something happy as a component of doing the thing I wasn’t interested in. If I just didn’t have the energy to do something happy, I’d go take a nap (assuming that my attitude was a result of being tired – and usually, it was). I stopped trying to force the outcomes on my to-do list and get things done, and decided that I would attack only those items that I could really be happy about doing. Furthermore, I decided that I was going to stop lying to myself and others. If I wasn’t enjoying an activity, I would find a way to stop doing it – and if I was enjoying something, I would find a way to do more of it.

This is all a work in progress. But I can say that after a few weeks of my “focus on doing stuff to make me happy” exercise, I got mindfulness for free, and so far, it’s staying with me. No meditation. No breathing, other than what I had to do to stay alive. No past, no future. No worries.

You’re Not Your Own Authenticity

In yesterday’s post defining authentithesis, I remarked about how easy it is to observe lack of authenticity in others, but difficult to be objective in self-assessment. Today, I discovered that the Harvard Business Review’s December 2005 issue has some light to shed:

While the expression of an authentic self is necessary for great leadership, the concept of authenticity is often misunderstood, not least by leaders themselves. They often assume that authenticity is an innate quality—that a person is either authentic or not. In fact, authenticity is a quality that others must attribute to you. No leader can look into a mirror and say, “I am authentic.” A person cannot be authentic on his or her own. Authenticity is largely defined by what other people see in you and, as such, can to a great extent be controlled by you. If authenticity were purely an innate quality, there would be little you could do to manage it and, therefore, little you could do to make yourself more effective as a leader.

Indeed, managers who exercise no control over the expression of their authentic selves get into trouble very quickly when they move into leadership roles.

— http://hbr.org/2005/12/managing-authenticity/ar/1

Someone also asked me the question “so what’s the difference between authentithesis and plain old hypocrisy?” Hypocrisy is about claiming to have some trait or character or believe a certain thing (usually something virtuous, desirable, or publicly “good”) and then acting in a totally different way. Authentithesis covers hypocrisy plus the other end of the spectrum too: say you have a horribly undesirable or publicly reprehensible trait, opinion, or behavior, and yet you try to cover it up. And then you try convince other people (and yourself) you don’t have that trait, or behavior, or problem. The circular paths dance around dealing with the issues directly, and using even the most negative traits or behaviors as positive opportunities for growth.

What’s the Best Quality System?

In the September 2008 issue of Quality Progress, a group of collaborators and I published “Starting from Scratch” to help people figure out how to approach the often-nebulous problem of how to launch a new quality system. Making sense out of the acronym soup of quality systems can be daunting, even though you have to wade through much more than acronyms: ISO 9000, AS9100, Baldrige, Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, systems thinking, complexity theory, and so forth.

Ron Marafioti commented online and said that when he was reading our article he “became livid in realizing that an article on quality systems written with one author from Wisconsin-Stout failed to draw the distinction of tools vs. philosophy; in other words, short vs. long term. What this article did do for me is highlight the short term view that Baldrige (a philosophy) takes time and therefore is not attractive in a short-term economy, while the focus in this economy is busy in fighting fires and looking for opportunities to capitalize on short vs. long-term gains.”

I was surprised to hear this, because I’m pretty conscious of both the distinction between quality philosophies and tools, and I know very well that “there is no instant pudding.” So I re-read what we wrote, and sure enough, we didn’t call out something in the article that was made very explicit in our notes preparing for the article – oops! That is:

  • Philosophies provide a basis for your organization’s core values and quality policy (e.g. Baldrige, TQM, Deming’s 14 points)
  • Methodologies provide skeletons for problem solving, and are often aligned with quality goals such as reducing waste or variation (e.g. DMAIC, LSSQTT)
  • Tools support those methodologies and help you identify the additional detail you need to carry out data-driven problem solving (e.g. QFD for linking customer requirements to technical specifications; VSM for breaking down how parts of a process contribute to the value it ultimately delivers)

The mission of the “Quality Systems Development Roadmap” that we positioned in the article (and that’s hosted in its entirety at http://qualityandinnovation.com/qs726) was to help people figure out the difference between philosophies, methodologies and tools. Ideally, an organization becomes familiar with the value system espoused by one or more of the philosophies. Then, it consciously selects the methodologies and tools that support specific quality goals – and this can differ from process to process. By making the concept of starting a quality system actionable, we wanted to illustrate the interrelationships between the philosophies, methodologies, and tools on a more practical level.