How to Master Adversity with Mindfulness
Learn how to disentangle from your emotions during difficult times and respond mindfully.
By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to restore mental clarity during crunch times. The first step is to recognize when you have entered into that “protective trance” that prioritizes control over sound reasoning. Sometimes it is possible to identify a trigger that sets off the anxiety response. Perhaps a colleague showed disrespect towards you in a meeting, you received negative feedback, or you have not hit your quarterly numbers. Pay attention to how your body feels. Most of us begin to feel our muscles contract, stomachs churn or seize up, and shoulders inch toward our ears. When you sense rigidity in your body, you are most likely thinking rigidly as well. Pay attention to your thoughts. Phrases such as “I will never be able to do this” or “I should have known” or “he never gives me the benefit of the doubt” begin to populate your thinking. This kind of mindset is often referred to as “black and white thinking.” Words such as should, always, and never predominate. Lastly, we often find ourselves focused on the “what if’s” of the future. We imagine worse case scenarios and potential negative outcomes. All of this serves to distract us from the important events in the present.
Once you recognize that you are in that inflexible and clouded mindset, take steps to anchor yourself. I suggest taking a meaningful pause to bring your mind back to the present. Begin by focusing on your breath. The breath constantly renews itself, and is a powerful way to direct your attention to the present moment. As you move your attention to the breath, you also move your thinking away from unnecessary negative and maladaptive thoughts. Lastly, when you breathe purposefully, you will automatically lengthen both your inspiration and expiration, whereby producing a physiological state of relaxation. As you focus on your breath, your thoughts will undoubtedly drift. When you notice this, simply bring them back to the present breath. Each time you return to the breath you create a moment of mindfulness. After 3 -5 minutes you will notice a difference. Your body might feel looser, and your thinking will become more agile. Now you have the mental space to problem solve.
Stressful times are messy, but messes are times of growth. By exercising your mindful muscle, you will learn to avoid impulsive decisions and act deliberately. Furthermore, by responding calmly in the face of difficulty, it is possible to build trust with colleagues and clients. This creates a safe and respectful environment, which can become the bedrock for future productivity and performance.