As a Certified Financial Planner, I am required to take a certain amount of continuing education credits each year to maintain my credential. Most of the courses and conferences that I attend are focused on the technical aspects of my profession: Investments, retirement, estate planning, etc. However, last week I attended a very different kind of event. I was privileged to participate in the Mindful Advisor Retreat, held at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Mur Beach, California. During this two-day event, around twenty like-minded advisors came together to unplug from the world, to regain our center, and to become more mindful. It was a wonderful experience and left me with a better sense of purpose both personally and professionally. More importantly, it reinforced within me, the benefit of being more mindful in my everyday life. I’d like to share the five things I learned about what in means to be mindful.
1. Mindfulness means being present
We hear the term “mindfulness” more and more these days but what does it mean? Mindfulness is the basic ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. By being fully present, we become calmer, less concerned about what’s up next, and less stressed about life. For me being present can be compared to tires and shock absorbers on a car. The tires and shock absorbers are always in contact with the road and responding to the obstacles it faces. When things work as they should, you have a smooth ride. When they don’t, your ride becomes less enjoyable. Being present provides us with the ability to roll with the obstacles that we face and calmly face them without getting too high or too low in the process. It is important to not only be present for ourselves but be present for others as well. One of the greatest gifts we can give to someone is our time and attention. Whatever our present interaction is, whether it is with our friends, family, co-workers, or children, we should eliminate all other distractions and make that moment the most important time we have. They will appreciate it very much because they will feel heard and listened to.
2. Mindfulness means breathing
Being present requires us to do one simple thing: breathe. Breathing is an involuntary muscle response so we do not have to consciously think about it. However, when we our anxious, our fight or flight instinct is activated and our breathing slows down considerably which can lead to further anxiety. However, when we practice focused breathing, the opposite happens. We become calmer, more relaxed, and less anxious. Whenever we feel our anxiety begin to swell up, we should do the following: Stop what we are doing, close our eyes if we can, sit if possible, and do this: take a deep inhale through our nose and exhale deeply through our mouth. Repeat this action four times. Doing this breathing exercise when we are excited or anxious will allow oxygen to flow to our brain, cause our heart rate to slow, calm our nerves, and allow us to think more rationally and clearly.
To take our breathing to an even higher level, we can practice mindful meditation for a few minutes a day while focusing on our breathing. This can be done by simply sitting comfortably in a chair or on the ground, focusing our gaze a few feet in front of us, allow ourselves a few moments to relax, then slowly breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth. To keep our mind from wandering, count to 4 in your head when breathing in and out. Try this for 3 minutes per day then gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable. Focused breathing and daily meditation can lead to a peaceful sense of calm and clarity of purpose in our lives.
3. Mindfulness means living life with intention
An intentional life is one that is focused on finding balance, meaning and purpose. In the world of financial advice, there is a tendency to focus too heavily on wealth accumulation and too little on happiness accumulation. Yes, a certain amount of money is necessary to put food on the table, pay our bills and to live comfortably. Beyond that, how much is enough? By asking ourselves what makes us truly happy, we will eventually find the answer as to how much money is truly enough. In the search for happiness, a clearer sense of purpose will develop within us which in turns leads to a more meaningful and fulfilled life.
4. Mindfulness means being attentive
By being more present, focusing on our breathing, and living life with intention, we become less emotionally reactive to events in our lives and will be better able to control how we interact with people and respond to events throughout our day; thereby reducing our stress levels and becoming more present. When we are attentive, we are more focused and aware of what is happening in the here and now. If a co-worker does something kind for us, do we notice it and reciprocate the kindness? If a friend wants to talk to us about something that is worrying them, do we take time to stop what we are doing, give t hem our full attention and truly listen to what is on their mind? If our child does something we disagree with, do we react with anger because our ego was hurt or do we act with compassion so we can have a teachable moment? Being attentive is the act of living with intention.
5. Mindfulness means being kind
All these principles put together allows us to be kind to ourselves and to one another. More often than not, we are our own worst enemy. We beat ourselves up for the things we did or didn’t do in life. Being mindful means understanding that we aren’t perfect and we will always be a work in progress. When we are mindful, we become more open, compassionate, and forgiving towards others as we seek to understand rather than protect our own egos.
Living a more mindful life doesn’t come easily nor does it happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and the ability to be kind to yourself. Approach mindfulness with a beginner’s mind and allow yourself to enjoy the journey. I myself have only just begun my mindfulness journey and I know it will take a lifetime for me to achieve it.
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information and provided by Attune Financial Planning. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information only.