Color Inside the Lines: It Helps Your Brain
While the “DMV” was piled under an epic amount of snow, much business went on as usual—only from our homes. And, if your situation was like mine, that means trying to get work done with two kids and a dog begging to go sledding, and a husband who was on one conference call after another within earshot. Snow days are not what they used to be and by mid-week my head was spinning.
So, late one afternoon between meetings, I reached for the adult coloring book that was an impulse purchase during the Holiday season shopping frenzy and tried desperately to focus myself. I know. The term “adult coloring book” in and of itself sounds questionable, but it is a hugely popular trend and for good reason: coloring books are another tool that can help us become more mindful as we navigate life at a frantic pace.
I’m not suggesting you can color your way to a perpetual Zen state, but it worked to slow my mind and allow it to wander so I could then tackle the rest of my meetings with more clarity. I’m late to the mindfulness party, but I finally felt what so many of my colleagues and friends have been trying to help me to understand:
That’s what all of this talk of mindfulness is about—to generate in the moment awareness of what is happening in our body and in our environment so we can be more present, aware, and focused.
By the way, if you are a doodler, you might be happy to learn that you enjoy the same benefits from sketching patterns, people, or whatever you tend to draw when your doodling mind takes over.
Get Into Your Head
Learning how to be more mindful is a personal exploration, so no worries if coloring or doodling aren’t your thing. Here’s a few other ways to become more mindful that might be more your style:
Go outdoors. Simply strolling in the outdoors can induce a meditative state that helps to calm your mind and generate awareness of what’s happening around you. If you live in the city, find a park or other space away from the cacophony of (charming yet distracting) urban noises. Or, if getting lost in nature evokes panic for you, seek out a new experience. When you get out of your typical patterns and do something different, it forces you to live in the moment and be aware of what you are feeling and experiencing.
Pay attention to your breathing. Your Fitbit or Apple Watch can tell you a lot about your physical state throughout the day, but perhaps the easiest way to be mindful is to ignore yet another device tethered to you and listen to your body. Focusing on your breathing helps to tune out the noise that clouds our mind and leads to hyper-emotional or knee-jerk reactions in situations. You can try a series of slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, but just paying attention to your natural rhythm for 1-2 minutes is usually enough to still your mind.
Stop, observe, and wander. Wherever you are—in your office, waiting for the Metro, or in line at the grocery store—find something to watch for 1 minute and see where you mind takes you. Watch an object, a person, or whatever catches your attention. The most important thing is to resist the urge to think about the relentless to do list in your head or anything that distracts you from examining what is in front of you and going for a short mental ride.
Make peace with your emotions. One of the primary benefits of developing mindfulness and being present in the moment is that you learn to assess a situation, find opportunities for learning, and cultivate better judgment about what to do next. In order to be truly present, you have to embrace the fact that some situations bring out positive emotions while others make you behave like a 4 year-old who was just told “no” in a toy store. Mindful people embrace the full spectrum of their emotions because, in the end, giving up control over those emotions makes you more agile in dealing with any situation thrown your way.
Join the Trend
Mindfulness continues to work its way into mainstream business as a practice required of today’s leaders. By all accounts, the complexity we experience in the workplace will only expand and intensify, albeit in ways we likely cannot forecast with much accuracy. Thankfully, the weather models didn’t let us down last week and DC saw the storm coming. Next time, I will be sure to buy a fresh coloring book alongside the milk, eggs, and bread.