Mindfulness Basics for the Over-Stressed

by Alli Polin on January 27, 2015

mindfulness is focusing attention with intention

I could not wait for vacation!  Although I struggle to let go of my day to day on most holidays, I was longing for time to unwind, relax, and leave work and stress behind – if I couldn’t do it in Fiji, it was never going to happen. However, sitting in a lounge chair was not the panacea I expected.  I was far from in the moment… In fact, I was in awe of the moment.  Immediately I knew that my choice was to either experience this holiday as an outsider or to step into my experience by practicing some mindfulness basics. 

The view in front of me was unbelievably gorgeous.  I held my Kindle in my hand, not reading, but instead staring at the calm, clear blue water meeting the blue horizon with a few clouds slowly making their way across the sky.  I turned to my husband and asked: “Are we really here?  This feels surreal.”

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy and felt very lucky to be there, but my brain and my experience were not working together.  I was processing not being, seeing without feeling, and doing, well, not much more than staring out into space. 

Mindfulness was the key enabled the out of body experience I was having to become grounded.  My peaceful surroundings transformed into an internal feeling of peace. I was present, alert and focused on the moment without worry about Twitter, my blog, where I’d be able to get a wifi signal, dinner, or even if it was going to rain later in the day. 

Why Mindfulness?

Before I charge into a few mindfulness basics, let’s get clear on why it even matters. Probably more than a few of you consider mindfulness to be yet another new-agey buzz word or fad. Truthfully, it’s a quick and dirty way to let go of all of the crap swirling in your head and be in the moment, now.  Who doesn’t want that?  Ya with me?

Imagine.  You leave a meeting with a to-do list that is slightly longer than the length of your arm, your colleague threw you under the bus and you have no idea how you’re going to squeeze in lunch between your conference call and your next meeting. You walk down the hall, press the elevator button and walk like a zombie back to your office with your head full of frustration, stress, and mental planning.

Imagine leaving that same meeting with the same to-do list.  This time, you take the stairs.  You intentionally decide to focus on the sound your feet make as they hit each step.  You notice how loudly the door closed behind you and how cool it feels in the stairwell.  With each step you take a breath and sink into the quiet… even your head is quiet from the noise that was there only moments before. In only a few minutes time you exit the stairwell with less swirling thoughts and less stress too. 

Mindfulness Basics for the Over-Worked, Totally-Stressed, Peace-Seeker in YOU

Here’s the great news: mindfulness does not have to be a complex practice.  I’m not one for meditation or heavy duty journaling, but mindfulness is something that you and I can do anywhere, anytime.   The key ingredient is the intention to be in the moment. 

Think

Where are your thoughts?  On your last meeting?  Tomorrow’s big presentation?  Notice your thoughts instead of letting them pass by a million miles an hour.  A judgement popping into your mind?  Make the choice to let it go. 

Feel:  

What are you feeling?  Angry?  Frustrated?  Hot?  Cold?  Notice the physicality connected to your feeling.  

Sense:

Get curious about what’s present.  Smells?  Tastes?  Sounds?  Don’t shut them out, step into the present moment.

Do:  

Turn off the auto-pilot and bring a heightened awareness to all that you’re doing.  Riding a bike?  Feel each push on the pedal. Walking the hall? Feel your foot meet the floor.  Notice your clenched hands and open them up to let things go. 

Back in Fiji, I dove into the water to ground myself in the reality of my experience.  Sitting on my chair was too removed, I was a spectator, and the feel of the cool water woke me up.  Staring off into space I noticed my stress that I didn’t have wifi to respond to blog comments and made the choice to just let it go. 

I stopped staring into space and instead focused on how the light played on the water and the variations in color.  With each dive under the water, I was waking up to the moment – one I didn’t want to miss. 

I’m home now revived, energized and ready to be fully engaged in my adventure instead of only focusing on what’s next. 

This is one of a few posts about lessons from Fiji covering mindfulness, the power of people to transform an experience from good to great and the negative impact of a self absorbed org culture.  Look forward to sharing the aha’s with you and learning from your perspectives and experiences too.

Do you practice mindfulness?  What tips would you add to this list of mindfulness basics?

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Samantha Hall January 27, 2015 at 6:31 am

Great example and introduction to some mindfulness basics Alli!

I”m so happy you were able to find some peace of mind and let go while you were in Fiji. What a WASTE if you weren’t able to be present enough to enjoy it!

Although I still feel like a kindergartener…some days…even a pre-schooler!… I’ve learned to do some basic things that help me become present in the moment AND to intentionally ‘re-enter’ my body. You are already familiar with my past so only going to mention the aspect of dissociation that was a way that I was able to survive abuse in childhood. When it was happening, I (or my consciousness) would leave the reality of my experience (what was happening) and I’d take off somewhere into my imagination so I was no longer fuller aware and present to what was happening. It was a way of escaping. This helped keep me SANE as a child and was an EXCELLENT defense mechanism at the time… Unfortunately, it is something that I can EASILY do without being conscious of it.

So long story short, since I haven’t yet been able to totally CONTROL dissociation in my life, once I’m aware (conscious) that I’m not present or I’m stuck up in my head for too long, I do a simple mindfulness meditation to reacquaint me with my surroundings (with all my senses and feelings) and RE-ENTER my body.

And it’s something I have to practice with a beginners ‘mind’ on a daily basis.

It’s important. Not just for people like me who had traumatic experiences but for most of western civilization! haha Far too many of us have learned to become experts in dissociation and not really being PRESENT no matter where we are or who we are with. Technology doesn’t really help us with this either and is requiring many of us to re-learn how to use it in more healthy ways so it doesn’t wind up being just another way we dissociate in life.

GREAT examples Alli and love that you had a good time in Fiji and that you were able to replenish your resources. So important! xo

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 7:46 pm

I agree with you, Samantha. So many of us have learned to become experts in disassociation. I see people with a far away look in their eyes, physically present but clearly mentally somewhere else – oftentimes it’s the office. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complex at all or take a long time and no only can it re-energize individuals but also make them more available and open for real connection with others.

Love that you have put a simple mindfulness meditation into practice. It’s something that I also do when I notice the disconnect that the trick is to be proactive and have a habit of mindfulness like you do.

Fiji was wonderful. I wanted something physical to bring home so every time I look at it I could be reminded of the feeling I had there so I got something small that will serve me in a big way.

Thanks so much for sharing your insights! Always valuable!

I appreciate you!

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Jon Mertz January 27, 2015 at 7:43 am

Alli,

Thanks for providing some simple ways to develop our mindful practices. Being mindful develops our self-awareness, which is an essential element to be an effective leader. Our self-awareness leads to more engaging “other” awareness, focusing on the people around us and the environment we are creating at work and home.

Appreciate your call to be more mindful!

Jon

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Absolutely! We need to get out of our heads, out of the stress and out of our own worlds to truly be available and to make connections with others. You put it so beautifully. Thank you, Jon!

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Blair January 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

I am mindfully aware, as I gaze out at the minimal amounts of snow that gathered overnight when a huge storm was predicted, of having Fiji Envy right now! Your vacation sounds divine. I love the techniques you employed to step into the moment and be really present with the beauty. I believe that in the transition from our fast-paced, sped-up, one-hundred-mile a minute thinking lives to the slow, tranquil beauty of the islands, a period of out of body, “spacing out” is one way that we catch up with ourselves. It’s just this spell that happens as we wait for the rest of us to really get there and for our being to adjust to the minimal requirements of the new environment. Your loving awareness of that moment was powerful enough to warp speed you through it — thanks for writing about it and teaching us all about the incredible value of mindfulness.
Beautiful post.
xo
Blair

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 7:54 pm

My spacing out period was… extended 🙂 A joyful almost out of body experience that needed to end so I could take every ounce possible from the experience.

Too bad the storm of the century passed you by or you could be mindfully out frolicking in the deep, deep snow instead of stuck inside with a few inches.

Sincerely – thanks for your insight on this. Unwinding is not a switch but a process and it can take time to ease into it.

Thanks, Blair

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Terri Klass January 27, 2015 at 9:10 am

Excellent post, Alli and welcome home! Missed you!

Mindfulness has gotten an overused reputation but I love how you keep it simple and powerful. I especially love the in- between meetings recharge with ourselves.

When I feel my energy waning and know I need to plug into what I am feeling or sensing, I close my eyes briefly and just keep breathing. I get some positive self-talk going and gently move through the noise.

Thanks Alli and can’t wait to try some of your mindfulness techniques!

Terri

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Focusing on your breathing with your eyes closed is a fantastic example of getting connected to your body and to the moment.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and research on positive self talk too. It’s not enough to use coping strategies alone (deep breathing for example) but it’s the positive self talk that makes it stick once we’re recentered.

Thanks for sharing here! Always appreciate your insights and experience.

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Tom Rhodes January 27, 2015 at 9:14 am

Alli,
Great post. I think although many times I would love to leave myself through imagination and wishes staying mindful of my surroundings and staying in the moment are so important to move forward. The world can be so full of mind trash we can get buried quickly into things with little meaning. Mindfulness allows us to keep the trash where it needs to be….. outside.

Thanks for all you do.

Tom

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 8:00 pm

That is a phrase that is going to stick with me, Tom… “mind trash” I immediately understand exactly what you mean. When we get too caught up in the trash, we miss our lives. No stress or work issue is worth that.

Thanks to you for your insights and connection!

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Ryan Biddulph January 27, 2015 at 9:48 am

Alli I had the same experience in Savusavu for starters 😉 I was not really there. The thing is, I was so used to being on the run and doing and feeling and goal-achieving that I was rarely in the moment. Savusavu forced me to let go, almost entirely, because I had: walks into town, a beautiful house on the bay, my laptop, my tablet and the internet. No distractions other than that, which forced me to become present, to embrace my stress, and of course, release it, to become peace….for moments at least lol.

Thanks for the inspired share and wow I’m missing Fiji!

Ryan

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 9:26 pm

Ryan,

Our family has been fortunate enough to travel to many wonderful destinations… however, leaving Savusavu was the first time my children cried on the airplane home. What a gift to be able to live there! Truly, blogging from paradise!

It’s the perfect place to practice mindfulness and take the lessons forward 🙂

Thanks, Ryan!

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Carl January 27, 2015 at 9:58 am

Excellent post Alli, and a wonderful example to all of us how easily we get caught up in the day to day ‘life’ and forget to live. Very happy you got to enjoy the beauty of Fiji.
Best regards,
Carl
@SparktheAction

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm

Letting go isn’t ignoring what’s happening in our lives, it’s freeing up our energy to tackle obstacles with renewed confidence and courage. This trip was just what I needed! Now to apply the lessons here, in Central Australia 😉

Thanks, Carl!

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John Bennett January 27, 2015 at 10:24 am

Your definition (focussing your attention with intention) is such a helpful one in terms of our efforts that are so important. My mindfulness is associated with 20+ inches of snow, high winds, and freezing temperatures – a far cry from Figi!!! But in shoveling to reach the horse in the barn, I was mindful (and thankful) for the relatively light weight AND the beauty of the white coated surroundings – shared with our golden, Molly, who is convinced the snow is just for her enjoyment!!!

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 10:31 pm

I love that if you’re out there shoveling… you’re in the experience! It’s been a few years since I’ve seen snow in person, and it can be a real pain, but also incredibly beautiful and peaceful (until you have to hit the road)

It’s helpful to me too when I think about mindfulness in the context of intention and attention. It’s not esoteric but just being mindful of where you are when you are there. No processing necessary!

Thanks, John!

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LaRae Quy January 27, 2015 at 12:27 pm

It’s so good to have you back, Alli!

The problem I have with mindfulness is this: it’s very easy while looking at a beautiful slice of nature BUT not so easy when my mind is twirling with lots of “gotta do” lists.

I love your practical example of taking deliberate steps while climbing stairs. Another thing that helps me is to stop and (literally) smell the roses while noticing the beautiful way a rose unfurls. It allows me to take my mind somewhere else…away from the stress.

Even shopping—for a few minutes my mind is absorbed in something very different and sensory.

And finally, intentionally spending time with Gus is all about blissful moments when I’m totally present with my mini labradoodle.

Ahhh…thanks for a great post! And welcome back!!!!

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Really appreciate your example of literally smelling the roses. It’s easy to constantly be in a rush but much richer to slow down enough to appreciate where you stand. (and yes, a tad easier in Fiji)

Thanks, LaRae!

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Brenda Lee January 27, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Hi Alli,

First of all, I’m glad you got away and were able to enjoy it! Although I don’t practice “mindfulness”, when I find myself in these situations, I’m one to go find a minute or two of isolated peace and meditate. That helps get me through. I might have to try mindfulness though. Sounds very doable and very helpful.

Definitely passing this along as I know many people that could benefit from it.

B

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 10:34 pm

I think meditation… mindfulness… it’s all about releasing the tension of the moment, letting go of our to-dos and our frustrations and settling into being. Your piece on mediation was really helpful to me!

Thanks so much!!

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Karin Hurt January 27, 2015 at 5:17 pm

You do know the rest of us are shoveling snow, right? 😉 I know, a true yogi would find mindfulness even in that.

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I do not miss shoveling snow. Not at all. But looking out the window at the peaceful whiteness blanketing everything… a great time to practice being present.

Glad Maryland didn’t get hit with the worst of it! Stay warm!

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Scott Mabry January 27, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Thank you for framing these simple steps to adding mindfulness to our day. As with anything, mindfulness gets better with practice. One teacher I know uses the term “where attention goes, energy flows”. Mindfulness allows us to guide our attention effectively. Great post on a very valuable topic, Alli.

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Alli Polin January 27, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Thanks, Scott! What a fantastic phrase “where attention goes, energy flows.” That’s what it’s all about. Love that we get to choose the focus of our energy 🙂

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LaRae Quy January 28, 2015 at 12:23 pm

Loved this post, Alli!

You made great points about our need for mindfulness! I loved this: You are “ready to be fully engaged in my adventure instead of only focusing on what’s next.” Living our life in the future is the opposite of mindfulness—what a joy and privilege to be present in the moment and appreciate our blessings.

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Amber-Lee Dibble January 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Ali!!
I missed you so! Figi!! Holy cow! (I think you are the first person I have ever known, not a character in a book, who has been to Figi!)
Ok. Mindfulness.
First, I think I should tell you (all?) that I am absolutely honored to know you (at least somewhat) that gather here on your blog. I look forward to each of your posts and more often than not, they impact every part of my life, professionally and personally (although that line is so faint it is almost not even there). I just realized…maybe reading this one… that I rarely comment. Then I asked myself “why?”… well, because so many others that I myself look to, look up to, learn from and read… do! “What can I say worth both the time to write it AND worth the time to read it?” Baa. I can’t believe I fell for that. Mindfulness.
Your posts inspire!
Mindfulness… I am one of those who I guess fell into thinking “new-age, buzz word”. But. Listening to you speak of BEING in Figi… I have been there- not Figi, mind you, but places…moments… that I could FEEL that I should be more “in” and was simply not.
Listening to Samantha’s comment… maybe that was the moment the full impact of your post hit me. Maybe… Yes. Disassociation. What a very sad thing some of us have imprinted on our minds… It is survival, necessary and right… but, how do we truly let that piece of ourselves go when it is finally not survival any longer? How do we reclaim what was sought to be taken away?
Mindfulness. I am going to actively work on this. You know I am juggling like a mad clown in a wild circus.. maybe this will help me to feel a bit of what comes to me only as I ride out and away, in each day.
Thank you for this, for always being right there, and for sharing what and who you are with us all, Alli.

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Alli Polin February 4, 2015 at 12:16 am

First of all, thank you for your gorgeous comment!!! I’m bad too… I go to your site and don’t always comment but I love your energy and heart.

You are constantly juggling, and leading, and inspiring and doing 🙂 The perfect place to start is to be really conscious of where you are instead of planning for the next thing on your to do list. Feel the wind, the cold, see the snow and breathe it all in.

Huge thanks to you for sharing your thoughts and experience! Means so much!

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Cynthia Bazin January 30, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Wow Alli! Fantastic post. Great reminders about mindfulness. EXCELLENT. Definitely sharing. Thank you for always providing awesome content.

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Alli Polin February 4, 2015 at 12:13 am

Thanks, Cindy! Mindfulness is worth the effort. The more we do it, the easier it becomes…

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Tom Rhodes January 31, 2016 at 10:54 pm

First of all I need Fiji. I think we all have to take those moments to get outside the body and take a bigger picture look at the world around us and how we are being effected both physically and mentally by it. We have to not only be in the moment but see the moment. Only when we are mindful can we really make those important choices without prejudice.

Thanks for a great poat.

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Alli Polin January 31, 2016 at 11:28 pm

Well said, Tom! >> We have to not only be in the moment but see the moment. It can be nearly impossible for those of us who go through life in a blur at a million miles an hour. Slowing down… noticing… that’s where the change begins.

Grateful!

~ Alli

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