The art of the mindful watcher
Have you ever got onto a subway train late in the evening and feeling convinced you were alone let your guard down? Being buoyed by our 'aloneness' and simultaneously lured by the acoustics of the empty train we do things we normally wouldn't do like sing at the top of our lungs or clumsily, perform a favourite dance move 'quietly to ourselves'.
Frankly I have seen it a few times - which goes to show we normally are not physically alone - and the CCTV is always watching if there actually are no other people around! Never has this been more true than in the modern workspace of our lives, that in fact we are not alone.
The feeling of power that anonymity can produce is at best an illusion at its worst a distortion, like taking a stroll through the African bush and believing that you are alone! The belief that no one is watching, no one taking notice of you nor your actions - can lead to carelessness and disengagement and an attitude that your actions will not be noticed nor damaging.
The broken window theory significantly proves how the perception of watching can have a marked affect on an entire city and its crime rates. The workplace just like the African bush is not a place you want to be complacent in nor forget that you are being watched.
KNOW THYSELF - as it was originally inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek periegetic (travelogue) writer Pausanias, this philosophical idea was used by Plato and Socrates and then later Hobbes and others for various nuanced reasons and philosophical treatise I would like to use it as a spring board for the idea of the 'mindful watcher'.
KNOW THYSELF - By this I mean a person or colleague who is able no matter the circumstances to look internally as well as externally to accurately articulate a situation as well as associated impacts of thoughts, feelings and actions at any given time. This might seem improbable or impossible however there are CEO's, researchers and great leaders who have mastered the art of mindfully watching in order to better control their environments and outcomes obviously starting with themselves.
I loved watching a short youtube clip recently by Jack Welch expanding on promotability in which he described a time in his life as a process engineer. He had the opportunity to add perspective to his bosses life at work one day and as a mindful watcher he took the gap.
In brief as a process engineer he was responsible for some plastic product development that the company was considering and his responsibility was to show his boss the progress on the manufacture of the product. As a mindful watcher Jack Welch decided to add demonstrable value through significant research to his boss who came to see the progress report but left with a strategic expose of the market, a technical understanding of the product and a SWOT analysis! When promotions came up a year later, Jack Welch's boss remembered the impact he had on him and Jack got the 'big promotion'. This might seem like politics 101 but in fact it resembles a perfect example of how being a mindful watcher can leverage your career, help you be happy and deliver breakthrough.
Mindfulness is cultured and maintained through discipline. In the ever watching environments we live and work in there are endless opportunities to get side tracked, disengaged or escapist in our attitudes. Consistently becoming aware of ourselves and our internal eco systems is a critical step in finding the ability to think more clearly, garner insight and deliver impact when called upon to do so.
Some might mistakenly think that what I am proposing is a 'check out' of reality here, and I am not saying that, that is escapist and destructive to your momentum. What I am however suggesting is that through a mindful discipline you can cut out the constant chatter, trust your own instincts and have the time to go the extra mile to deliver what is needed when it is needed where it is needed - a recipe for breakthrough performance.
As another analogy have you ever seen a lion when it has seen something of interest? It is as if the world stops for a moment as an intense focus descends on the animal to determine if it will expend energy or not on the possible chase. Of course the world does not stop - but it seems as if it does as the lion becomes intensely focussed on its internal as well as external system. In a very real sense survival on many levels depends on this ability of the lion to go inward while asserting an outward impact for a result. The result in many instances is a better one when it is delivered from a mindful inner space.
So how does this discipline translate?
1. Remember to breathe in a stressful situation and by this I mean mindfully control the urge to succumb to all the symptoms of fight or flight. The hypothalamus is hard wired to protect us in stressful or life threatening situations and life and work are full of stressful and career threatening situations. The fight or flight response is just not appropriate when your boss asks you a question in the next team meeting and you are not prepared. Mindfully turning on the breath will keep you thinking, keep you present and more able to deal with the situation. Staying mindful in a sense gives you the opportunity to watch your response and guide it toward its destination instead of letting something out and hoping it hits some target.
2. Its all about the prep - creating neural pathways when you are not under stress or danger go a long way to help you mindfully switch into an appropriate mode of interface when they present themselves. Lets be honest how many humans have 72 hour emergency kits? The reality is we are prepared to invest in an emergency kit the day of the emergency in fact we will probably pay 1000 times what it is worth on a normal day when the emergency hits, right? - discipline - knowing that we are on call more and more should be enough to motivate us to develop our mindful technique before it starts raining!
3. Mindfully consider your objectives often and reduce them to writing. Having your objectives closer to the front of your mind will help you maintain the mindful pose when confronted with a tough ethical or values related decision (that can be stressful) the more you can become a watcher of your internal system and check external stimuli against internal objectives and values the more you can control outcomes of tough situations for the good of yourself and those around you.
4. Know Thyself - become intimately aware of what I call the 'pathways of pain' - the well worn habitual things we sabotage ourselves with frequently be they mind sets, moods or self debilitating beliefs. KNOW them and then mindfully watch them as they ebb and flow in your life. Watching them and noticing them so that you can build an internal resilience to their rise is different to trying to eradicate them by force.
I have a little creek in my back yard and I have tried many times by force to eradicate the weeds that grow there and at times slow the water flow - bottomline is they adapt when coerced and find gnarlier ways to cling to my creek, reality is now after trying to force my point of view on my creek I found out that the 'weeds' actually slow erosion and the resultant disastrous effects 800m downstream when the silt hits the ocean. I have learned to cohabitate with the weeds and watch them intently - I have my utility from them but never let them get out of control - we coexist.
Know what pushes your buttons, what scares you and what makes you descend from professionalism most frequently. Mindfully decide when you will allow them into your space and practice switching them off. There is a difference here between acting a role of a good employee or great corporate citizen and mindfully switching them off - this is not acting. It is being aware of the challenge, acknowledging it but not allowing it to rise at that particular moment or circumstance. Acting is tiring and political and sooner or later when the chips are down, acting will let you down. Mindfully watching yourself progress beyond a pathway of pain is very satisfying.
5. Focus outward after mindfully watching - if all else fails think about the impacts your internal system can have on those around you. Ultimately after assessing the impacts on others the discussion can turn to how what you want to say or do will bare fruit or ROI for you - this is a life and career saving question. This perspective is particularly useful in the 'anonymous' online world. Remember more mindfulness is required when there is the false perception that no one is around - we think we are alone and this can have an effect on our actions and feelings. I have seen email spats turn into dismissible offences due to this very fact. Sometimes mindfully visualising impact on others can stop us and facilitate like a guide, back to the mindful watcher paradigm.
Happier, career leveraging and breakthrough I said. I invite you to try becoming a more mindful watcher of all circumstances and situations. Branch out from work into your life and see how this simple philosophy will deliver results that will astonish you. Remember humans are awesome because we can think - anything that stops us thinking - anger, fear, the list is endless is the antithesis of what we need to reach our potential. Develop your strategies, practice often and build your awareness through mindfully watching and the world can be yours.