Mindfulness is one of those subjects that friends have recommended over the years and which I’ve only recently got around to reading more on. I’ve always been spiritual. This might sound odd coming from a Chief Financial Officer. I’m meant to be dealing in facts and figures and not delving into things we can’t explain rationally. Finance people aren’t meant to be multi-faceted. You couldn’t be further from the truth if you believe this.
The more multi-sided we can become as people, the better we can be at analyzing problems and situations and coming up with groundbreaking solutions. We can become better leaders (and people).
I have always thought that one needs to feed as many facets of oneself as possible. As a finance guy, knowing the basics of accounting, business planning and analysis and technology were important but so too was business law, strategy, and market finance. I knew I needed as broad a finance knowledge as possible if I wanted to make to the C-Suite.
But that wasn’t enough. Knowing all the aspects of what we could globally term as finance didn’t give me the edge.
I knew I needed to explore as much of myself as possible to make myself a better worker, leader and person.
I had to develop my creative side, through the study of the history of Art and practical applied Art, in all its forms. I knew it would help me see things differently.
I had to develop my physical side, through University level Basketball and other sports. I knew it would teach me discipline, stamina, team work and leadership.
I also had to develop my spiritual side. I knew it would teach me about introspection, taking a step back to help me see the bigger picture and help me manage stress, through the practice of meditation.
Leaders today can not expect that with just one predominant skill or learning that they can get to the top and stay there.
I continue to build on these areas today. Music is one new subject I am exploring as is Mindfulness.
I’ve been reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen master who has written some wildly popular books on mindfulness and peace. When I started reading Hanh’s book The Art of Living, it seemed very familiar. Then it dawned on me.
Life is only happening in the Present Moment
Many years ago, as I started on the study of spiritual matters, a very important book influenced me enormously. It was a book by Eckart Tolle, called The Power of Now.
You can get a copy from the link below:
It was written in the late 1990s and its principal message was that the only thing that exists and over which we have an influence is the present. The past is already behind us and we can’t impact it and the future does not yet exist, so we can’t do anything about it. It is only the present moment in which we have the ability to make changes. These changes can obviously then have a real impact on the future.
It is a simple premise, but one that is extremely powerful when applied to one’s life and work.
Once you’ve understood it, you realize that harping on about problems of the past doesn’t do much except take time and effort, as nothing we say or do now can change the past. We can learn from the past, but we can’t do anything that will make it different. We can, however, put in place changes in the present that will help the future not repeat the past.
In finance it is important to analyze the past results but if you and your finance team are spending most of your time analyzing the past, then you have a problem as you’re spending time on something you can’t influence or change. You should be focused on the future, making changes in the present so as best to shape what’s still about to happen.
Go with the Flow
Something Tolle talked a lot about in his book, and metaphors we often find in business books is the analogy of a river and fighting the current.
We can sometimes spend enormous amounts of time trying to go in another direction, or pushing a company to do something differently. This can take time, effort and put us under great stress. Often the best course of action in moments when it seems things won’t change or when we believe we are not making an effort is to relax, let go and just go with the flow.
In Mindfulness, when you let yourself relax and go with the flow, you become an observer to the flow and the direction in which you are going. You also see how your own body and mind were reacting to the flow, with all their biases and emotional overlays. This is very powerful and usually comes with tremendous insights into the flow and how you can influence it. It also allows you to shed stress and calm down, allowing yourself to think more clearly.
Listen to yourself
When we quieten ourselves down. When we still our minds and sit back and listen to our breathing. The lifting of our chest as we breath in and the dropping of our chest as we breath out. We are usually afforded a clarity of thought and perception. Was our recent action negatively impacting our body and our mind? Or was it giving us energy?
When we eat something bad, our body instantly tells us. We react from the smell of spoilt food. We vomit if we eat something that is rotten. Our body also reacts to experiences in both positive and negative ways. That recent roller coaster? How did it make you feel? Elated or flattened?
Work experiences are no different. Listening to ourselves helps us to understand whether we are doing something positive or negative. Remember everyone’s definition is different, but it is important we do things that we fully agree with as it is in those activities that we deliver the best of ourselves. Being at our best at work is the greatest way to get promoted and make more money.
However, we don’t work in a vacuum and it is also important to know and see what is going on around you.
Observe your surroundings and pay attention
When you drive, do you hit the gas and accelerate into the traffic, checking your phone at the same time and aimlessly turning the steering wheel? Or do you check what is ahead of you, behind you and around you and then pull out into the traffic, keeping your speed similar to the cars around you?
I hope you said the latter.
Mindfulness teaches us that observation of our environments, like driving a car, is important to success. You need to take the time to be aware of the reactions and emotional states of the people you are interacting with. Knowing will give you better information to make decisions and decide on courses of action. This is something essential in the Art of Negotiation. You need to intimately know your adversary to outsmart them.
So learn to observe your environments. Take the time required and don’t just rush in and out. You’ll be wiser and more informed thanks to it.
The above Mindfulness techniques are just some of a vast array that can help you become a better team player, a better leader and a better person in today’s crazy world.
Mindfulness and Spirituality have a definite place in Finance and in the Workplace.