Mindfulness is not about trying to change or
suppress your thoughts and feelings. It’s about
recognizing when you’ve disconnected from
the present because you’ve been caught up in
thoughts, or swept away by emotions, and then
simply returning your focus to the here and now.
“learning to come back.” Mindfulness is not about trying to
change or suppress your thoughts and feelings. It’s about
recognizing when you’ve disconnected from the present
because you’ve been caught up in thoughts, or swept away
by emotions, and then simply returning your focus to the
here and now.
In fact, clinical psychologist Dr. Samara Serotkin describes
the concept of mindfulness as a process or cycle of becoming focused, being distracted, developing awareness of the
distraction, and redirecting your thoughts back to focus. You
could be in any one of these four stages at a given time; perhaps you start off in a state of distraction and then, at some
point, become aware of your distraction, and experience a
brief pause in your racing mind. That’s awareness. The next
step, to redirect your attention, is a critical one. It’s a conscious
choice you make to let go of the distraction, and re-focus on
the present moment.
MINDFULNESS FOR DISPUTE
So how do we integrate this process into our day-to-day
experience, so that we remember to come back to “
presence” or “focus” more often? Unfortunately, the answer is not
a quick or glamorous one; what’s most important is to practice. You can’t read, or talk, or think your way to mindfulness.
It’s experiential, like learning to play a musical instrument.
Understanding the theory may be helpful, but it’s no substitute for practice.
One method of facilitating the kind of consistent practice
that’s required to integrate the mindfulness process into our
lives is through the development of a “mindfulness habit.”
The goal in developing such a habit is to consciously cultivate
routines and patterns that bring greater mindfulness into our
work to the point where intentional moments of focusing on
the present moment will eventually feel as natural as turning
the light on before you walk into a room.
Habits are formed when actions are tied to a trigger by consistent repetition so that, when the trigger happens, you have
an automatic urge to do the action. Habits form over time as a
result of consistent repetition; often the actions that become
habits are performed very deliberately at first, but gradually
they become more automatic. Feedback can help to reinforce
a habit as well: positive feedback for acting in a certain way,
and negative feedback for not acting in that way, makes us
want to perform the action whenever the trigger happens.
Our lives are filled with all kinds of combinations of triggers
and habits, many of which we are not even aware of. Habits
form over time as a result of consistent repetition; often the
actions that become habits are performed very deliberately at
first, but gradually they become more automatic.
We can make moments of mindfulness more common in our
lives by turning the process of returning our attention to the
present into something we do by force of habit. For example,
in order to purposefully clear your mind of daily schedules,
plans, and worries before meeting with a client, you might
practice conscious focusing in the five minutes before meeting is to begin. To create a trigger to help make this a habit,
you could link the practice to something you normally do
in preparation (e.g., retrieving the client file or setting up
the meeting room). Repeated many times at a trigger point
before meetings, a moment of mindfulness will soon become
a natural and grounding precursor to more productive conflict
To increase mindfulness in your own professional practice,
think about the kinds of triggers you might use to remind
yourself to pause and re-connect with the present moment
at various points throughout your workday. If you do this you
can enhance both the work you do in the field of conflict resolution and your own peace of mind.
Of course, the road to more mindful living is paved with challenges, and all kinds of obstacles can arise, including feeling
like you’re too busy, getting thrown off by disruptions to your
routine, struggling with lack of concentration or boredom, or
feeling discouraged or unmotivated.
One thing that can help to prevent such things from derailing
one’s efforts to become more mindful is to realize that it’s okay
to start small. There’s no need to commit to hours of meditation every day for the rest of your life. Even just a couple of
minutes a day, devoted to paying attention to the breath, can
add up to a real difference over time.
Jack Kornfield has written that “mindfulness does not
reject experience. It lets experience be the teacher.” Because
conflict resolution is such difficult work, it is especially important for all of us working in this area to get the most out of our
training and experience. Cultivating mindfulness is one way to
help us do just that, and to care for ourselves as well.