Achieving present-moment awareness

Present-moment awareness is both the starting point and the ending point of becoming antifragile.

Once you are antifragile, nothing will distract you unless it affects you directly: not political crises in far-off lands, not wildfires or floods in far away places, not even Covid-19 — at least not for very long.

To become antifragile, you must start by building this foundation. You must start by building your ability to generate and deepen your present-moment awareness.

Doing this fully involves three stages: Centring, Grounding, and Connecting Deeply with what matters most to us. But the first stage, centring (or centering), is enough to create a first level of present-moment awareness.

Present-moment awareness means not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, and not thinking about other things that might or might not be happening on the other side of the world.

Present-moment awareness means focusing on what is actually happening, right here, right now, in this present moment: in reality as it truly is, not as you are imagining it to be.

To gain this present-moment awareness, pause for a second. Sit or stand still. Breathe in and hold your breath for a count of three. Then let it out slowly and do the same again.

Now bring your attention to what is happening around you. What can you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? Describe it to yourself as if you were describing it to another person.

Now shift your attention inside your body. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly. What are you feeling in your body? Where? Describe the feelings as if you were describing them to another person. Are you experiencing any recurrent thoughts? What are they? Describe them as if to another person. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly.

Now bring your attention back to your surroundings. What is happening around you in this present moment? What can you see, hear, feel, taste, or smell? Describe it to yourself as if you were describing it to another person.

Repeat this cycle as many times as you find useful.

As you do so you are likely to notice three things:

— First, the more we become detached observers of our own thoughts and feelings, by describing them (as if to someone else), the less likely we are to get caught up in them. We realise that whatever we might be thinking or feeling now, it is different from what we were thinking or feeling two days ago and different again from what we will be thinking or feeling in two days time. This means we can become detached from what we think and feel: our thoughts and feelings are just experiences that we are having for a short time, they are not who we are.

— Second, the more we notice the details of the reality around us the less we get caught up in the imagined fantasies of our minds. This centres us and reconnects us to reality as it truly is around us, not as we imagine it to be.

— And third, we begin to realise that most of the inner churning we experience is not caused by events around us but by the ways we think about and interpret those events. And if we are causing our own inner churning, then that means that we can change it.

Once we have achieved this centring/centering, the rest of the Inner Leadership process will show us how to ground ourselves more deeply, make clearer sense of the situation, and find a way forward that inspires us (and others) to do what matters most to us. This will make us antifragile.

And then, when we are working to create what we care most about, present moment awareness will become invaluable again. Because — as any tightrope walker knows — present moment awareness is the skill that enables us to focus absolutely on doing what we need to do right now, without becoming distracted.

How much time do you currently spend worrying about the future, or thinking about the past? What about the people on your team? Would it be useful to shift your focus more into the present moment?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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