by Sam Barry
What is mindfulness? According to Mindful.org, mindfulness is “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
While mindfulness is something we all naturally possess, it’s more readily available to us when we practice on a daily basis.” Mindfulness practice can take many forms, all of which share an ability to help you be present in your body, in the present moment, not thinking about the past or the future—or what to have for lunch or that design detail you can’t quite get to work out. It’s the ability to be here. Now.
And it’s a skill the design profession, with all its deadlines, client pressures and team dynamics needs in spades.
Yoga and tai chi are two forms of exercise that can encourage or enhance mindfulness; so, too, can meditation or a simple body scan. The beauty of the latter two, of course, is that they are free and immediately accessible to anyone and everyone. You can be of any physical ability. You do not need to be religious. You just have to be able to breathe.
And while becoming mindful takes practice, it does not have to take long and has long-term benefits, especially to a profession (design) often under the stress of having too much or too little work.
Start by sitting in an upright position with your feet planted squarely on the ground. Stop and take note of the present moment. What do you hear? See? Smell? Then take a moment and focus on your breath. Breathe normally, perhaps with your eyes nearly closed, and your hands resting on your knees. The key is to observe, not judge. So if thoughts of lunch or design details pop into your head, just notice them, and then gently return your attention to the breath.
Soon you will be able to maintain that focus for a couple minutes. Over time, that period will grow, and eventually so too will your ability to stay present, which will make for less stress and a greater ability to be there for your teammates and clients. But there are benefits for you as well.
First, mindfulness teaches you that emotions change. Like clouds, pain, sadness, and stress drift on by. They do not stay. You do not have to let them consume you or your day. Second, mindfulness reduces the chatter of ideas, and can therefore help reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, studies also show mindfulness practice can also increase melatonin and help you sleep.
According to Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health no fewer than 22 major U.S. companies had official mindfulness programs in 2016, and that number was expected to more than double last year. Google began its program in 2011 and it has been so successful that it launched a consulting business, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. According to SIYLI, mindfulness meditation reduces stress by more than 50 percent, nearly doubles participants’ ability to focus, and makes them better leaders. It also helps regain over an hour per week of lost productivity.
More sleep, less stress and anxiety. Who doesn’t want that in their lives? And the changes are not temporary: According to mindful.org, “whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.”
Take the present moment to ponder that idea.
To learn more about mindfulness, how to practice, its benefits and how to design with mindfulness in mind, please contact us for a CEU presentation.
Sam Barry is a former principal with Gensler, where he led a Brand Design studio in Washington, DC and a Lifestyle (retail and hospitality) studio in Atlanta, and former Director of Marketing for Shaw Contract and Shaw Hospitality. Today, Sam and his wife Kelly own Innovatude, a brand and marketing strategy and design boutique focused on innovation in the built environment. Sam’s focus is on helping product manufacturers, developers and building owners navigate turbulent times to find points of leverage to forge competitive advantage and significant growth. Sam lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.