I am sure all of you have read Stephen Covey’s seminal book entitled “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. He defines ‘habit’ as the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. The first habit he lists in the book is entitled “Be Proactive”. He describes Victor Frankl’s use of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose. Victor noted that highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feelings.
I will submit that the deliberate and conscious practice of mindfulness meditation enables us to be more proactive. Mindfulness allows us to expand the space between stimulus and response thereby facilitating wholesome and skillful responses to streams of stimuli. The practice of mindfulness is predicated on the fact that when we experience an unpleasant stimulus, it creates a ripple effect in our mind-body system. For example, a stimulus of a stressful encounter with someone in the office may result in sensations of headache, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, etc. We may habitually react to such a stimulus by consuming tobacco, coffee or indulge in some form of distraction to avoid the symptoms of the original stressful encounter. However, instead of relieving the stress and returning the body to a relaxed state, these distractions tend to keep the body in a stressed state and cause more problems.
The practice of mindfulness allows us to experience the effects of such a stressful stimulus in our bodies in real time and to stay with them. We look inside of ourselves and begin an enquiry into our mind-body system that we habitually ignore because of our lightning-fast reactions. This enquiry expands the space between the stimulus and response which can then become a crucible for insight, transformation and right action.
As an Executive Mindfulness Coach, I will train busy executives to apply a variety of mindfulness techniques so that they are able to better deal with such stimuli. The bad news is they have to deal with an endless stream of negative stimuli on a daily basis. The good news is that they have to deal with such an endless stream of negative stimuli that provides them with many opportunities for mindfulness practice (and subsequent transformations) on a daily basis.
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