Enjoy this monthly mindfulness post from Dave Johnson, PhD, CNS- BC, LMFT, employee assistance specialist.
Years ago I was fortunate to meet the legendary Lou Holtz when he was still coaching football at the University of Notre Dame. I was in an administrative role and had gone to a leadership training program where he was speaking. That day, he taught me several lessons on leadership, but one has stood out and been quite influential for me as a leader, husband, father, and now mindfulness junkie. Coach Holtz called it the WIN principle, which was an acronym for the very important life question, “What’s Important Now?”.
In the game of football, it’s crucial to huddle and ask important questions with folks on the front line. The quarterback quickly discerns what is important at the moment, in light of the game, where the team is on the field, and what the strategy is for the next play. Quarterbacks have help from the coach, who has a bigger view from the outside, but it is from the voice and wisdom of the quarterback that the next move is called out to all the listening ears within the huddle. Although admittedly I’m not a big football fan, Holtz challenged me to use the metaphor to consider a regular huddle with those near and dear to me and to ask an important question, “What’s Important Now”?
WIN is a relevant question for pausing the daily grind of autopilot living and becoming a bit more mindful. It brings a sense of intention when I anchor it with context such as, “What’s important now that I have cancer or a life-altering illness?” Or, “What’s important now, after the death of a loved one, job loss, or unexpected family challenge?” WIN is a good question after a long work day with an exhausted body only to arrive at home to more challenges that need attention, sorting through, or energy.
Mindfulness as a discipline continues to get bigger fanfare as the science connects with addiction, chronic pain, healthy eating, relational practices, and illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, anxiety, and depression. In the workplace, I promote mindfulness to enhance Emotional Intelligence (EI), safety, and components of being an effective leader. One can hardly pick up a contemporary magazine today without it being touted as the most important self-care practice for enhancing one’s sense of well-being.
But it is not enough to know what mindfulness is. It is dose dependent, like fitness. Knowing how to be fit is not the same as having a routine or practice of fitness. And so it is with mindfulness. How do you build the awareness of taking yourself off autopilot thinking and responding and cultivating a bit of calm in the storm of life, especially when the wind has changed and bringing waves of pain, confusion, or loss? WIN bumps up against a couple of important Mindfulness pillars to help me. Here’s what I ponder:
- Pause. Sometimes we don’t have the option to pause, such as in an emergency. But, often a pause is possible and can serve us well. Pausing can be as simple as just intentionally slowing your breathing pattern, or noticing that your body is breathing automatically. Coming to awareness using your physical senses of sight, touch, hearing, smelling etc. and noticing what is right now.
It sounds cliché, but pausing might prevent words you will later regret, or emails, or tweets on social media posts that are misunderstood or do not reflect the person you hope to be. Pausing and noticing your pause is one practice that can help you avoid what is not needed, wanted, or actions that are perhaps damaging or caustic. In a world of frenzy, with a good deal of responding to stress out of anger or fear, a better response might be to pause. WIN might simply be noticing your first impulse to knee jerk or worse yet, be a jerk. Hmmm … this seems relevant, timely, and a good place to start for many of us.
- Huddle. In the game of life, who is on your front line? Whose eyes do you need to look directly into and notice love, kindness, gentleness, caring, forgiveness? Without the huddle, you might not notice the eyes of despair, pain, anger or confusion. Taking time to gather around those who are nearest and dearest allows you to linger a bit longer in this moment and be a bit more intentional about the next life movement. Your eyes quicken with compassion when you notice deep within others their humanity and connectedness.
For all the wonderful things that electronics and cyberworld can do for us today, they cannot replace real time huddling in the family or the workplace. At home, WIN opens you up to explore with intention a huddle before meals, a huddle before work, or a huddle at the end of a day or long work week. As a parent, I can recall kissing my thumb, touching my child’s nose and asking what was the best part of their day as I tucked them into bed. My children often recounted a story about what happened earlier in the day. I listened with my eyes and then always ended the “bedtime huddle” with the question, “What do you think daddy’s best part was?” They knew the answer and blurted out, “Right now!” And they were always right.
- Non-striving. I Think we can misinterpret the meaning of WIN for “win”. In our game-crazed culture of being goal-oriented and striving to be the best at all cost. we might miss a more important feature of reality. We get caught in the vortex of thinking and strategizing. We have inner or outer chatter of, “If I could do more, be more, have more, then I would be happier, healthier, richer, etc.” You get the picture. We sometimes get stuck with “shoulds” as well. I could have, I should have, why didn’t I … etc.
It’s funny, even when I introduce the concept of non-striving to a mindfulness meditation class, folks will say, “Dr. Dave, I came because I want to be more calm, or I want to have less pain, or lower blood pressure.” I assure participants that there are many benefits to this science of mindfulness and encourage them to back off from striving just a little. I encourage a deeper wisdom of coming to curiosity, patience and non-judgement to invite a movement of awareness of what is. What’s Important now is now. Often, obsessing about what happened or having anxiety about what will happen or might happen undermines what is happening in real time.
The power of WIN is reminding ourselves to stay in the now of our lives a bit longer than being hijacked in our game of fear, competitiveness or stressed-based living. Giving ourselves permission not to strive and to just be is definitely countercultural and takes a bit of untangling to understand. Like many games of skill, this skill of staying in the now requires practice. And practice sounds like we are striving, so it does get confusing. Using the WIN principle helps to simplify this just a bit.
- Asking good questions. What’s Important now is a big life question. And from that question, one could spawn several other good questions, such as: who can help me, what are my resources, how have I coped with difficult challenges in the past? Questions definitely steer us toward thinking territory and problem-solving, which can be good in helping us with our goal-driven strategies. But not all questions are good.
Bad questions exist in the sense of spiraling obsessive and ruminative thinking. Bad questions put us and others on the defense, for instance, “Why did I do that?”, “Why haven’t I done that?”, “Why won’t I do this?” Good questions lean into the direction we desire to go. Bad questions spiral us into a web of uncertainty, confusion, or a lack of empathy and compassion. For mindfulness, begin to notice that chattering of such narrative in your head. Recognize thinking, strategizing and problem-solving are critical to successful living and notice there are times to shut down that noise in your head. Coming out of the thinking and questioning brain to just be in your body is not as easy as it sounds, hence the importance of seeking resources, practice, and wisdom of coaches who have a wider view of the context of how you can lean into the practice of mindfulness.
- Seek resources. Coach Lou Holtz once said, “It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it.” By teaching me the WIN principle, he enabled me to carry some of the stressors of life with a question that helps me keep my head in the game of life with a bit more perspective. Mindfulness based stress reduction programs promote a sense of balance and health promotion. Finding resources to nurture and build this skill can be helpful. The Parkview Center for Healthy Living has several intensive and introductory programs.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction practice has been extensively researched and proven helpful for coping with stress and change, grief, healthy eating patterns, pain, anxiety, depression and many other chronic disease and autoimmune disorders. For a FREE 1:1 in person or telephonic consultation with Dr. Dave or to find out about more on Mindfulness & Stress Management programs, contact the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at (260) 672-6500. Dr. Johnson also provides on-site guidance for teambuilding and transformational leadership, among other topics. To learn more about Employees Assistance Programs for your company, call Business Development at (260) 373-9013.
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