04/01/2013 04:46 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2013

Mindful Management: Less Stress, More Success

Mindful management is not about floating your way through your day. It's about being aware of the here and now, so that you can focus on what needs to be done to reach your goals. Because when you stay awake and aware, you can maintain your focus on what is most important. Then, and only then, can you steer your career, and your life, in the direction you want it to go on every level.

Researchers tell us we spend 85 percent of our time worrying about the past and future. We worry that what we did or didn't do yesterday will catch up to us tomorrow. Perhaps you worry about not reaching our potential, or that you will never be able to retire in style, or that you will grow old alone and lonely.

None of this is real. But you can spend so much time worrying about it that you fail to do the things you need to do today, and that is what will undermine your tomorrow. Some people use television, the Internet, drugs or alcohol to distract themselves from the very things they need to reach the success and happiness they were meant to enjoy. They become their own worst enemy. What they don't realize is that breaking this cycle is as easy as simply quieting the mind and letting go.

The doubt, distraction and fear that undermine your best efforts all come from one place -- your brain. It was wired 40,000 years ago and still works the same way it did when we were chipping flint into spears. It was designed for survival. That is why it jumps from thought to thought so rapidly. It was wired to think about everything in an effort to save you from whatever potential dangers could be out there. That worked great 40,000 years ago, but in today's world it can do more damage than good. It throws you into a mild fight or flight mode when you're just trying to finish up a report at the end of the day. It does not realize that the nervousness you feel is not about a possible lion lurking in the brush, it's just a guy that you want to meet, sitting alone at the end of the bar. It keeps throwing you into stress just when you should be letting go so you can be your best.

If you want to live a happier, more successful life, then learn to manage your 40,000-year-old brain. Do this and you will find that winning your life back is as easy as letting it go.

1. Learn to Breathe. Far too many people go through their days taking short, little breaths that top of the lungs and do little else. Doing this fails to fill your lungs with fresh air, but it sends a signal to your brain that something isn't right and that you need to be on edge for trouble. Learn to breathe deep into your lungs. Learn to pull the air in through your diaphragm so that your belly expands and your lungs fill deeply. Learn to give the air a few seconds to settle between each breath. Then take a few minutes in the morning and afternoon of your day to simply sit and breathe.

2. Learn to Focus: As you breathe, gently place your awareness on the air as it comes into your lungs, settles, and then leaves your lungs. Allow yourself to ride your breath in through your nose as if you were swimming on the currents of air as they swirl around your sinuses and down your windpipe. As a thought comes into your mind, simply acknowledge it and let it go. It may sound like a voice that says "what are you doing?" It may sound like a thought that says "you should check your email." It may start a list of the things you should be doing. That is the sound of your 40,000 year old brain. The one you're learning to manage. Keep learning. Just acknowledge it and let it go as you return your awareness to your breath again and again and again.

3. Take it With You: Don't limit your deep breathing and your focus to a "meditation moment." Take it on the road with you. When you feel a panic attack coming on, just breathe slow and deep while you place your attention on your breath. If that's not working place your attention on the pencil or pad in front of you. Pay attention to the color, the texture, as well as the sights and sounds around you. Learn to distract your brain with the future panic and return to the present no matter where you are, and you're on your way to taking control of your life.

While this may sound simple, just know that it is not easy. Your brain will try to distract you every chance it gets. It will tempt you with a new cup of coffee or a nervous panic to get back to familiar ground. You might need a guide to help you overcome what the Buddhist call a monkey mind. You may need to take a break to help you reground. It's not a quick fix, nor an easy pill. But it is the only lasting solution I have found to creating the life you want to live -- the life you were meant to live.

If you want to try a guided meditation that will help lead you on the path to managing your mind, you may try a Swimming on Your Breath meditation. Or you may even want to talk to a meditation coach directly.

Either way, learn to manage your stress by first being aware of it, then by breathing through it. You will see your life start to turn in the direction you want it to go.

For more by Jeff Cannon, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

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