Not long ago, I was speaking to a professional golfer about my belief that the use of a deliberate pre-shot routine is not helpful. He asked why. My response: "I'd rather you not get in the way of your instincts through the use of a prescribed strategy."
He replied, "That's why I practice the routine, so it becomes second nature."
"Well, I'm not a fan of second nature," I said. "Let's stick with first nature -- your instincts."
Man, sometimes it feels like a tall mountain. The use of mind strategies or practices (mental routines, visualization, combing one's past for answers, affirmations, rules, goal setting) is so commonly prescribed in performance coaching and psychology today that this approach has become the standard. My question is: If it works, why is our collective level of behavior and productivity not improving?
The answer is: It doesn't work. Yet, rather than scrap the whole approach, people -- including mental health experts -- persist, jumping from one unsuccessful strategy to another.
Here's a hot one right now: mindfulness. I watched a 60 Minutes segment on this practice. It revealed that companies like Google and Facebook are now offering mindfulness training and retreats for their employees. Plus, even a U.S. congressman is into it. He's leading mindfulness classes on Capitol Hill while elementary school students in his Ohio district are being taught to meditate to control their racing thoughts. The overall theme of the 60 Minutes segment: When you feel stressed, take a breath, chill, get yourself together, and then proceed -- mindfully. The segment did close with this surprising twist: "Mindfulness is not something you do; it's who you are."
That I do agree with.
But if it's true that human beings are born mindful (aware, conscious, whatever), why did 60 Minutes air a full-length segment presenting mindfulness as something that must be learned and deliberately practiced? Doing this is similar to the pre-shot routine I mentioned earlier -- second nature or non-instinctual. In other words, as with any mind strategy, mindful meditation requires thinking. And since you can't become mindful by filling your head with thought, to me, the practice of mindfulness is essentially sucking the mindfulness right out of people.
So, then, if strategies and practices such as mindfulness aren't the answer, what is? What's the solution to our current behavioral and peace of mind crisis? Pretty simple, believe it or not.
Let's start by immediately scrapping today's "standard" approach and all the "how-to" methods (e.g., how to become mindful) that come with it. Next, replace it with this fundamental truth: The human mind will self-correct -- if we stay out of its way. Thought, by design, comes and goes; it fills our heads then empties. Clarity brings mindfulness, positivity, and love -- clutter, the opposite.
This sadly means that in the above congressman's district, in trying to become mindful, kids are actually being taught to obstruct their innate functioning (or what I call their psychological immune systems). Have you ever seen youngsters get upset and then get over it almost immediately? Did they intentionally practice mindfulness to do so? Of course not. They self-corrected (became mindful) because that's what human beings are built to do.
Enough is enough. Human beings don't need crutches. We simply need to look toward how we work inherently or what's really happening behind the scenes in our heads (the ebb and flow of thought I just mentioned). Adults, it's one thing to point each other in the wayward direction of stifling what nature intended, but doing this to our kids is absurd. It's time we wake up and stop this backward cycle. Mind strategies and practices are not the answer. The proof's in the pudding. We keep looking outside for fixes, and our level of behavior keeps getting worse.
One last thing: For those who disagree with me, that's cool. I welcome your comments. However, please don't send me data supporting the practice of mindfulness (as the producers did on 60 Minutes). The mind and brain are not the same thing. You can't measure the mind with calculations, through the use of statistics, or under a microscope. The brain, sure; it's biological. The mind, however, is spiritual; it's formless. No one can quantify something that has no form.