THE BLOG
08/12/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

3 Simple Steps Towards Mindfulness

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By Sandy Behnken, General Mills

In today's constantly connected, multitasking society, setting life on autopilot is an everyday occurrence. Seldom do we take time to pause, be purposeful in our actions and live moment-to-moment -- particularly in the workplace.

After 22 years in the workforce, I recently set out on a quest for a greater sense of purpose in my job. What I found had a profound impact on my life both at work and at home. Enter: Mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be cultivated by training the mind similarly to how we train our body. And just like training the body, it requires consistent daily practice. We don't get up one day and decide to run a marathon that afternoon without logging several miles a week for months in advance. The same applies to mindfulness -- we don't get up in the morning and say: "I'm going to become mindful today." It takes training and fortunately the commitment is significantly less taxing and time-intensive than training for a marathon! The key is consistency.

Here are a few simple steps to get you started:

1. Carve out time. Start by setting aside two 10-15 minute sessions a day to meditate. Find a quiet place to sit, and then choose something to focus your attention on like your breath. As you sit, notice when your mind begins to wander off and each time it does, gently bring your attention back to your breath. Don't stress about keeping your brain from wandering off. It will. The practice is noticing that the mind has wandered off and bringing it back to the object of attention.

Why? Meditation does two things: First, it helps cultivate the mind's ability to aim and sustain attention and redirects it back to the object of attention; and secondly, it helps keep the mind focused on the present moment reducing that tendency to either re-live or attempt to pre-live our life.

2. Catch your breath. Bring awareness to your breath throughout your workday and at home. Even if it's just for a few moments before responding to an email, answering a call or as you are riding the escalator, sprinkling those pauses in throughout your busy day can give you important mental space.

3. Bring awareness to your day. Too often, we rush through the day so quickly that we can hardly remember what we ate for lunch or if we even had lunch. One of my favorite ways bring awareness to my day is to mindfully walk from one meeting to the next. This doesn't mean I'm walking like a zombie between meetings, but rather as I walk, I focus my attention on the sensations of walking, feeling my feet on the floor and noticing when my mind has wondered off. If I can arrive at each meeting without having pre-lived it, I am more likely to be open to what is truly there in the present moment versus what I think should or hoped would be there.

Mindfulness is a cornerstone of leading with excellence. Our responsibility as leaders is to have focus on how to succeed, bring clarity to our teams on what's most important to succeed and be creative about how we approach success. But, most of all, our greatest opportunity is to just listen.

Whether it's working with colleagues on a major project, parenting a child or communicating with your spouse, mindfulness will allow you to set your opinions aside and be open to simply listening. It's important not to ignore your personal opinion, but rather have awareness of its influence as you listen. This practice will create the mental space you need to bring focused attention to the discussion and to respond in a manner that is truthful, respectful and productive.

Personally, I experienced a breakthrough moment in my practice during a meeting in which it was announced that there would be a significant change in direction in a project with which I was heavily involved. I instantly knew the change would mean hours of added work on top of an already tight timeline. Previously, this type of news would have put me over the edge with anxiety and stress. Instead, I was able to pause in that moment, choose to respond in a more skillful way.

Each day we make decisions that impact not only the company we work for but our families and communities too. The quality of those decisions will be enriched if we are fully open, if we are present, if we give ourselves space to be creative, and if we build our capacity to choose to respond versus reacting viscerally.

About the author

Sandy Behnken is a continuous improvement leader at General Mills. She began practicing mindful leadership in 2009 and today, leads weekly drop-in training sessions on mindfulness for General Mills employees. Behnken has been with the company since 1992.

About General Mills

General Mills is one of the world's leading food companies, operating in more than 100 countries around the world. Its brands include Cheerios, Fiber One, Häagen-Dazs, Nature Valley, Yoplait, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Old El Paso, Wanchai Ferry, Yoki and more.

General Mills has been fulfilling its mission of Nourishing Lives -- making lives healthier, easier and richer -- for 148 years.