Mastering the Moment:
How to Clear the Fog & Focus
The High Costs of Mindlessness
Ours is a fast-paced, high-pressure, information-overload, constant-distraction culture. We are
constantly deluged with information while juggling increasing demands at home and work.
We cope largely through continuous partial attention, skimming through life and hoping we
glean most of the important details. Our inability to focus fully what is happening in the moment
generates stress, conflict, reduced performance and overwhelmed coping strategies. The cost to
organizations as well as ourselves is enormous.
· Health Costs – stress-related illness and negative coping behaviors cost companies over
$500 billion in lost productivity. These also factor significantly into the $1 trillion
companies pay in health insurance premiums.1 In an effort to manage these costs, companies
pour another $6 billion into Employee Wellness Programs but with little real return.2
· Performance Costs – multi-tasking costs $450 billion a year in lost productivity, with
people persisting in the activity despite consistent research that it is ineffective (and that
habitual multi-taskers often perform worse than occasional multi-taskers). 3
· Training Costs – learning decay from training ranges between 90%, raising serious
questions about what US companies are getting for their $150 billion annual spend on
· Innovation Costs – stress, multitasking and poor thought skills all restrict our ability to see
things in new, more effective ways.4
Ultimately, we need to master speed. We cannot put the genie back and return to a simpler time
before personal computers, the Internet, mobile phones and cable TV made a 24-7 world. But the
key to mastering speed is actually to slow down - to focus attention into the moment rather than
racing through it in five different directions.
The Mindfulness Solution
Mindfulness is quickly becoming a key focus for organizations seeking to enhance employee
productivity, creativity and well-being. Among the heavy hitters - Google, Target, Proctor &
Gamble, Harvard University, and the US Military.5
Research now shows a wealth of benefits that directly address the costs noted above.
Mindfulness reduces stress, increases immunity and overall health, promotes higher employee
engagement, better concentration and productivity, higher learning and improved creativity and
By boosting our ability to experience more clearly, fully and creatively, mindfulness contributes
to substantially more effective work – whether that’s following current protocols, identifying and
resolving problems or creating something new.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as (1) paying attention, (2) on purpose, (3) in the present
moment (4) without judgment.7 In effect, it is the ability to fully experience what is happening in
this moment rather than focusing on what has happened or might happen, and whether it’s good
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The “Mind Map” shown to the right
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The Time axis reflects our tendency to
rehash the Past or rehearse the Future.
The Value axis reflects our automatic
judging of thoughts, feelings and
experience as good, bad or indifferent.
Mindlessness occurs every time we
“lose” ourselves in Time and Value,
wandering through Yesterdays and
Tomorrows, full or regrets and worries
or plans and dreams.
Mindfulness occurs at the intersection
of Time and Value where we can
develop deeper awareness and wiser
action. The Present Moment connects
us to what IS rather than what was or what we hope will be. It is about avoiding the distractions
of anxiety and anticipation, about knowing the work to be done right now and being able to do it
We have all experienced such moments of intense awareness. Psychologists refer to this as
“flow” – a complete immersion in an activity where “your whole being is involved and you’re
using your skills to the utmost.”8 In these spans of time, there is no “I,” no self-consciousness,
worry, hope, or anticipation – there is just simple being and doing.
For some of us, this occurs through physical activity – skiing fresh powder, running, biking, or
playing a team sport. Others are transported by books, movies or meals. Some find it in the their
work whether writing code, designing a new marketing campaign or negotiating a sale. It can
also arrive through hobbies like cooking, knitting and dancing.
Research, however, shows that flow is a relatively rare experience, with only 20% of people
experiencing a flow moment at least once a day. Most of the time is spent in varying levels of
stress or boredom.9
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The aim of Mindfulness Training is to make this flow experience a defining characteristic of our
lives rather than something rare or random. It is about enlarging the mindfulness circle and
reducing space for counterproductive mindlessness.
A Mindfulness Work Out
Mindfulness is an attention muscle. With time and effort, we can expand the quality and
duration of our attention in the same way that we build our physical muscles.
The really good news is that attention exercises are not time intensive. They can also be done
without special memberships, clothing, books, CDs or other equipment. They can be done at the
office, at home, the gym, the car…anywhere you are at, whatever you’re doing.
You build mindfulness the same way you build your biceps, abs or lung capacity – through
steady, systematic repetition. The following are five initial exercises, typically for 5-10 minutes.
Each is harder than it appears and you may be surprised how exhausting a 10-minute work out
Try each exercise on subsequent days. You’ll want to work up to doing all of them eventually,
but initially, find the one that resonates most with you and focus on that.
The aim is always and simply to keep your attention focused on the selected activity. Whether
breathing, eating, walking or driving, try not to let your thoughts wander. When they do, simply
note this and come back to the activity without judgment. Some days you’ll find this relatively
easy. Other days, your thoughts will wander away 50 times in 5 minutes. These latter workouts
are often frustrating and wearying. But remember that “recognizing and returning” is the
equivalent of weight machine reps. And the more you do, the stronger you get.
1. Mind Mapping
Replicate the Mind Map’s four squares on a sheet of paper. Choose one or more of the following
as a way to map the flow of your thoughts. In short, when they wander, where do they go? How
· Take 5-10 minutes and reflect on your general tendencies. Fill in the boxes with the major
recurring thoughts you have. Do you tend to rehash the past or are you future-focused?
Are you generally positive or plagued by past slights and injuries? Again, don’t judge
yourself. You’re simply building insight.
· Write in stream of consciousness for 5 minutes. Write quickly whatever comes to mind.
When the time is up map the results.
· Pick a 20-30 minute task (e.g., e-mail, writing a report, attending a meeting). When an
unrelated thought pops into your head, briefly note it in the appropriate box, then return to
your work. At the end of the time, note how many intrusive thoughts you had and if they
tended to cluster in a specific way.
· Take 5-10 minutes at the end of the day to enter how your spent your time. Focus on the
conversations you had and record them on the Map. Which box was most represented?
Were there times when mindfulness naturally occurred? When you experienced flow?
Set a timer for 2-5 minutes and bring your attention to your breath. Just notice the breath; don’t
try to change it in any way. Once you have settled into a relaxed easy breath, count down from
10 to 0. (Each full inhale/exhale counts as 1.) Don’t worry if your mind strays; just come back
to your breath and start over at 10. Continue this exercise until you can make it to zero at least
three times in a row. Then start your next workout session at 15. Keep adding 5-10 until you’re
counting down from 100 or until a set amount of time has elapsed.
If your thoughts are really busy, you may want to experiment with a guided meditation. A great
app for this is Calm, available for free at www.calm.com and on your mobile phone.
Rather than a whole meal, practice this with something simple, like desert. Take a moment and
center your attention on your breath, then turn it to your food. Notice how it looks and smells.
As possible (if you picked an apple vs. apple pie) explore how it feels. Feel the texture and taste
change as you chew. Note the sounds of your chewing. Then follow the swallow, and repeat
until you finish. Eat slowly, keeping your attention fully on the experience of eating. Return any
wandering thoughts as you notice them.
Pick a familiar path where you can take a 5-10 minute walk. This can be indoors as well as
outdoors, using stairwells to climb to different floors as necessary. The aim is to simply pay
attention to the act of walking.
Walk slowly. Look around you without labeling what you see. Just see it. When you’re aware
of yourself thinking, see if you’ve increased your speed and tightened your jaw. Slow down and
see if you feel more relaxed as you come back to simply walking.
This is the ab crunch of mindfulness so be prepared to be challenged. Turn off your cell phone
and put it in the glove compartment. Turn off the radio. Pick one lane on each street of your
route and stay in it. Let other drivers merge in front of you. Be alert for impatience, frustration,
irritation, and anger. Try to keep your attention on the act of driving, the vehicles and scenery
around you without naming or judging. Use red lights as reminders to breath slowly and deeply.
Bonus Round: Retest
If you’re able to practice fairly continuously for a week, repeat the Distraction Factor
Assessment and see what changes you notice. Don’t expect any greater miracles than you would
from a week in the gym, but you should experience noticeable improvements. Write these down
and build on them. Develop an exercise regimen for your mind and continue to grow.
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Perhaps it’s one of the five above. Or maybe you want #?5#%*#+to 1#J practice !)+=!0 22J !' A*+$' attending MH!
more fully during
meetings. Or perhaps you want to work with
a routine, everyday task like walking the dog,
mowing the lawn, or even washing the dishes.
Whatever the activity, you simply state an
intention to focus only on what is occuring in
the moment and then practice returning to it
any time attention wanders.
With practice, you can grow the amount of
time you spend mindfully engaged rather than
mindlessly meandering. In short, you can
improve your mastery of the moment, blowing
the noise and fog out of your way to create
more flow and focus.
This greater attention and awareness becomes
a reserve of wisdom that can be leveraged to
improve specific aspects of our lives, including health, performance, learning and creativity.
Improvement occurs through more openness to what is happening in the moment and why. More
curiosity, less judgment and a “pause” before acting. An important side benefit is that we learn
to be more patient, with ourselves as well as others.
There’s a lot of science to support this, and more on the way. But the proof that matters is your
own experience. And for an initial investment of 5-10 minutes a day, you’ve nothing to lose but
stress and distraction.
303 b. provides individual and organizational mindfulness training to improve health,
performance, learning and creativity It draws on the unique heritage and values of Denver to
deliver practical, sustainable and effective results.
Thoughts and comments are welcome at email@example.com or 303.589.1926.
Distraction Factor Assessment
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Rate how frequently the following statements are true for you.
1 – Rarely 2 – Sometimes 3 – Often 4 – Very Often 5 – Most of the time
1. _____ I rush through things rather being attentive to what I’m doing.
2. _____ I get so focused on goals that I lose touch with what I’m doing right now.
3. _____ I tend to walk quickly without paying attention to what I experience on the way.
4. _____ I listen to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time.
5. _____ I become preoccupied with the future or the past.
6. _____ I have a lot of programs and documents open on my computer at any given time.
7. _____ I snack without being aware that I’m eating.
8. _____ I channel surf while watching TV or listening to the radio.
9. _____ I get lost in thoughts and feelings.
10. _____ I am easily distracted.
11. _____ I daydream or think of other things during chores such as cleaning or laundry.
12. _____ I do several things at once rather than focusing on one thing at a time.
13. _____ By day’s end I find I’ve spent more time on low value tasks than I intended to.
14. _____ I find it difficult to stay focused on a project from beginning to end.
15. _____ I struggle to stay fully attentive in meetings, conference calls, and presentations.
16. _____ I lose track of time when browsing the Internet or using social marketing.
17. _____ My mind is constantly busy.
18. _____ While doing something, I think of other things I need to do.
19. _____ I talk on the phone or listen to the radio while driving.
20. _____ If I’m on a conference call, I take time to read e-mail or organize my desk.
Simply answering these 20 questions quickly illuminates how significant the distraction
challenge is for you. If you answered 3 or higher to more than 10 questions, you will definitely
benefit from strengthening your attention muscle. But you can make substantial gains even if
you wrestle with only a few items. Imagine the effect of even a 10% improvement on any of the
Mindfulness as a means to build attention and awareness is growing quickly at companies across
the US from Google and Target to Harvard and the US Military. Find out more and try a
selection of attention-building exercises in Mastering the Moment: How to Clear Your Brain &
Focus at www.linkedin.com/in/ericzook/.
This assessment adapted from Siegel, R.D. PsyD. (2010). The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for
Everyday Problems. (2010) New York: Guilford Press
1 Finding extrapolated from data reported in The 2013 Employer Health Benefits Survey, The Kaiser Family
2 Do Workplace Wellness Programs Work? Usually Not. The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
3 The Effects of Multi-Tasking on Organizations (Realization 2013)
4 Amabile, T.M., and Kramer, S.J. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and
Creativity at Work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
5 The Mindful Revolution, Time Magazine, February 3, 2014.
6 Langer, E. (2014). Mindfulness, 25th Anniversary Edition. Philadelphia: Da Capo Lifelong Books:; Chade-Meng, T.
(2012). Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). New
York: HarperOne; Smalley, S. L. & Winston, D. (2010) Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness.
Philadelphia: Da Capo Lifelong Books.
7 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York:
8 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. New York: Basic
9 Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
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