By Raju Mandhyan
A FEW YEARS AGO, I’d taken up three speaking assignments in one day. The first was in Antipolo, a location 25 kilometers north from Makati City where I operate from in the Philippines. The second speaking assignment was in Makati City and the third, late in the afternoon, was at a convention center in Pasay City which was about 10 kilometers from Makati City.
I had calculated the speaking and the travel time well for all three engagements and also did make it to each one of them in time. But, I must confess that my speaking performance in each one of them wasn’t of the quality that I’d like to fondly remember. Getting from one venue and event to another had my nerves so frayed that on stage it was more about overcoming the wobbly knees from driving than from the fact that I was on stage. Though I don’t want to remember the day, I am sharing the story in hope of purging it from my system and preventing others from such mistakes.
I don’t quite know what it is about us humans and humanity itself that wants us to pack our hours and minutes with so much to do.
From the moment we wake up we get hooked to our smart phones, our tablets and every other thingamajig that we think will help us get productive. We also sign up for meetings, get-togethers, lunches, workouts and late night online sessions to fill our days. All these activities are frantically weaved in with reading news, posting, liking, sharing and commenting on every little beep on the blooming internet. We call it living it out loud in the Volatile, Uncertain, Changing and Ambiguous world.
In this messy scramble of commitments and appointments we claim that we can make it because we are of the 21st century and we are multi-tasking, multi-talented, omnipresent creatures lurching into future. No, we are not!
Research in neurosciences will tell you that we are on and off between tasks. That means we do one thing, we stop and then we do another. We do not do many things at the same time. We stop, we start, we start, we stop and eventually end up burned at both ends. Research by the Mindful Leadership Institute in 2010 showed that barely 2% of business leaders succeed at this, 47% are, usually, in a state of chaotic, mind-wandering and 70% confessed to constantly tuning out from the tasks at hand.
The answer lies in what a professor, unknown to me, at the Ateneo de Manila University makes his students practice when they enter his classroom. He invites them to sit down, be still and then just be silent for one whole minute. His claim, as I have heard my son share the story, is that when we move from one venue, one event to another we must let our minds catch up with our body.
My “mind” enter my body? That is exactly what I hadn’t done on that day when I’d zoomed from one speaking engagement to another and then to another. I was a maniac driver on the road and a zombie pontificating on stage.
Today, I practice a habit called “one minute to arrive.” Get up in the morning and take a minute to arrive and appreciate the day outside. Sit at breakfast, take a minute to arrive, smell the food and appreciate the company. Enter the car and take one minute to arrive and be amazed at the wonders of technology. Enter a business meeting and spend a whole minute to take note of the place, the people and the potential in the room. Connect everything to an inner quietness, a greater awareness, and curiosity for what is and what else may unfold. Some people call this grounding while others call it quiet time. Regardless of what it is called, the beauty lies in the fact that it increases our calm, our clarity and our abilities to become creative and productive.
The same practice can also be applied to leaving a room or a meeting. One can just sit up after all the talk is over and let all the little and big conversations come together in our heads then let them find their way into our deeper memory. Call this “a minute to leave” and has similarities to a respectful “paalam” in the Philippines.
The beauty behind this practice is that our forefathers knew of it and, thus, created words and rituals to remind us of it. Another truth behind this practice is that science is quickly catching up on its mental, emotional and performance benefits. Practice it for a day and it will impact you. Practice it for a few weeks and it will become a good habit. Hang on to the good habit and it will become a trait of being present in the here and now. Think of it gently, “a minute to paalam.”
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.