What is Mindfulness?
Ever hear a voice in the back of your head when public speaking saying things like, “Do I sound nasal right now?” or: “Why did I scratch my nose?!? Did that make me look unprofessional?” You are not alone. I recently came across an interesting article in the New York Times about how Phil Jackson, president of the NY Knicks, leads the team in mindfulness sessions during practice. The article caught my eye as I’ve been thinking about “mindfulness” with increased frequency since becoming a communication coach.
What is mindfulness? And why would the president of a major professional sports franchise think it a valuable tool for his world-class athletes? Psychology Today calls mindfulness, “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.” Clients come to us wanting to learn how to speak in public. They often ask us how to stop judging themselves in the moment when public speaking in front of an audience. Silently critiquing your performance while public speaking (or playing at Madison Square Garden) is a sure-fire way to to throw you off your game. In a blink of an eye it can unravel all of your thoughtful preparation. It’s important to acknowledge being overly self-aware is a natural part of public speaking. It's also important to understand how to diffuse it.
Mindfulness + Improvisation
George Mumford, who also led the Knicks in mindfulness exercises likens mindfulness to, “improvisation, where actors and actresses confront the situations thrust on them and try to function inside those limits.” He goes on to say the goal of mindfulness exercises is to “allow athletes to reflect and to slow down the mind — to get it into game shape.” When we employ practical theater techniques to help people hone effective communication skills we often focus on techniques important for successful improvisation. Most notably how to maintain a connection when the unexpected happens. What I like about Mumford's interpretation of mindfulness is that it releases the [speaker, performer, athlete] from blame or judgement attached to self-assessing in the moment.
Mumford goes on to assert "that when you’re performing at your best level, there’s usually a lack of self-consciousness.” I could not agree more. In the theater we often talk about “throwing it all away” when it comes time to perform. If an actor is focused on the diction exercises she did during rehearsal to sharpen her “T’s” and “B’s” when performing she's likely not focused on what she's saying. Or truly paying attention to her scene partner. It’s important to trust the preparation you did with your communication coach (or at home in the mirror) will support you when it’s finally showtime. Used in this way, mindfulness exists on a continuum of fostering trust in your communication skills and your ability to effectively stay focused when connecting with an audience.
Put It All Together
When you’re ready to work on techniques, including mindfulness, to retain effective focus when communicating in public get in touch about our coaching services. Or check out Headspace and the wise thoughts of our friend D.G. Watson. Or join the NY Knicks!