Friday, July 5, 2013

Mindfulness and Intentionality

I've been working with a life coach, Sarah, for about three months now. I started working with her because I wanted to improve my communication skills and create a better first impression in both personal and professional settings. On Wednesday, she helped me prepare for the schmoozing portion of the July LearnLaunch Meetup/Pitch Night. Vertical Learning Labs is one of five companies selected by LearnLaunch to make a pitch, and I am pitching my next educational game, Petri Dish. I am terrible at schmoozing.

One of the key strategies that I've learned from Sarah is to be intentional. If I have in the forefront of my mind that I want to be positive, confident, energetic, and open... then I will be. When the presentations are done and schmoozing begins, I told Sarah that I wanted to be active and not passive. Normally, I would stand still and wait for things to unfold for a little while before doing anything. Not this time. This time, I wanted to spring into action and do something right away. I figured that the easiest thing to do (at least in my mind) is to walk somewhere.

Sarah and I spent a few minutes discussing where I should walk: toward the center of the room, toward the event organizer/host, toward a fellow presenter that I had picked out to talk to, toward the snack table (No!), toward someone who is looking in my direction. Sarah told me that I shouldn't plan things out too much in advance and that it almost didn't matter who or what I walked toward since there was I good chance that circumstances would intervene and I would be intercepted before I reached my destination. The point was to create an intention for myself and then go from there. Just creating an intention for myself would break me from my bad habits and put me in a better position.

I found the advice really helpful. But as I was signing off our phone call, I happened to mention to Sarah that I was meeting my sister for dinner on Friday (today) to practice my pitch. This is kind of a big deal because I have rocky relationships with my family (they have shown close to zero interest in my professional goals or activities over the years), and Sarah helped me successfully navigate a family gathering a few weeks ago. Sarah cheerfully said to me, "Wonderful! This is another opportunity for you to practice being intentional." And then the call was over.

My reaction was: "Oh, great. Not another opportunity to be intentional. Am I going to have to be intentional all the time?" Just thinking about it felt exhausting. Then I remembered an interview that Bradley Cooper did with Graham Norton. Bradley Cooper had just been named to some sexist man alive list and he recounted a moment when he opened a door to a store and he thought to himself, "Oh, I could have done that a lot sexier!" The line got a huge laugh because the thought seemed so silly. But we tend to go through life in our basic default mode, and one way to change that default is to create a different intention for ourselves until that becomes our new default mode. If Bradley Cooper were to go through his day thinking about being sexy all the time, then he would be sexy all the time and soon he wouldn't need to think about it.

The other thought I had about intentionality is its relationship to mindfulness. Now I had always considered myself a mindful person. By "mindful" I mean someone who is both situationally aware and self-aware. And situational awareness includes being aware of what events and our actions are generating in the people around us. So when I'm taking about something and someone is bored, I can tell they are bored. And if I keep talking about this thing that bores them, I know my motivation for doing that and the effect it is having.

The curious thing about my mindfulness is that it did not really cause me to change my behavior. I've been bad at schmoozing for a very long time and I know why I'm bad at schmoozing, but I don't try to do things differently. My brain was registering feedback, but then I was just continuing on cruise control. As my friend Daniel says, "I wasn't closing the loop." For me, intentionality with my normal level of mindfulness closes the loop, and I am starting to change my behavior. Closing the loop is essential for learning. Close the loop, people.

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