One Second Ahead: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 4th, 2015 by bobmorris

One Second AheadOne Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness
Rasmus Hougaard with Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts
Palgrave Macmillan (2015)

How and why being constantly mindful can help accelerate personal growth and professional development

With Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts, Rasmus Hougaard introduces a thought-provoking concept, PAID, an acronym for Pressure, Always on Information Overload, and Distracted. This is a harsh but subtle reality as most of us struggle to cope with severe stress, whatever the nature and extent of our workplace environment may be. Are we doomed to remain under such stress, relentless distractions, and an ever-increasing abundance of information often characterized as a tsunami or blizzard?

“Thankfully, the answer is no. It is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness. Simply put, at its introductory level, mindfulness means trained attention. Based on thousands of practice, mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve their awareness, and sharpen their focus and clarity.”

In essence, here’s the challenge and (yes) the opportunity: bridge mindfulness and every day tasks at work. Whatever the tasks, there is a process to their completion. This is what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has in mind when explaining what he calls “flow,” a state in which one is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Athletes call it “the zone.” Tiger Woods sinks every putt, Michael Jordan makes every shot, Nadia Elena Comăneci is awarded a score of “10” on every gymnastic exercise in Olympic competition. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.

However, experiencing flow or being in a zone does not last forever whereas what Hougaard is talking about can be sustained. Mindfulness is highly developed awareness. He introduces 16 techniques, eight mental strategies, and several foundational practices that will guide and inform as well as nourish that development. I view the mind as being what the brain does so I think of mindfulness as a muscle that requires constant and rigorous exercise.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me in Part I, also listed to suggest the scope of Hougaard’s coverage:

o Welcome to the Attention Economy (Pages 6-9)
o The Well-Trained Mind (9-12)
o The Foundation of Mindfulness, and, Two Rules of Mental Effectiveness (12-15)
o Seven Guidelines to Overcoming E-mail Addiction (19-26)
o Mindful Meetings (26-31)
o Action Addiction (41-46)
o Mindful Planning in the Present (47-49)
o Empathy and External Awareness (56-58)
o Two Sides to Effective communication (58-61)
o What Stops Us from Thinking Creatively? (63-65)
o Activating the Subconscious, and, Creativity in the Matrix (65-69)
o Understanding Resistance, and, Embracing Resistance (72-74)
o Optimizing the Change Management Process (74-76)
o Four Mindful Ways to Conserve Mental Energy (81)
o Three “Simple” Guidelines to Sleeping Better (86-89)
o Eating and Energy (93-97)
o Mindful Performance Breaks (103-105)
o The “How” of Mindful Commuting (108-109)
o Maintaining Emotional Balance (113-115)
o Understanding Work-Life Imbalance, and, Managing Imbalance (117-120)
o Work-Life Balance Strategies (121-122)

As I re-read this book prior to getting to work on this brief commentary, I was again reminded of how important it is to be mindful about mindfulness. The process of development to which I referred earlier must be taken seriously. In fact, mindfulness is itself an on-going process, not a destination. Hence the importance of the 16 techniques, eight mental strategies, and several foundational practices that will guide and inform as well as nourish the development of a source of joy and a sense of purpose as well as serenity and even fulfillment.

This is what Rasmus Hougaard has in mind when sharing these concluding thoughts: “Mindfulness is within you – if only you invite it. And if on your mindfulness journey, you have a story ton share, please let me know. Perhaps your story, like many in this book, will serve to inspire and motivate others on their mindfulness journey.” He wishes each reader “all the best,” as do I.

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