Welcome to the latest buzzword, along with its common definition: 'A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.'
This isn't a new word though it has become increasingly popular in use over the last 40 years and has morphed to its current status as part of the 'enlightened movement' typically embraced by the hipster crowd.
It's always confusing to me when something becomes the new maxim when it's rare that I see anyone actually practicing it. Who focuses on the present moment? Isn't everyone walking around (oh, and driving also) with their face glued to a computer screen of some sort?
I admit to being slightly out of touch with current technology. I don't have endless apps that I constantly play with (zero is the actual number). I am pretty good with a computer, easily learn new software programs and know my way around a cell phone and its myriad functions. I've been asked to connect with others through all the different social media channels but really? I just don't want to. It's far too time consuming! I'm trying to find ways to spend less time on a computer and more time in actual live person-to-person communication. While I will be relying on social media for certain aspects of my new position as MXM/Personal Training Manager as well as for a personal business I'm marketing in video cinematography, how can one possibly practice mindfulness with the constant distraction from social media outlets? Does anyone else think it's getting out of control?
I also relate this obsession with technology to the general public's inability to follow-through on goals (or even set them), regardless of the scope. With the constant distraction of noise from a gazillion sources, it's increasingly rare to find someone who knows their own mind, speaks their own mind or shares original idea-centric thoughts.
I recently read the book Grit by Angela Duckworth. The basis of grit is important to anyone wanting to succeed. Studies show that talent is not the most important factor for achievement but instead, a unique combination of passion and perseverance. You don't have to possess innate talent for something to be wildly successful. The book highlights the lives of many famous people that weren't particularly gifted but became extraordinary by pouring themselves into their passion via practice, study, and enduring pursuit. This can be applied to any area of your life where you want to excel and the book provides methods for accomplishing true grit. The problem is, most of us aren't capable of practicing the mindfulness that's required because we're too involved with our computers. How can one possibly focus on the present moment, calmly acknowledging and accepting one's thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, when we're overdosing on social media and others thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations? Most of us don't even have our own thoughts! We just regurgitate dribble we pick up from others. If we had to answer a battery of probing questions about ourselves, we'd probably shrink in fear due to a gaping disconnect with our own selves! While we may see our use of technology as keeping us globally connected, up-to-date, and in touch with each other 24/7, for those who can't seem to be without a finger on a screen of some sort at any point during the day without experiencing withdrawal syndrome, this may have a serious dark side for your growth towards enlightenment and achievement.
Consider the following study, circa 1964, that was done with dogs in an attempt to determine what leads to hopelessness. At the time this famous study was conducted, popular psychology believed it was suffering. Caged dogs received random shocks to their back paws. No warnings preceded these jolts and if the dog did nothing in response to being electrified, the painful sensations lasted 5 seconds. There were 2 cages with the dog in either cage receiving the same stimulus, at the same time, but one dog gets lucky with a cage that has a little panel. This dog discovers that when the panel is pushed with his nose, the shock terminates. The other dog is not so fortunate and has no control over how long the shock lasts. They both endure 64 shock cycles. On the following day, ALL dogs enter a different cage called a Shuttle Box. In the center, there is a low wall that the dogs can cross over if they attempt to. A high-pitched signal then forewarns an upcoming shock, delivered only to the half of the box ahead of the low wall where the dogs stand before crossing over. Almost all dogs that had control over shock time via the nose plate on the previous day learn to jump the wall. By comparison, most that had no control during the previous day's session simply laid down howling, with no resistance, enduring the pain. "This seminal experiment proved for the first time that it isn't suffering that leads to hopelessness. It's suffering that you think you can't control." (Marty Seligman/Steve Maier).
What does this have to do with mindfulness? So much of what we think directs our attention and adversely, when we focus our attention on what and how we think, we are capable of achieving greatness. This is what is referred to as the Grit factor that enables those who may not rank high in the talent department to overcome obstacles and amass amazing success. Like the story of the underdog that defies the odds and rises to the top, the stories that touch our hearts and give us hope, and we love them because of this. It makes us believe that anything is possible and that we can realize our dreams. And we can! There is a systematic method to help you develop this skill.
If you want to know how gritty you are currently, here's a little questionnaire to help you. Don't overthink this-just answer as though you are comparing yourself to your perception of others.
Not at Not Much Somewhat Mostly Very much
all like me like me like me like me like me
1. New ideas and projects
sometimes distract me from 5 4 3 2 1
2. Setbacks don't discourage
me. I don't give up easily. 1 2 3 4 5
3. I often set a goal but later
choose to pursue a different 5 4 3 2 1
4. I am a hard worker. 1 2 3 4 5
5. I have difficulty maintaining
focus on projects that take more 5 4 3 2 1
than a few months to complete.
6. I finish whatever I begin. 1 2 3 4 5
7. My interests change from
year to year. 5 4 3 2 1
8. I am diligent. I never give up. 1 2 3 4 5
9. I have been obsessed with
a certain idea or project for a 5 4 3 2 1
short time but later lost interest.
10. I have overcome setbacks to
conquer an important challenge. 1 2 3 4 5
To score: Add up all points and divide by 10. Max score is 5 (extremely gritty) with the lowest being 1 (smooth as a babe's behind). Here's a comparison chart to a large segment of American adults.*
Percentile Grit Score
*Example: Your score is 3.9, meaning you're grittier than roughly 60% of the population
Wow! I wonder how this varies, or if it does, from country-to-country, culture-to-culture and even between men and women. This test is fairly accurate (developed by Angela Duckworth) and is in use by many institutions, including West Point Military Academy, to help determine the recidivism rate of new cadets. I scored a 4.9 and I wasn't surprised. I don't have inherent talent but I do have diligence, determination and staying power. It's also taken me quite a while to develop these characteristics. Did you know that the average time frame for developing these traits is roughly 10 years? Consider this next time you spend the afternoon gaming, FB-ing, Tweeting, SnapChatting, Instagramming or whatever your app passion is. Mindfulness, and grit, are not just methods for achieving success in business. They are techniques for creating an attitude of Can Do to help you accomplish any goal you set your sights on. This includes fitness, training and diet goals as well!
For detailed information on how to increase your GRIT, check out Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, Scribner Publishing, copyright 2016.