A Mindfulness Holiday Gift: The Present Moment Pivot
The holiday season and the New Year offer lawyers opportunities to reflect and take stock, to grow and heal, and to make meaningful changes in our lives. Rarely though do such opportunities surface without confronting a few obstacles along the way. Some obstacles are practical considerations that may call for patience or some refiguring. Other obstacles are psychological factors — reactive beliefs and feelings — that obscure a clear path forward. When such obstacles arise, we can become easily distracted. In time, if our attention does not steady, we can shift into more confused and agitated states.
Bring to mind any of a variety of challenging situations you have, or may experience, this holiday season — perhaps world news, family arguments, another’s conduct, work-related decisions or even worrisome thoughts — and consider how readily mental and emotional stability can become further compromised.
In this month’s column we’ll explore the “Present Moment Pivot,” a technique for shifting into more effective and satisfying states of mind and body.
Three Primary States of Mind and Body
For the sake of simplicity, we identify three primary states we experience throughout the day, represented in the image below.
Where we find ourselves at any given moment depends on factors such as how well we slept, whether and how much we’ve eaten or had to drink, time pressures, job satisfaction, social media engagement, and the quality of our interactions with others.
As the image suggests, moments of clarity can give way to distraction, which if not realized, can lead confusion where we are prone to becoming increasingly reactive, judgmental and impulsive. At such times we are more likely to be impatient, treat others poorly, be especially hard on ourselves, and make decisions we come to regret.
The promise of mindfulness is that when we catch ourselves confused or distracted, we have a window of opportunity to pivot to a more constructive state. The challenge is that when we are caught in one of these states, especially confusion, we are less likely to realize it and be able to shift away from it. This is where the Present Moment Pivot comes into play.
The Present Moment Pivot
The Present-Moment-Pivot (PMP) is a very short mindfulness and relaxation exercise that can be practiced anytime. It serves to help us shift — or pivot — to a more steady state. One that I recently began sharing and which many have found to be helpful involves an easy to learn counting and breathing exercise that is explained below. It can take anywhere from as little as 10 seconds to as long as a minute to practice and only requires that you count from 1 to 6.
- Slowly inhale, mentally counting to yourself from 1 to 6.
- Slowly exhale, repeating the count from 1 to 6.
- This relaxation (slowing the breath) and mindfulness (focusing attention) technique will help you to shift into a more relaxed and steady state.
- You can more fully engage in this practice (and arguably make a more complete pivot) by repeating the process, each time changing the first number to reflect your progression.
- Progressing in this way requires a heightened level of focus — keeping in mind the ascending count — while enhancing level of relaxation. The entire progression takes about one-minute.
- Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you forget the count. Take it as a sign of just how distracted/agitated you may be and either begin with one or pick up wherever you think you may have left off. You cannot do it wrong.
This holiday season, you will have many opportunities to draw upon the PMP — whether for one cycle or six (or more, if you choose). Bringing even a little more clarity and emotional stability into challenging situations goes a long way.
Rehearsing the PMP and Getting More Presence
In addition to practicing the PMP technique amid challenging moments, you may find it useful to practice when you find yourself with a little time on your hands — in slow moving traffic, in line at the store, waiting for a meeting or meal to begin. Doing so will help avoid sliding into distraction which tends to happen at such times. It will also help reinforce the technique so that when needed, it will be easier to deploy and sustain.
Along with the technique shared above, there are many others that fall under the umbrella of a PMP, such as the popular STOP practice. You may already have one in your toolkit. Over the next few weeks, draw upon a PMP when you find yourself becoming distracted or feeling agitated, with an appreciation that doing so may stave off slipping into a more agitated state and create space to meaningfully meet the opportunities this season brings your way.
Wishing you all the best for the holidays and New Year.
Scott Rogers, M.S., J.D., is a nationally recognized leader in the area of mindfulness in law and founded and directs the University of Miami School of Law’s Mindfulness in Law Program where he teaches mindful ethics, mindful leadership, mindfulness and negotiation, and mindfulness in law. He is the creator of Jurisight, one of the first CLE programs in the country to integrate mindfulness and neuroscience and conducts workshops and presentations on the role of mindfulness in legal education and across the legal profession. He is author of the recently released, “The Mindful Law Student: A Mindfulness in Law Practice Guide,” written for all audiences.