My last column discussed how living and working mindlessly dissipates your mental energy and cuts productivity, leading to no meaningful output, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. Now, let’s discuss mindfulness, which is essential to genius, and which you need to practice if you are to become a creative leader.
Geniuses are mindful
To reach your full potential, you must be present, mindful, aware and focused. Geniuses use all of their senses. They consciously decide where to focus, and try to make the best use of each moment as it happens.
For example, Richard Branson, the British founder of Virgin Group, said, “What is going on now is just as important as what you plan for the future. So, even though my diary is full for months ahead, I have learned to live for the moment.” Similarly, Albert Einstein said, “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough,” and, “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
“This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Forget yesterday and don’t worry about tomorrow — work and live now. John Lennon said, “Life is what’s happening while we’re busy making other plans”. The ability to live in, focus on, and perceive the present is called present moment awareness, and it is a key characteristic of genius.
What does it mean to live and act now?
Mindfulness means paying attention, using all of your senses, to what’s happening now, and focusing on what needs to be done now, and why. In both aspects, you are, and work as, your true self, without worrying about how you and your actions appear to others.
Why is mindfulness important?
“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be,” said Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now, “Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”
Geniuses and creative leaders are aware of what Tolle calls “the power of now”, and focus on what they need to do in each moment to reach what they desire. They know that life is short, and so they use each moment to create their legacy. They know what they love doing, and they want to do what they love now. They know that all creation and innovation happen now. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.”
Mindfulness produces results
You might object that some of the things you work on now are about the future, or the past. For example, you may create a strategic business plan, mapping actions you intend to perform over the next five years. Or you may do a post mortem with your team at the completion of a project to learn from its successes and failures.
What’s the difference between performing these past- or future-related activities, and mindlessly dwelling on the past or future? The former is an action that you consciously choose to do now to produce meaningful output, like a strategic road map; the latter is a passive indulgence in nostalgia for an unchangeable past, or daydreaming about a future without taking any action that could help bring about that future.
A good way to ensure mindfulness is to focus on what tangible outputs you want to create each day, every day. “The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future — which, of course, can only be experienced as the Now”, said Eckhart Tolle. Creative leaders and geniuses shape the future by acting now, by “seiz[ing] this very moment”, as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe put it. They understand that life and creation always happen now, and so they focus on what best to do now — what action, or state of being, makes the best use of each moment. The American businessman Alan Cohen said, “Truly creative people care a little about what they have done, and a lot about what they are doing. Their driving focus is the life force that surges in them now.”
Mindfulness leads to serendipity
Another important reason why geniuses and creative leaders live mindfully is that when they are fully present in the now, perceiving their environment with all of their senses, they may make an unexpected discovery, or have a sudden flash of insight, leading to an important idea.
Serendipity is when good things happen by chance, and this desirable phenomenon is a powerful enabler of creativity, and a starting point for breakthrough thinking.
Many scientific advances were inspired by serendipity. For example, Isaac Newton was resting under an apple tree when he observed an apple falling down from the tree, which helped him to fully understand the workings of gravity. But it’s important to note that only those who are mindful will notice, and be able to take full advantage of, serendipitous events when they occur.
“There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery”, said Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. I would say this: There is always present moment awareness and mindful perception involved in serendipitous discovery. So today, and every day, be mindfully present now. And mindfully act now, for that is how you realize your inner genius.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2013
This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on November 21 2013.