How mindfulness can help us moderate our quest for perfection, among other things.

We live in an environment of excessive choice and stimulation. Without us even realising it, there is so much energy going into making the right choice – for a shampoo, a laptop, and more. We aspire to get the ideal experience out of everything that we acquire and that results in a lot of stress. Our attention and minds are being hijacked by this relentless quest.

But we rarely stop to question this excessively aspirational system that we have bought into. We don’t ask ourselves if it’s worth the cost and energy invested in it.

The pressure created by the system can build up to the point where people crack under it. I see this across organisations where people are carrying their problems into lunch and coffee breaks. There is no such thing as true downtime anymore within organisations. Instead, there is a greater degree of emotional stress and less tolerance for interpersonal differences in most places.

The two are actually intricately linked. The more pressure you experience, the less likely you are to tolerate varying views and perspectives. You need space in your system to build that tolerance.

How can we create that space?

At the outset, it is important to really peer inward. Through structured mindfulness-based exercises, we can get participants to ask some difficult questions of themselves. What kind of relationships are they having with their emotions and their thoughts? What are they striving for in their daily lives? And what happens when they are disappointed in this? How does that affect their view of themselves? Time and again, we see that there is a tendency among people to be very hard on themselves. They push themselves under pressure and when they feel they have fallen short in some way, they don’t feel good about themselves. The idea is to try to probe these feelings experientially rather than intellectually. We want people to attempt to observe both their thoughts as well as their reactions to them. We want them to recognise that these reactions, although understandable, don’t have any real basis.

There are two parallel movements in society today and that may continue to be the norm going forward. There is a consumerist movement with accumulation of wealth and a drive for perfection at the core. And there is also a smaller movement of those seeking out alternate paths, who want to hit reset or just re-examine their life choices.
Ideally, schools should provide models for resilience, empathy and mindfulness for students but most schools still do not view these areas as critical to a young person’s development. There may be some that tackle aspects of it but not too many that do so in a holistic way. The good news is that a younger generation that is more exposed to these mindfulness-based concepts at home (thanks to greater introspection by their parents) may be better equipped to incorporate them into their own lives.

All the current activity in the mindfulness realm is designed to provide a secular and confusion-free entry point for those who want to explore it. It is possible to start with simpler ideas that you can follow in your everyday life. Anger management, finding meaning, greater self-awareness — all of these are goals we can work towards using entry modules that are now available to us. You can start slow and then build upon these at your own pace. But if you persist in the journey, you are sure to discover depths that you were previously unaware of.

If mindfulness can help individuals tone down their quest for perfection, can it make a difference in organisations with their focus on growth and profitability? After all, mindfulness is pegged on the principle of minimalism as a life philosophy while businesses run on the belief that more is better. Can these seemingly divergent paths ever overlap?

I believe they can. At a surface level, the goals of business in a capitalistic environment may seem to be at odds with the objectives of mindfulness. But when a business operates mindfully and with its larger mission in view, there is bound to be a shift in orientation. There’s nothing wrong with seeking to maximize profits. It’s only when there is a narrow, single-minded focus on this that problems arise. Ethical businesses, on the other hand, are geared to deliver the best outcomes for all their stakeholders.

There are some goals that are important, regardless of the parallel pursuit. We all seek to be more present on a daily basis. We want to reduce conflict, and be more accepting of ourselves. Mindfulness practice is about realising the truth and seeing things the way they are. It’s a practice that helps a person to stay connected with reality and to jettison drama – anger, extreme emotions, frustration and more – from their lives.

We can start by hitting pause, even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. This is time we need to set aside for doing nothing; when we log off social media, put our phones down and make room for silence and mindfulness.

However you look at it, it cannot hurt. It can only help.

Sadia Saeed is the Founder & Chief Psychologist of Inner...