One of the keys to building your coaching skills is to cultivate the ability to observe yourself in action. This self-observation can be practiced in any activity. Even coachees are often encouraged to observe themselves in order to create awareness of their behaviours, thought, actions, patterns and habits in relation to the challenges they face in their own lives. Self-observation is foundational to developing mindfulness.
The Observer Mind
For example, as you are fully engaged in a conversation, a part of your mind is slightly detached and stands apart from yourself. You are observing yourself and the person you’re conversing to at the same time, like a third person point-of-view. This observer mind gives you self-awareness in the moment and a vantage point from where you can view and learn many things that you may have previously unaware of, as we often carry out many activites on autopilot mode.
As you practice self-observation in your daily activities, you’re consciously experiencing two minds: an active mind and an observing mind. One part of your mind is in action, and the other is always watching and observing. To demonstrate this point, let’s do a simple exercise. As you’re reading this article write now, take a moment to notice that you can also observe yourself in the act of reading. There are so many details to observe, from the reading processes to your body posture to your current mood and feelings, and to the external environment (noises, movements, lightings) around you. You may even catch your inner chatters and thoughts about something you need to do right after reading this.
The observer mind’s role is not to judge, but simply to observe and be curious about what’s happening around, and most importantly, what’s going on inside you.
Many people carve out some time and set themselves apart to practice meditation to develop mindfulness. That’s very good. I would also suggest another practical and useful activity that anyone can do without requiring setting aside additional time. This is a simple procedure (from the book The Mindful Coach by Doug Silsbee) that you can do multiple times a day. It’s called mindful eating. This exercise is an excellent experiment for directing your attention and noticing your own habits of mind at play. You may want to get someone to read aloud the following instructions to you as it’s difficult to read and perform the experiment at the same time. Or you could read the whole thing through and then turn your attention to the exercise.
Begin by sellecting something you enjoy eating, and procure three small bites. I’ll describe this exercise with berries.
Cup your three berries in one hand. Settle yourself comfortably in a chair. Let go of other distractions and relax.
Now, take one berry and look at it as if you’d never seen a berry before. You could imagine that you just arrived from Mars, and you’re handed this berry, and you’re exquisitely curious about what it is. Sense its color, patterns, texture. Smell it. Bring it to your lips without biting them just yet. Experience it fully using all your senses, being extremely curious.
Notice any response in your body. What happens in your mouth in anticipation? Are you salivating? Any sense of craving in your chest? Any emotions? Notice everything that arises in you in relation to this little berry.
Now, slowly place the berry in your mouth – not chewing, but letting the flavor slowly emerge. Sense the flavor spreading in your mouth and how it’s subtly different in different parts of your mouth and tongue. Sense every nuance of flavor and texture. Feel the place where your teeth and tongue meet the skin of the berry.
Very slowly and mindfully, chew the berry. If you notice your thoughts wandering or your attention elsewhere than on the experience of eating, bring it back to the sensation of the berry in your mouth. This is a practice in one-pointed attention, an opportunity to “mono-task” all too rare in our busy modern lives. Make the most of it.
Notice the urge to swallow, and sense the urge itself. Let the berry linger; chew slowly and bring your attention back to the berry over and over until there is nothing left in your mouth but berry juice. Then swallow, and sense the berry juice flowing down your throat. Let yourself experience the absence of berry in your mouth.
Now take the second berry and bring the same fresh curiosity to this berry. You’ve never actually looked at this berry before! How is it similar to the first? How is it different? Look. Feel. Touch. Smell. Sense not just the berry, but every sensation in your body at the same time. Place the berry in your mouth and notice your mouth’s response to it this time.
Consider momentarily that millions of years of evolution went into the perfection of this berry. A farmer grew this berry; someone picked and packed it; a truck transported it; someone placed it on the shelf in the store for you to buy. A miraculous chains of events, each of which was required to give you this precise experience right now. Notice the feeling of gratitude in you. Be present with the unique experience of eating this berry. It’s the only opportunity you’ll ever have for this particular experience, this particular moment.
Again, let the berry linger, become juice and be swallowed, becoming part of you. Take your time. Enjoy. Be present and mindful.
Now take the third berry and experience it fully. Notice again and again that your mind goes off elsewhere. Practice bringing it back over and over again. That’s all there is to do. You’re practicing focusing your attention, noticing everything that is available to notice, and bringing your attention back, over and over, to your own experience.
What are the learning points of the above activity for you?
You can, of course, apply mindful eating to an entire meal which you can practice multiple times every day. Enjoy practicing mindfulness everyday and let me know what you experience.