Mindful Leadership in a World Full of Distraction

Mindful Leadership in a World Full of Distraction
By Shannon Lee
Executive Director, Leadership Columbus

It’s 5:00 am. Time to get up, work out, and spend a few minutes chatting with my husband. After all that activity, I shower, eat, and drink coffee. Isn’t that first sip just divine?

The workday begins soon, and the next thing I know, it’s 6:30 pm and time for dinner. So, where did the day go? Two in-person and five Zoom meetings later, my mind is layered in fog as I breathe a deep sigh, slowly walking in the door to greet my dogs. 

I don’t even remember driving home.

Where was I all day? Not physically. My calendar can answer that question. But where was I? The real me? Where was my  mind and emotions throughout the day? I could not conjure up a sensible answer.

Now multiply this experience by hundreds of weeks and many years, and you would have a pretty good description of how much I plow through my days just to hurry up and get to the next one. Amazing how much of my time in the day I am on autopilot, not fully present. Here I am serving and helping others and nearly entirely out of touch with myself.

I came to the above realization about five years ago and thought, there must be a better way. Eventually, I started to learn about presence, mindfulness, self-awareness, and so on. I consider myself a student only of the varied concepts within all those categories. Here are some things I’ve learned so far that have helped me to be a more mindful leader in harmony with all the distractions around me. 

First, what are distractions? To me, distractions are anything that keeps me out of the present moment. Distractions can come in the form of obvious and subtle distractions. Here are some of my go-to distractions:

  • Drama from other people (me focusing on their personalities and my judgment thereof)
  • Ruminating on the past (me focusing on my mistakes)
  • Worrying about the future (me hyper-focusing on planning to avoid the present moment)
  • Allowing my emotions to determine what is factual to me (me not challenging my experiences and not being curious about my internal environment)

I don’t know if I will ever not be distracted by these things, but I have experienced a profound reduction in those distractions through mindfulness. I recently joined a group coaching program called The Practice, where we do just that: practice mindfulness. So here are some of my key takeaways. 

  • Meditation isn’t about quieting the mind. There’s no need to try to shut down thoughts when I meditate, but rather to practice observing and noticing them. I can’t change what I don’t see. 
  • Meditation isn’t mindfulness. Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness. Our teacher says it’s the gym of mindfulness. It’s where we work on mindfulness and practice observing our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations so we can start to bring that awareness into the rest of the day when we aren’t meditating. 
  • Acceptance is key to peace. Resistance to my thoughts, feelings, and experiences is the cause of most of my suffering. 
  • Acceptance isn’t approval. I can accept that something has happened, or as our teacher says, accept the “is-ness” of the moment even if I do not like the form the moment takes. Acceptance of what is doesn’t mean I agree with or like the present moment; however, resistance to the present moment leads to more of my suffering. When I am resisting what is, I am pushing against myself. Once I can accept what is, I can decide what actions I want to take from peace and neutrality rather than a place of resistance and anger.
  • Emotions: Feel to heal. This was a tough one. When feeling a powerful, negative emotion, I tend to quickly push it away because negative emotions don’t feel good. Instead, I now practice feeling the emotion until it subsides like a wave. The wave comes, impacts me, and I wait for it to pass. Then I decide what actions I need to take, if at all.
  • I create emotions with my thoughts. It’s so easy to believe I feel a certain way because of the actions or words of another person, but my feelings come from the thoughts I have about the actions or words of another person (and myself). This realization helped me see how much I shifted the blame for my emotional environment onto others. And I also realized how much my emotions lie to me about reality in the process. 

My tips for being more mindful in a world full of distraction:

  • Go to the gym for mindfulness regularly. Meditate 10-20 minutes a day. You can certainly join a mindfulness group or hire a mindfulness coach. There are dozens of apps that have guided meditations that will also help you. There’s no requirement to spend a bunch of money to start this practice. 
  • When you meditate, notice your thoughts and emotions and your physical sensations and do so as an observer rather than trying to give meaning to them. Instead, practice observing without making conclusions, assigning meaning, asking why, or creating solutions.
  • When not meditating and as often as possible, intentionally notice the physical world around you, including the sensations in your own body. This keeps you present. I do this a lot while I’m driving. Again, this is an observation without judgment or conclusions. 
  • Before interactions with others, set an intention for who you want to be in that moment/interaction. Then, feel the good feelings that go along with who you want to be, even before the exchange occurs. (The feeling of curiosity is one I frequently utilize, as it helps me to stay present with the other person, to listen to them intently, and not judge.)
  • Relax and chuckle when you notice yourself being distracted from the present moment. It’s normal and not possible to always be present! 

I’d love to hear your experiences with being more mindful, especially amidst distractions of all kinds. You can reach me at