The Power of Now

For 25 years, I had the opportunity to gain extraordinary experience—in business and in life—at Fossil, the Fortune 500 fashion icon. While there, I served in executive positions that gave me first-hand exposure to the challenges and stressors of corporate leadership. My experience also underscored the value of mindfulness to achieve harmony between my personal and professional life.

When I left Fossil earlier this year to devote myself full time to Inseus, I was asked to say a few words at an event marking my departure. While reflecting on how mindfulness had guided my path, I recognized a number of lessons that I learned that helped me become a better leader at Fossil and inspired me to found Inseus. I’ve decided to share those learnings in a series of blogs that will appear here over the next few months called Mindful Leadership: Lessons from Life.

The first installment, The Power of Now, appears below. I hope you will find something meaningful from my experience that you can apply to your own life.

Pay attention.

How many times have we heard that in our lives? Whether we are multi-tasking while having a conversation, gazing out the window in algebra class, or looking at our phones in a staff meeting, those two words pack a lot of power to refocus our minds on the matter at hand.

They can be even more powerful when they don’t come from someone else, but express themselves naturally and automatically from within our own mindful selves. Whether it’s simple daily tasks such as brushing our teeth, washing the dishes or locking the front door, or more important moments, such as actively listening at work or at home when someone is sharing personal feelings⁠—with practice, we can learn to move effortlessly from autopilot to awareness.

I learned to do this—to remind myself to pay attention to this moment—as I juggled life as a corporate executive and as a spouse, mother, and friend. In doing so, I reaped enormous benefits, and so did the others in relationship to me.

Living in story-land.

Most of the time, we live in our stories. They may be stories about the past and why things turned out the way they did. They may be stories about the future and what we need to do to make something happen. Regardless of the narrative, these stories take our minds, our attention, and our focus off the present moment.

From my experience in corporate America, I know we spend inordinate amounts of time recapping, analyzing, and assessing something that has already happened. We also spend a lot of time building strategies for the future, whether for a year out or many years from now. Taking lessons from the past and planning for the future are important ingredients for success, provided we also consistently spend quality time noticing and connecting to this moment.

The moment informs us.

On the human front, there is no greater moment than spending time fully connected to someone or something in the NOW. Connected to sensations, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and presence. Noticing the now and paying attention to THIS moment.

I know that doing this in a particular way, without judgement, helped me elevate my leadership, change my relationship with stress and chaos, and become a more effective, resilient individual in all facets of my life. But there’s more than anecdotal evidence to back that up. In the past 10 years, the volume of research on the brain and studies on mindfulness meditation practice has expanded exponentially.

Research shows that we spend about 50 percent of our waking time distracted, minds wandering, switching tasks every three minutes. Neuroscience research also tell us that when we live in this mind-wandering state, we use a particular region of the brain, the default mode network.

This part of the brain is self-oriented, emotional, reactive, and primed to shift into conditional habits and biases, and to trigger the fight/flight/freeze response. Thankfully, we have the ability to control how much time we spend in default mode by paying attention to the now.

A workout for your brain.

Our brains are malleable. We have a lifelong capacity to change the structure and function of the brain, depending on how we use it. In much the same way that we can change the shape of muscles in our body by exercising and using them, we can also change the density of gray matter in the brain and strengthen neural connections to various brain networks through usage and practice.

Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity and have discovered that we benefit when we direct our attention to the present moment, in a particular way, without judgement. We strengthen the neural connections to a region of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking, emotional regulation, and focus. These are factors that improve performance, productivity, awareness and make us better leaders and happier humans.

It takes practice, but we can learn how to connect with what is important in a precise moment, how to drop everything else, create a space to separate from the noise, our conditional response, and pay attention to the now. By using the breath or sensations of the body as they happen, real-time, we strengthen our ability to respond wisely and with intention.

When we do this, we see possibilities, paths, and responses that we may not have noticed before. The more we practice, the more adept we become at seizing these moments to connect with clarity. Eventually we do it with intention and without major disruption in the natural flow of our lives.

Try it now.

There’s no better time than this moment to start tapping into the power of NOW. Here are a couple of micro-practices you can try today:

Your phone dings, use it as a cue to take a breath, turn your attention to your breath, and then decide if you really must divert your attention to your phone, or if it better serves you to remain focused on the present moment.

You’re in a meeting and notice your attention wandering. Plug into your feet on the floor, or your body in the chair, or your hands on the desk; notice sensations; and turn your attention back to the meeting to remember what is important in this moment.

Or, try this simple hands-on-the-chair exercise. Pull out your chair to sit at a desk and notice the sensations of your hand on the chair. Is there warmth? Texture? Firmness? Weight? Just notice the present moment without judgement and connect.

There’s great power in NOW.

A quote of uncertain origin, but a favorite of mine, and one that author Stephen Covey calls “one of the most powerful, significant ideas” he’s ever encountered sums the power of now up eloquently. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.

So, wherever you are, regardless of what you are doing, stop and simply connect with this moment. Notice your breath. Notice who’s with you. Notice your surroundings. Connect with the sensations, sounds, feelings, and emotions in you, right now. What do you notice?

Use this as a teachable moment. Learn to connect with what’s important in this moment. Use this moment to build insights that you can take into the future to become a more effective, productive you.

Mindfully yours,

Ashley Nelson