Mindful breathing — the foundation of focus and flow
Mindful breathing — a foundational tool for feeling focussed
Through our collaboration with neuroscientist, and author of How Confidence Works, Ian Robertson we've learned that just as serotonin is the happiness hormone, noradrenaline is the confidence hormone, and confident people have a healthy balance of it.
Noradrenaline is adrenaline for the mind; a neurotransmitter that boosts alertness, stimulates activity in the brain and readies the body for action, which — as Ian points out in his book — is the foundation finding the focus we need to get things done.
There are natural ways that you can boost your mind’s noradrenaline, and the simplest is regular breathing exercises.
Making some time for a short breathing exercise is a brilliant way to immediately find focus, and lift your confidence — particularly when you’re feeling anxious (perhaps before a presentation, or difficult conversation).
Ian explained how closing your eyes, and intentionally, deeply breathing for just a minute or two changes the chemistry of your brain; stabilising your mood and making you more alert and focussed.
A guide for giving it a go
In the audio clip below; coach, facilitator and wellbeing practitioner Katy Kent introduces the technique of mindful breathing. It's a simple, powerful and proven practice for bringing greater clarity — especially at times when our focus naturally drifts, or we become mentally overwhelmed with 'task switching'.
Listen to Katy introduce it in the clip, and then read over the written recap before experimenting with the technique as much as you can today and throughout the week.
Your written recap
Productivity guru David Allen says that ’the mind is for having ideas, not holding them’, explaining that we drain our energy and diminish our focus, by holding too many competing thoughts in our minds all at once. So what if you gave yourself a minute of mindful silence to arrive properly?
Intentionally take a minute before a next meeting (or the time you've put aside to work on an important task). Sit upright and comfortable in a posture that feels good for you.
Spend a minute breathing slowly and steadily in through your nose and out through your mouth. A good rule of thumb is to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. Notice every inhalation and every exhalation intentionally and consciously. You might find it helpful to try closing your eyes.
If you get distracted by thoughts or feelings just bring your attention really consciously back to your breath. It’s that simple. The goal is to simply feel calmer and more present — and to achieve greater focus on that meeting, conversation or whatever else is in important right now.
Give this tactic a try today. As simple as it might sound, just slowing down and intentionally carving out that time to clear your mind and bring your focus to what's in front of you right now will pay great dividends in confidence, attention and energy.
See if you can do this simple 60 second exercise in the minute ahead of any meetings or 1-1s you have today — and throughout next week. Get into the mindful breathing habit!
Keen to dig deeper?
You might find this fuller eCourse on Better Breathing worth spending some time with.
Friend of You Can Now, Michael Townsend Williams wrote a brilliant (stocking sized) little book all about breathing. More on that here.
The science of breathing as a way to reduce stress. Interesting insights as always at HBR.