It was my 16th birthday and I’d had my learner’s permit for exactly one year. I had more driving experience than most friends my age and was determined to get the “real thing” on my actual 16th birthday. I even had a tentative date planned for a couple of nights later.

Neither the license nor the date came to pass as expected.

I executed every step of my driving test with patience and precision. The DMV employee, an older woman, sat quietly in the passenger seat for the entire adventure. I was extremely confident as I pulled back into the DMV lot, parked the car, and looked at the decider of my fate with anticipation.

“John, you did really well on everything,” she said. (Cue: high spirits!)

“But you just failed.” (Cue: WTF?!)

Apparently, upon returning to the always-inspiring DMV, I pulled into the exit rather than the entrance. Since I didn’t encounter any exiting cars, this didn’t register with me. I was so focused on my inner monologue of doing everything right that I…completely overlooked the very last thing which, apparently, I absolutely had to get right.

I think I briefly begged her to re-consider but she was immovable, like any dedicated DMV public servant. I asked if I could take the test again, right then and there, but she said I had to come back another day. Must have been policy.

Tail between my legs, I slumped back into the waiting room where my father was and told him I’d flunked. A very positive guy by nature, Dad spent the 20-minute-drive home trying to lift my spirits. But all I could think about was the crow I was going to have to eat the next day of school.

That wasn’t the first or last time in my life I was “caught up in my head” and “missed a sign,” proverbial or metal.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more fully aware of and attentive to, without judgement, what’s taking place within and around you. Developing mindfulness skills can contribute to improved focus, stress reduction, and overall well-being, as well as help you secure your driver’s license.

Regarding the workplace, it’s been documented that mindfulness practice makes employees less likely to experience burnout, quit, or get fired, and more likely to perform well.

People leaders? As this Forbes article notes, “increasing mindfulness in the workplace starts from the top down. Lead by example by taking brain breaks and blocking out unscheduled time. Invest in automation software or services. Start with yourself and your executive team and the effects will trickle down.”

The Forbes writer adds that not only is “investing in the well-being and resilience of all employees” the right thing to do but also “a sound business investment that pays dividends. It allows businesses to decrease stress, reduce turnover, improve productivity, recruit top talent and increase innovation.”

Mindfulness and AI

Can “technology” and “mindfulness” co-exist? Don’t we spend countless hours per day scrolling mindlessly on our devices or watching streaming content, courtesy of AI?

Ironically, the same AI that owns our attention like never before can enhance our overall experience and effectiveness with mindfulness. Here’s a few examples:

Guided Meditation Apps: I bet you’ve tried one or more of these or know someone who has? AI creates personalized guided meditation sessions tailored to an individual’s preferences, progress, and goals. These apps can use “natural language processing” (NLP) to understand user input and adjust the meditation guidance accordingly.

Biofeedback Devices: Own an Apple Watch or a Fitbit? Such wearable devices can provide real-time data on physiological indicators like heart rate, breathing patterns, and skin conductance. AI algorithms can analyze this data and offer insights into your, ahem, mental state, helping you understand the impact of your mindfulness practices.

Mindful Gaming: See, gaming can be a productive use of time! AI can be integrated into mindful gaming experiences, where the gameplay is designed to promote relaxation, stress reduction, and mindfulness. The game’s dynamics can adapt based on the player’s stress levels or focus, providing a unique and engaging way to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness in the (Aforementioned) Workplace: AI can be used for scheduling “mindful breaks,” AI-driven reminders for mindfulness activities, or even ambient AI-generated sounds to promote a calming work environment despite that manager or co-worker who won’t just shut up already.

As in all examples of humans collaborating with AI, a note of caution: While AI can enhance mindfulness practices, the human element remains crucial. AI should be seen as a supportive tool rather than a replacement for human guidance and connection.

Take action!

There are as many mindfulness activities out there as there are mindfulness apps; in other words, billions. I’ve found it especially helpful to work on mindfulness skills in these three areas:

  1. Pay attention to your breath for a few minutes at a time. This can involve deep “belly breathing” or simply observing the sensation of each inhale and exhale. This can be done during breaks or even in the midst of daily activities. (Spoiler alert: You will suck at this most of the time due to incomparable boredom, but keep trying. When you actually do it for longer than 30 seconds it’s pretty exhilarating!)
  2. Take daily activities off of “auto-pilot”: Whether you’re eating, walking, driving into the exit of your office building, or doing household chores, practice devoting your full attention to the activity at hand. Notice the sensory experiences, such as taste, touch, or the sounds around you.
  3. “Listen mindfully.” Instead of thinking about your response while someone is speaking, even if the person is “wrong” or telling you something you already know, try to really hear and understand what they’re saying. This can improve communication and connection and they might even return the favor; just don’t expect them to.

Let’s connect

I’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders in the age of AI, with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.