Book Review: One Second Ahead by Hougaard, Carter and Coutts

OneSecondAheadA horse will often win by just a nose, the advantage in length that being a second ahead gives. From a cognitive perspective, being one second ahead provides a potential edge in both effectiveness and productivity.

One Second Ahead offers the reader a number of techniques, strategies and training steps to develop the level of mindfulness to give you that potential edge.  Well applied mindfulness will allow you to become more effective in focusing your mental energy. It will give you the open awareness and sharp focus that will make you more effective, ideally leading to increased personal success.

 In One Second Ahead, the authors Hougaard, Carter and Coutts provide guidance on developing Mindfulness.  Specifically they offer:
  • Tools and techniques for implementing mindfulness to enhance focus, clarity and results.
  • Guidelines on how to remain calm, creative and clear minded.
  • Step by step instructions for systematic mindfulness training.
  • Case studies to guide your practise and put it into context.
And as with many books today, there is a training app for smart phones and tablets that you can download to enhance your experience of learning Mindfulness.
The authors argue that Mindfulness, in the corporate context, will allow:
  • Increased creativity and innovation.
  • Improved relationships in the workplace.
  • Increase engagement and attendance.
  • Improved decision making.
And as a manager, these benefits are certainly very appealing.
The foundations of Mindfulness are Sharp Focus and Open Awareness.  Sharp focus to ensure that your point of concentration is on one specific point (multitasking is a poor substitute for focusing on one activity).  Open Awareness is the ability to recognise what your mind is dwelling upon, allowing you to make wiser choices on where to focus.  These factors lead us to the 2 rules for mental effectiveness:
Rule 1 – Focus on What you Choose – This allows you to be more effective, productive and at ease in your activities.
Rule 2 – Choose your Distractions Mindfully – This allows you to choose where your mental effort is being expended and for what reasons.
We have 3 mindful options for dealing with distractions:
1.  Allow it to pass without responding.
2. Tell the distraction that you will deal with it at a later time.
3. Make it your new object of your focus.
If we do not choose one of these options the distraction will return and takes us from our focused task again until it is addressed.
This is more our common reality than we would like to admit.  The authors call this PAID reality:
P – Pressured
A – Always On
I – Information Overload
D – Distracted
Does this sound familiar?
Then perhaps the 16 workplace techniques that authors offer for mastering your mind might be useful.  These are:
1. Emails – Use techniques like turning off the alerts (otherwise you are like pavlov’s dog responding to the ‘ping) and only checking emails at specific times so that you can safeguard you mental energy.
2. Meetings – For any meeting to be effective, be prepared, have an agenda and a clear outcome for the meeting and have a mechanism for making it end.
3. Goals – Distractions and other influences keep us from our goals and mindfulness will allow us to focus on them more effectively.
4. Prioritising – In a modern world we have a tendency to look at action as progress and it can become an addiction. Mindfulness will allow you to avoid this action addition.
5. Planning – Time and focus allows a plan to be fully formed and options considered rather than only partially prepared.
6. Communication – Clarity of ideas allows you to get your point across more effectively and focus when you listen will allow you to understand the points of others more effectively.
7. Creativity – Allowing your mind time, clear from distraction, will allow your creative juices to offer up new insights.
8. Change – Change is a constant but your ability to choose well is more likely if you approach that change in a mindful manner.
9.  Mental Energy – With so many demands on our time and attention, maintaining mental energy is important for success.  Mindfulness allows you to remain present and focused when you need to most, when you are making important choices.
10. Enhancing Sleep – Quality sleep is being recognised as a game changer in individual performance. By being mindful of your activities and environment just prior to going to bed will allow you to fall asleep and awake refreshed more readily.
11. Eating and Energy – Being mindful of your eating habits and food will allow you to make the most appropriate choices and so balance your weight and personal energy for maximum benefit.
12. Activity and Energy – Being mindful and aware of your activities and you focus will allow you to be clear when busy and remain absent any unnecessary effort when relaxing.
13. Performance Breaks – A day without breaks is like a marathon for your mind. Taking mindful performance breaks is a time-efficient way of maintaining focus, clarity and reserves of mental energy despite a long working day.
14. Commuting – This is a window in the day that can be either relaxing or stressful depending upon how you use the time.  If you use the time to build your focus and magi the transition into work, you will have more mental resilience for the day.
15. Emotional Balance – Embracing the emotion in the same manner that you embrace any other distraction will allow you understand its source and to control its impact.
16. Work-Life Balance – Mindfulness training helps you avoid overwhelm in your day and to become aware of what might be distracting you.  Reducing the mental load during your day will allow you reserves to enjoy your home life more fully.
Applying mindfulness in theses areas will allow you to gather more control of your life.
The authors have also suggested 6 strategies where Mindfulness can yield results:
1. Presence – if you have ever found yourself drifting or daydreaming in important meetings, you know how important an increased ability to be present may be. Understanding how to refocus in a meeting will increase your presence and so your performance.
2. Patience – The brain has 3 responses to stress: fight, freeze or flee.  Being mindful will allow you to overcome these instincts and control your mind so that you can patiently await the direction of any outcome and respond most appropriately.  By being mindful you can extend the period between stimulus and response and so respond as your choose.
3. Kindness – Controlling both your emotions and your focus will allow you to choose your response.  Kindness is a choice and not always our first choice.  But I can be and with the most rewarding of outcomes.
4. Beginner’s Mind – As we learn and gain experience, we create mental shortcuts called heuristics that make decision making automatic.  Being mindful will allow us to look on a situation anew, with a beginner’s mind, giving us additional insights where previously we may have just not considered alternatives.
5. Acceptance – Accepting things which cannot change is a key to peace of mind.  If you have given your all in a task you can accept that you have done your best.  If you have not given your all you can learn to accept that you are fallible. Acceptance then will allow you to cast off restlessness and so focus on where you can make a difference in the future.
6. Balance – There are things in life that give us a mental reward.  Such things create a release of dopamine in the brain which is very pleasant but is addictive. You may recognise it in the good feeling that you get from reading and learning when you should be implementation what you learn.  A mindfulness approach will enable you to be aware of when you are being enticed into a dopamine release and make a mindful decision about if to be seduced or an alternative action is required.
7. Joy – Instead of rushing forward in our ‘always on’ lifestyle, cultivating an awareness of the joy in every moment would help us recognise that life is more than the rush t the next achievement.
8. Letting go – Our minds are like monkeys, leaping around looking for play and stimulation.  So we are rarely able to let our minds relax and recharge.  Even when we are asleep our day time troubles often penetrate our rest.  Mindfulness trains us to be in control of where our thoughts dwell and so more readily allow us to relax both while awake and while asleep.
Having read the book to this stage, I was crying out for the solution.  If Mindfulness offers all these benefits, bring on the techniques.
Training Practises
The remainder of the book explores the 3 foundational practises:
1. The Development of Sharp Focus – By learning how to control your attention when the distractions come.
2. The Development of Open Awareness – The ability to observe your mind and make a conscious choice about how you react to what your mind is presenting.
3. Mastering Your Life – This chapter presents the specific approaches and a plan of how to master mindfulness. Both Sharp Focus and Open Awareness are equally important for a well trained mind. And this can only be achieved by practise.
The long term practise of mindfulness has many benefits.  These benefits are now becoming recognised as important and so Mindfulness offers a competitive advantage in an increasingly complex and challenging world. Hougaard, Carter and Coutts have given us a strong justification for, and the keys to become more mindful and I am already seeing some of the benefit that the foundational practises promise. One Second Ahead is definitely worth reading and recommended highly.
Dare to Aspire
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