How the 4 Cs of Mindfulness Can Make or Break a Career Transition

I read a lot online during my daily commutes and yes the occasional listicle is valuable. Heck, I even write them myself!

But I increasingly find myself rolling my eyes - one of my superpowers if you ask my husband and kids - when I come across listicles and see how flimsy some of them are.

I know I'm probably guilty of the same, especially when I blog on the fly and can't ground myself long enough to write a proper piece. As I write more and more, I do find it difficult at times to keep the flow going, and it frustrates me.

Which is why I need to remind myself to practice what I preach.

Right now, I am sitting here at the INSEAD business school library, preparing for my talk tonight on the neuroscience of mindfulness as it applies to leadership and performance. And all I can think about is how I can't find the words for this article (which was supposed to be about curiosity in career transitions).

Ironic, yes? It's not lost on me.

So, to add more irony, here is a list (hahaha) of how to bring more mindfulness to situations where you feel distracted, stuck, or just inundated and unfocused. These are feelings that are super common as a Career Adventurist, believe me! Here are the 4 Cs of Mindfulness, a critical toolkit for you as you transition in your career:

1. Calmness of body and mind through mindful breathing

Most of us are not Ice Man Wim Hof who can control his breath, heartbeat, body temperature etc. Most of our autonomic body functions are unconscious, but breath is something we can consciously modify. This then impacts how we feel, think and act. Not only does it give us more oxygen to function better overall, intentional breathing also calms the part of the brain that moderates emotions.

We also often forget that our body has such a subtle, and sometimes dramatic, impact on our mood and decision making. Triggers in our environment, and even in our minds, create surges of biochemicals that result in physical tension that we don’t notice. By incorporating mindful breathing in your day, you set conditions for more awareness of your body, so that you notice these triggers more quickly, and can take action to relax and shake off the emotions that accompany the physical tension.

Just incorporate a few deep breaths during the day, opening up your chest and stretching your back and neck, especially when you’ve been cramped over your laptop or smartphone, and see what it does for you!

2. Curiosity

Haha! See, I did some breathing and stretching, and now I'm almost back on track with my original topic!

When you feel stuck, lost or some minor despair, go to Step 1: breathe, and then explore Step 2: become curious and ask yourself the most irritating question possible (when you're in a highly emotional state): "What can I learn from this?"

One thing I tell most of the clients I coach is that there is power in questions - and in this case there are good questions, as well as stupid questions.

A stupid question puts you on the back foot - it forces you back into your "logical" headspace which usually results in two outputs: self-blame or self-justification. Often "why" questions do this, as the person who is asked this will automatically look for reasons to justify him or herself (and then feel bad about it, if applicable).

By "why" questions, I don't mean it in the sense of Simon Sinek's "What's Your Why" - which is also very powerful. But more along the lines of "Why did I decide to do this?", "Why didn't I listen to so-and-so?" or "Why did I listen to that $#@** so-and-so?"

A more powerful question is one that opens up the possibility of solutions. Open-ended questions beginning with "How", "What", "Where" usually lead to a more broad exploration of answers and can create forward momentum.

As a personal example, when I decided to leave Amex in 2013, and go back to Skin Inc Global, the skincare then-start-up that I had left in 2010, a lot of people asked me "why". I had reasons and justifications galore, as well as blame aplenty. My Push and Pull reasons were glorious. My husband, however, asked me "What" and "How" questions.

"What is your larger purpose, and how does this move fit in?"

"What are you running away from, and does this serve you?"

If I had been honest with myself, the answers to those questions would have told me that the move was probably not the best decision at the time. Plus I have a 25-year history of ignoring my husband's well-meaning advice and coaching.

I didn't breathe enough, and my emotional state fuelled my decision to move. I had a wonderful time at Skin Inc and still freelance with the team on occasion. However, it was not sustainable for me to go back into a fast-growing startup at a time when family commitments had to take priority. It almost decimated our family life.

If I had been more in tune with my emotional state, and really got curious as to why I was considering the career move, things may have turned out differently. No regrets, just 20-20 hindsight, which leads me to Point 3.

3. Clarity

Once you get curious, you need to then get clear. That's the lynchpin that keeps you moving forward.

As I mentioned in my piece on Identity last week, once you have clarity, it serves as a guidepost and cheerleader in times like this. While in my writer's block funk, having clarity around my purpose and Career Adventurist Identity of being a Catalyst for Conscious Clarity was firmly at the back of my mind, which kept me thinking about what else I could write about that would add some value to my fellow seekers.

4. Conviction

Finally, once you have clarity, it is easier to regain your conviction around your choices and decisions.

You will have the conviction to keep going and allowing yourself to lapse into old habits and thoughts some times, and then get back into the groove again.

Perhaps you will also revisit your conviction that stepping into unchartered waters with a dramatic career transition, or move from corporate into a portfolio career is still what you want to do. And have the grit to stick to it, especially in tough times.

The 4 Cs and Career Transitions

Without having a mindful practice to re-establish these 4Cs in my “now”, my state of mind would sometimes go adrift, leaving me in “autopilot mode” or a trance state where I have figuratively gone unconscious. (Update 16 Jan 2019: Kind of like how I accidentally deleted the entire blog while I wasn’t paying attention!)

Career transitions of any form can be hard without having the 4 Cs in your life and a strategy to establish them on the fly. And with the type of transitions that I love to coach others on and write about - going plural into portfolio careers, dramatic changes to industry, or leaving corporate for start ups - it can be even harder!

There are so many limiting beliefs, negative self-talk and negative societal pressure to conform, that striking a path less understood sometimes feels like a lonely game. That’s where you need to become your own best resource, and the 4Cs are the way to ensure that that’s what you are becoming.

Keep on Adventuring!