Integrating Mindfulness – A practical guide to networking from a mindful place.

Networking isn’t always the easiest activity. However, if you bring your true self to the meeting and you stay grounded and present (Mindfulness at play!), you can usually survive unscathed, or even have an enjoyable and useful experience!

Until yesterday, I hadn’t been to a networking event for a few months and this local Networking Lunch was my first opportunity to get back into the routine of putting myself out there. The #LinkedInLunch1 was organised by Angus Grady, who specialises in improving people’s LinkedIn profiles and teaching ways of utilising all the features of LinkedIn to market your services, products and business. Angus created a relaxed and open environment for us to do as much or as little networking as we wanted to. We were greeted by Jennifer who made us feel very welcome and who handed us our badges, explaining where the tea and coffee was and the format of the meeting.

This highlighted how important the greeting and welcome is to these kinds of events. It can be useful to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and consider the element of nerves when people are attending events, particularly for the first time (Levels of empathy can increase through mindfulness training, considering different perspectives and experiences). Jennifer’s professional and warm greeting definitely helped me to feel more relaxed and I was made to feel very welcome by Angus who approached me almost immediately afterwards to say Hi and thank me for coming.

Fortunately, I recognised a few friendly faces and so I made a bee line for the people I knew as I was interested to find out how they were. It’s interesting how a bit of familiarity can work wonders to make yourself feel comfortable and catching up with people who you care about and who care about you is good for your self-esteem! Had there not been anyone I knew, I probably would have found myself a seat, grabbed a cup of tea and begun to mingle (after taking a few internal mindful breaths to centre myself!) I found myself a seat and grabbed myself a cup of tea while James Pybus, a Digital Marketing Programme designer put up my advertising banner for me (I think he sensed my nerves as I was the only one who’d brought a banner – again empathy was offered)

During the meeting, we were invited to network, which was followed by an informative LinkedIn session with Angus, then lunch followed by more networking. I chatted with some really interesting people who I may be able to work with or refer other people to in the future but more than anything, I had some great conversations with really interesting people! Listening with curiosity to what other people offer, not only within their business but listening to the value they offer as a fellow human being can be incredibly rewarding!

Networking does not always have to be about the sell, it’s about forming and building relationships. The kind of work I do as a Mindfulness Consultant and Teacher, cannot involve pressurised selling. It’s a case of people becoming aware of the Mindfulness course I teach and how it is taught, either 1-2-1 via Zoom or 1-2-1 / group within organisations. The decision to take part in a Mindfulness course must be led by the person, not by me. You are the only one who knows what it is they need at any particular time and when you’re ready, you’re welcome to contact me for an initial chat or consultation. Mindfulness is a practical tool that can be used to self-regulate the body’s response to stress and to self-manage. It’s a different, healthy way of looking after yourself, in addition to exercising, sleeping well and eating nutritiously. Mindfulness practice leads us to a greater level of self-awareness, which can be empowering and liberating!

So, back to the networking meeting – If you are the kind of person who feels nervous before attending networking events or, you avoid networking events completely due to negative experiences, then this kind of networking might suit you. What’s really important to me, is that the meeting is informal. Angus made it clear within his LinkedIn post that this Networking lunch would not entail any pitches of any kind or formalities, but he encouraged people to mingle (if they wished to) and that he would be sharing some insights and tips on how best to use LinkedIn. The event was exactly what it said on the tin! 

So, if you find yourself avoiding networking events, it might be useful to ask yourself why? What’s preventing you from attending networking meetings? Is it the 60 second pitch? Is it the fear of not knowing anyone or not knowing the venue?

Here are some practical tips;

1.     Check where the venue is, before the day of the event. If you can take a drive to locate the venue or even go inside beforehand, it might help to make you feel more comfortable and confident on the day.

2.     If you don’t like the prospect of walking into a room full of people, then arrive a bit before the start time so you are one of the first and can have time to speak to the organiser or facilitator.

3.     When you arrive, orient yourself by either talking to the facilitator or, look for the toilets (very important if you suffer with nerves!), tea and coffee station and the layout of the room.

4.     If the meeting is going to be seated at any stage, find a seat in the room where you feel most comfortable and place your coat etc. on the chair. That way, you can relax that you no longer have to search for a seat when it’s time to sit down. You can simply make a beeline to your chair.

5.     Grab yourself a drink. Often, you’ll meet other people at the refreshments table who you can begin a conversation with.

6.     Continue, in whatever way you feel comfortable. If you feel like taking a break from conversation, go and sit down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or nervous, Mindfulness can be useful; ground yourself by focusing on each of these in turn; your feet on the floor, body on the chair, hands rested on the legs or each other, your breath. You don’t need to do any deep breathing, just pay attention to the breath in the body and notice any particular sensations in the body as you breathe. You can do this sitting down or standing up. You can even do this whilst you’re talking with someone else (they need never know!)

In situations like these, when we might feel nervous, overwhelmed or panicky. This is where Mindfulness can be incredibly practical. You can use Mindfulness to self-manage any or all of the following;

·       Intrusive thoughts (e.g doubts, “I’m not good enough”, imposter syndrome)

·       Uncomfortable feelings in the body (e.g swirling stomach, headache, feeling sick)

·       Emotions that arise (e.g a sense of overwhelm, fear)

It doesn’t mean that the thoughts, feelings and emotions will go away, but mindfulness increases self-awareness, which can help to self-manage. Choosing a healthy coping mechanism like mindfulness practice can be a healthy alternative to those depleting activities that we cling to for comfort, like staying at home and not going out, drinking alcohol and comfort eating or, simply ruminating and riffing on unhelpful thought patterns.

Within Mindfulness practices, you learn each of the practices and then choose to focus on the breath, the body, sounds, emotions or thoughts. Whatever feels right for you, in any given moment. This can be discreet and no one else need know you’re practicing!

If there’s something that you want to be able to do and to enjoy but you’re experiencing blocks or find yourself repeating the same unhelpful habits, the MBSR course can be really useful. I say this because I have experienced it myself and, I continue to experience the positive benefits of mindfulness every day I practice and choose to live my life mindfully. 

What am I doing wrong?

Sometimes, you might find that you sit for a Mindfulness meditation practice and all you find yourself doing is thinking, fidgeting, crying, feeling angry, agitated or bored. Then you might find that the judgements arise; I’m rubbish at this, I can’t do this, this is pointless, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, I’m not doing this properly, this isn’t working! What am I doing wrong? 

If you find yourself touselling with this kind of practice, commend yourself for the most important part of the practice; noticing.

We can easily miss this! And yet, if there was any objective of mindfulness, THIS would be it!

Bringing awareness to your whole experience is the practice. So, if you find yourself thinking, fidgeting, crying, feeling angry within your practice, offer yourself some friendliness and see if you can sit gently with this discomfort and frustration. Remember, within a Mindfulness practice, there is nowhere to get to and nothing in particular that we ‘should’ be doing. So, whatever you are experiencing, notice the tone of thoughts, perhaps reminding yourself that thoughts are not facts. Be curious about the texture of body sensations and, observe the emotions that arise and what happens to those emotions if we pay attention to them in a gentle, friendly way. 

Mindfulness meditation is not about reaching a particular state or point of feeling relaxed and calm but it is about giving you the space to acknowledge what’s going on for you and to make wise choices about how best to look after yourself. 

Perhaps invite the question into your practice “what do I need to do to look after myself?”

If you have completed an MBSR course, take a look at the handbook for week 7 to remind yourself about nourishing and depleting activities and choose something nourishing.

Take care of yourself in and out of the practice.