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By Jayne Tancred

How skilled are you at what you do? If you’re so experienced at your job that you can pretty much do it on autopilot, it might be time to refocus.

I recently attended the Happiness and its Causes conference, where Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer caused me to do a double take while talking about mindfulness and quality of output.

Many small business operators are either consciously competent, whereby we know how to do something and we concentrate hard to get it right, or unconsciously competent, where we’ve become so practiced at something that we can virtually do it without thinking. Mindlessly, if you will.

While unconscious competence is positive in that it’s an indication we’ve mastered a skill, Professor Langer’s research shows that slipping into a state of mindlessness adversely affects the quality of our work.

For example, in a group of classical music lovers, 93 percent of the audience preferred listening to a symphony in which the members of a highly accomplished orchestra were practising mindfulness when performing. Their everyday performance may still have been technically perfect, but in comparison to the mindful one, it didn’t draw listeners in.

All of which means that the proposal you just dashed off because it’s the 17th one you’ve prepared this week, that website you just built according to your highly refined systemised process, and that scripted phone call you made to a prospective client are all unlikely to have hit the spot.

So how do we maintain mindfulness in tasks we perform repeatedly? Apparently the answer lies in continuing to do what we’ve always done to the best of our ability, but each time focusing on how we can make the individual task subtly different to all the other times we’ve done it before. It’s about creating freshness, even if it isn’t likely to be overtly noticeable to anyone but ourselves.



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