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The Importance of Being Present

June 6, 2016 • Other • Heidi Jannenga

A few years ago, my company, WebPT, formed PropelHer, a group focused on empowering women in business, leadership, and life, and it’s been wildly successful. Each month, a coed group of WebPT employees meets over lunch to discuss topics that are important to all of us. During last month’s meeting, we had the opportunity to hear from Nilima Bhat, an esteemed speaker and trainer specializing in organization culture, conscious business, women in leadership, and self-awareness. It was an inspiring experience, to say the least, and it left me thinking a great deal more about the importance of being present in all aspects of life and work, and setting that example for colleagues and employees alike. After all, research shows that both success and happiness hinge on our ability to remain focused on the here and now, truly living in the present as opposed to the past or the future.

There are two ways of being present:

  1. Physical presence
  2. Mental and emotional connection

Being physically present in our personal and professional lives is incredibly important, which is why creating a collaborative and inspiring work environment can be beneficial for both staff and patients. However, being physically present means little without being mentally and emotionally connected to whatever it is that we’re doing. In fact, feeling disconnected in this way can prevent you from:

  • Fully listening to others
  • Being aware of your environment
  • Taking the time to understand how your work fits into the bigger picture
  • Being engaged with, interested in, or excited by your peers and your daily activities

One of the most important things you can do for your career, and for your life in general, is to be physically, emotionally, and mentally present, fully focused on the now. As a society, we tend to reward multitasking, and the opportunities for distraction are never-ending. This can make maintaining a focused connection to the present challenging. However, developing a practice that keeps you coming back to it, returning to a singular focus on the person, idea, or topic at hand, is incredibly rewarding and very much worth the effort. It can improve the quality of your relationships and your work as well as your ability to find deeper meaning in your interactions and, ultimately, your life.

The first step to achieving presence on a more consistent basis is simply becoming aware of the times when you aren’t present, when your mind is wandering to something that already happened or thinking about something that might. And remember, it’s a process, a journey. Keep working toward consistency and gradual improvement. It’ll pay major dividends.

In his 2011 TEDxCambridge Talk, psychologist Matt Killingsworth, a happiness researcher who studied at Harvard under psychologist and happiness expert Dan Gilbert, said, “As human beings, we have this unique ability to have our minds stray. This ability to focus our attention on something other than the present is amazing, it allows us to learn and plan and reason.” Interestingly enough, though, despite the fact that most people see mind-wandering as “a lifting escape from daily drudgery,” the data from his study demonstrated that mind-wandering was correlated with unhappiness: people self-reported being 10% less happy while mind-wandering than they were when they focused on the present, regardless of what they happened to be doing. And happiness begets all sorts of benefits, like improved health, productivity, creativity, and innovation. (In case those aren’t enough, happiness at work also decreases turnover rates and safety-related injuries.)

As part of my continuous effort to achieve personal growth and become an even more conscious leader, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on being more present myself. Right now, I’m reading Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. In it, the Harvard Business School professor and researcher discusses the importance of presence when it comes to leadership, specifically as it relates to building trust, which is something that’s incredibly important to hold sacred for the benefit of staff and patients. Cuddy says that when you are truly present, you are essentially stating, “I’m here; I care about you. I’m listening, and what I am telling you to do is not just based on my own personal opinion, but what I’m observing and hearing from you.” Pretty powerful stuff, especially for leaders.

In addition to doing a lot of reading, and implementing what I’m learning, I’ve also been using Bhat’s Presence Practice. It’s an awesome free practice that you can complete in just five minutes. I highly recommend trying it, and, if you like it, using it daily, especially before a meeting or other event for which you’d like to be even more present.

As an industry, we have a lot to accomplish, together, and there are so many amazing opportunities right now for growth and impact. Think how much more engaged and empowered we could be, for each other, our employees, our patients, our community, and our industry, if we spent just five minutes a day reminding ourselves to remain present and then modeling that behavior for those people around us. Take care of yourself so you can do good for others, and for the world. That’s really what achieving greatness is all about.

About the Author

Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L is the president and co-founder of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She co-founded WebPT after recognizing the need for a more sophisticated industry-specific EMR platform and has since guided the company through exponential growth, while garnering national recognition. Heidi brings with her more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and multi-clinic site director as well as a passion for healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

An active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA, Heidi advocates for independent rehab therapy businesses, speaks as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, and participates in local and national technology, entrepreneurship, and women-in-leadership seminars. In 2014, Heidi was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees. She also serves as a mentor to physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs and leverages her platform to promote the importance of diversity, company culture, and overall business acumen for private practice rehab therapy professionals.

Heidi was a collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Davis, and remains a lifelong fan of the Aggies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology, went on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida, and obtained her doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence in Motion. When she’s not enjoying time with her daughter Ava, Heidi is perfecting her Spanish, practicing yoga, or hiking one of her favorite Phoenix trails.

Heidi Jannenga

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi advises on WebPT’s product vision, company culture, branding efforts and internal operations, while advocating for the rehab therapy profession on a national and international scale. She’s an APTA member,...

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Pam J Brooks

Commented • June 18, 2017

Lesson need to be taught in all types of environments. Prision, low income communities, and single parents homes as an example. Some individuals don't understand "support".

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