Keith Ryniak, Director at American Family, Explains Benefits of Mindfulness

Keith Ryniak, Business Director for Agency Strategy at American Family Insurance, shared how mindfulness has benefited him both professionally and personally so that other professionals might enjoy the same benefits.

Outside of work, Keith is a typical guy; he is a die-hard Chicago sports fan, spends his weekends with his wife and daughters, and enjoys the occasional cigar and glass of wine. At work, Keith is a prominent leader, responsible for developing long-range strategic plans for nearly 3,000 business owners. Keith is a driven individual, relishing every business challenge he comes across.

However, he’s found it challenging to enjoy the present moment, admitting that “business is my default mode, and it’s hard for me to get out.”

To help him, a colleague recommended mindfulness, which is a way to be present. He soon took up practicing mindfulness through meditation for 15 minutes before exercising in the morning. Keith discovered that not only did he gain benefits for his home life, but he also found mindfulness benefitting him professionally.

In his work world, Keith noticed he was “responding versus reacting” much more. He wasn’t allowing stress to dictate how he handled challenges. Instead, he was able to slow down his thinking to choose the best option available rather than acting out of habit.

Keith notes that individuals and organizations who practice mindfulness produce better results due to being able to slow down and clearly assess situations. He likens professionals who practice mindfulness to athletes who don’t succumb to the pressures of the game, giving them the ability to triumph.

In meetings, Keith finds that mindfulness helps him refocus. Meetings that last two hours or longer can test anyone’s attention. When his mind wanders, he brings it back to the matter at hand with a simple exercise that he learned from an Army sniper. This sharpshooter used a mindfulness technique called SLLS: Stop, Look, Listen, and Smell. Focusing on one’s senses -- not what one thinks about those experiences, but the raw sensations themselves -- brings one back to the present moment.

Keith notes that another benefit of mindfulness is that “as a leader, it helps you engage better with your team.” With all the demands placed on them at work, “employees are running a million miles an hour, and leaders are running a million miles an hour as well.” Mindfulness allows Keith to slow down enough to actually connect with his team.

The greatest benefit Keith has experienced, however, has been personal. Being able to give his “undivided attention to family” has been a huge payoff. Now he can fully be present and enjoy time with his family, including evenings and vacations, without constantly thinking about work. He’s also experienced a “leveling out” of his emotions; he still experiences strong positive emotions, but the negative emotions aren’t as low.

Keith encourages other professionals to try mindfulness. He recommends they educate themselves to go beyond misconceptions, the biggest of which is that mindfulness is religious. He notes that it can be completely secular; one doesn’t need incense, special clothing, or any particular beliefs in order to practice.

Keith notes that “unless you make it a priority, it’s tough to do.” To prioritize practicing, he advises people to fit it into their schedules wherever it is most convenient and make it a habit. He has noticed that the long-term benefits have been the greatest for him, so he recommends people stick with the practice for a while to see what lasting impact it has on them.

Keith found that he can “stop and smell the roses” thanks to mindfulness, something we could all enjoy.