One Second Ahead by Rasmus Hougaard

One Second Ahead by Rasmus Hougaard

The Book in a Few Sentences

Learn how to practice mindfulness in all aspects of work - email, meetings, creativity, etc. A solid resource for understanding and applying mindfulness.

One Second Ahead summary

This is my book summary of One Second Ahead by Rasmus Hougaard. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.


  • People used to be able to focus their full attention on each and every task.
  • Now they attempt to concentrate on work while dealing with a constant stream of text messages, emails, phone calls, meetings, and deadlines. 
  • Faced with a relentless flood of information and distractions, our brains try to process everything at once. 
  • But researchers have shown that multitasking is the worst possible reaction to information overload. 
  • According to a McKinsey & Company report, multitasking actually “makes human beings less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions.” 
  • Many of us are under constant pressure, are always on, experience information overload, and work in highly distracting environments. 
  • I call it the PAID reality.
  • It is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness.
  • Mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve awareness, and sharpen their focus and clarity.
  • One Second Ahead is about applying mindfulness techniques to daily work life.
  • …this program has been implemented by companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Roche, Nike, American Express, General Electric, Google, Sony and IKEA.
  • In the end, this is what mindfulness is about: being our best selves and realizing our potential in everyday life.
  • At its core, this is a practical resource: one that delivers immediate results. But it is also an inspiring guide to working, thinking, and living better.
  • By practicing the book’s methods only a few minutes a day, you can develop more effective mental habits, allowing you to thrive in even the most competitive, high-pressure situations.

Part 1: Workplace Techniques

  • On the one hand, we have an exciting, stimulating, and complex work life. It’s fast-paced, dynamic, and filled with possibility. On the other hand, we have a brain built for simpler times.

Chapter 1: Mastering Your Mind — First Steps

  • Our thoughts are the foundation for everything we want to achieve in life. 
  • We are best able to manage our thoughts when our mind is clear, clam, and focused.
  • We are constantly thinking about events that happened in the past, or might happen in the future, rather than attending to what’s happening right now. This limits our ability to achieve meaningful results.

Welcome to the Attention Economy

  • We are living in an “attention economy” where the ability to manage our attention and the quality of our attention is key to our success.

Multitasking Is a Myth

  • When we think we are multitasking, what we are doing in reality is shift-tasking: shifting attention rapidly between two or more things.

The Noncomputational Brain

  • In summary, when we multitask, we’re less effective, make more mistakes, and have less focus and creativity.

The Well-Trained Mind

  • Mindfulness is about you. It’s about being the best version of yourself every day. 
  • It’s about generating greater mental effectiveness so that you can reach your full potential, both on a professional and a personal level. 

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Work

  • In an attention economy, mindfulness is about learning to master your attention. 
  • When you learn to master your attention, you learn to master your thoughts.
  • Not surprisingly, people who practice mindfulness techniques report an overall increase in quality of life.
  • Mindfulness training is ultimately a tool for developing a highly functional and effective mind.

The Adaptive Brain

  • In short, neuroplasticity describes the structural flexibility of our brains, including the ability to create new neural pathways through practice and repetition.

The Foundation of Mindfulness

  • The central characteristic of mindfulness are sharp focus and open awareness.
  • Optimal effectiveness is achieved when people are simultaneously sharply focused  and openly aware.
  • A focused mind helps you be more effective, productive, and at ease while doing your work.
  • By consciously choosing where to focus your attention, you avoid becoming a victim of distraction.

Rule #2: Choose your Distractions Mindfully

  • Rule #2 ensures you work in a focused way while remaining open to your surroundings and recognizing when you should change focus.

Mindfulness Applied

  • With a bit of training you will see that a focused mind is much more relaxed than a distracted mind.

A New Way of Working

  • Maintaining focus and choosing your distractions wisely allows you to stay one second ahead of your own reactions, to actively choose your response to events in your inner and outer worlds instead of reacting on autopilot.

Technique #1: Email

Guideline #3: Mind Your Switch Time

  • Besides taking up time, shifting back and forth between tasks uses up a lot of energy, making you feel less effective overall.

Guideline #4: Never First Thing in the Morning

  • Choosing e-mail as your first task of the day can be a wasted opportunity to use your mind at its highest potential.

Guideline #5: Secure Focus Time

  • Instead of shifting your attention whenever an e-mail arrives, allocate only certain, fixed times during the day to fully focus on e-mail.

Guideline #6: Avoid Bad Vibes

  • When the mind receives too little information about a sender’s intentions, it composes its own story. Individuals are often convinced a self-created story is true.

Guideline #7: Avoid Emotional E-mailing

  • Although it can be tempting to vent your frustrations, an impulsive answer can easily cause more harm than good.

Technique #2: Meetings

  • When people are not fully present in meetings, however, we don’t get the best out of each other. We don’t make use of our creative potential.

Mental Preparation

  • A good start to a meeting means your mind is clear, having let go of whatever you were talking about or working on before the meeting.
  • In meetings, presence forms the foundations for effectiveness.

Ending the Meeting

  • It’s important to be mindful of ending meetings on time so that everyone can move on to their next activity.

Life’s Most Important Meetings

  • Life’s most important “meetings” are the ones you share with your partner, your children, other family members, and your friends.

Technique #3: Goals

  • When you have clear goals, it’s far easier to stay focused and aware.
  • Our subconscious is primarily driven by two simple motivations: grasping for things we like and avoiding things we don’t like.  
  • While our subconscious often craves short-term gratification, our conscious goals more often include delayed gratification.

Mindful Goal Setting

  • Clearly defined and specific goals are easier for your subconscious to understand.

Hold Your Goals Lightly

  • Many of us hold on to our goals too tightly. In other words, we fixate on a goal so much that we lose perspective…

Technique #4: Priorities

  • To be successful, we need to be able to prioritize which goals are most important.
  • Many of us are prone to waste precious time simply because we follow impulses: we don’t have the one-second edge necessary to think through the consequences of automatically jumping to a task just because we think it “feels” urgent.

Action Addition

  • The problem is, when we don’t step back to ensure we’re spending time on tasks aligned with our main goals, we end up wasting a lot of time on immediate—though often inessential—tasks.

Avoiding Action Addiction

  • Action addiction can be counteracted through formal mindfulness training, as well as through being mindful when priorities conflict.

Choice Points—When Priorities Conflict

  • Conflicting priorities are the most common cause of action addiction.

Technique #5: Planning

  • Real planning is about overcoming action addiction, cultivating mental effectiveness, and executing on your priorities.
  • The fact is, though, we can survive without constant planning.

Make the Time to Plan

  • The morning is the most important choice point of the day.
  • Putting effort into clear planning keeps your coworkers or other distractions from hijacking your time.

Technique #6: Communication

  • Sending a message is not the same as communicating a message.

Are You Listening?

  • Mindful communication is based on avoiding both a wandering mind and your habitual perception.

Two Sides to Effective Communication

Listen with Mindfulness

  • Simply put, listening with mindfulness involves giving your full attention to whomever is speaking.

Speaking With Mindfulness

  • …ensure what you’re saying is useful and beneficial to the other person in this moment.

Technique #7: Creativity

  • Without creative and innovative ideas, the chances of an organization being successful in the long term are not good.
  • Our tendency to think about problems and issues in habitual ways is one of the main barriers to creativity.
  • You see, creativity comes from tapping into the potential ideas outside our limited conscious awareness.
  • Consciously letting go of all conscious thoughts and distractions—a key component of formal mindfulness training—facilitates a strong connection to your subconscious mind.

It Takes Time

  • But the more you work at it—the more you strengthen the connection between your conscious and subconscious mind—the easier it becomes.

Technique #8: Change

  • The inability to accept the reality that everything changes is one of the main reasons we create pain and suffering for ourselves.

Understanding Resistance

  • Hardwired to value certainty, our natural response is to resist uncertainty in our environment.

Embracing Resistance

  • Once you step back from the experience of resistance, it no longer has the same ability to cloud your mind and sap your energy.
  • With mindfulness, individuals can face and accept their own resistance to change.

Technique #9: Mental Energy

  • When our minds wander—when we’re not focused—some of our energy dissipates.
  • By being attentive to how we use, conserve, and maintain all four sources of energy—sleep, nutrition, exercise, and our mind—we can have more energy to excel in a high-paced work setting, be less stressed, and have a greater peace of mind.

Technique #10: Enhancing Sleep

  • Even light sleep deprivation has proven to negatively impact logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood.
  • Fortunately, research has shown regular mindfulness training improves the ability to fall asleep and sleep quality significantly. 

Guideline #3: Perceptual Activities 60 Minutes Before Sleep

  • Conceptual activities like intense conversations, replying to e-mail, working, or reading can arouse your attention and suppress natural sleepiness.
  • However, perceptual activities like doing the dishes, going for a walk, or listening to music can help you catch the wave of melatonin as it rises.

Falling Asleep Mindfully

  • The more you can do to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary, the better off you’ll be.

Waking Up Mindfully

  • Allowing yourself to wake up peacefully can save you a lot of unnecessarily wasted energy for the rest of the day. Mindfulness can help you minimize—or entirely avoid—the a.m. cortisol rush.

Technique #11: Eating and Energy

  • In addition, eating the right things, at the right time, in the right amounts, is one sure way of enhancing your energy levels.

Guideline #1: Let Your Stomach Do the Eating

  • Staying mindfully aware of when you have had enough will not only help you eat better, but feel better too.

Guideline #2: Avoid the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster

  • Many of us, seeking a quick antidote to feeling sleepy, ride the blood sugar rollercoaster during the afternoon hours.
  • How do we hop off the blood sugar roller coaster? Simple. Take a mindful minute.

The Essence of Mindful Eating

  • When you’re mindful of your food, awareness tells you when you have had enough. 
  • You also tend to enjoy food more, because you actually pay attention to it.

Technique #12:  Activity and Energy

  • Any type of physical activity has a strong positive influence on our own body and your brain.

Relaxation—The Absence of Unnecessary Effort

  • As you train, occasionally scan your body for signs of unnecessary effort or tension. Then relax. The more relaxed you are, the more you can do and the more you’ll enjoy it.

Focus on the Rhythm

  • With relaxed focus, any unpleasantness or pain will diminish.

Technique #13: Performance Breaks

Mindful Performance Breaks

  • Taking mindful performance breaks is both a time-efficient and nourishing way of maintaining focus and clarity.
  • A mindful performance break, however, pushes your mind into more of a “being” or perceptual state. 
  • Remember, every time you practice mindfulness, you create more neural connections, making it easier and easier to find your focus and clarity whenever you need it.

Technique #14: Commuting

  • Commuting with mindfulness is a simple yet profound way to reclaim the time and spend it in a worthwhile way: on cultivating greater focus and clarity.

Technique #15: Emotional Balance

  • Emotions are a natural part of being human. Managed skillfully, they’re a powerful source of joy and energy. 

The Basic Reactions to Emotions

  • By utilizing mindfulness, you can maintain emotional balance, even in the face of difficult emotions.
  • Therefore, acknowledging the emotion exists is the first step in managing it.

Mindful Embrace

  • …simply notice that the emotion is there and hold it without suppressing or acting on it.

Patience and Balance

  • Patience is about having he courage to face the discomfort of the emotion.

Appropriate Response

  • …choosing the most appropriate response to the situation—based on your awareness of emotion, your embracing of it, and your patience and balance.

Technique #16: Work-Life Balance

  • …the line between “work” and “home” keeps getting blurrier and blurrier, almost to the point of no distinction at all.
  • There will always be moments of imbalance.
  • Mindfulness helps you maintain balance within yourself by accepting life’s imbalances. 

Part II: Mental Strategies

Strategy #1: Presence

  • Presence is foundational for mindfulness. By definition, being present means we’re paying attention to the people, objects, and ideas around us.
  • Two minutes with someone who’s fully present is more powerful and effective than ten minutes with a distracted person.
  • Being present in the moment doesn’t require a change in what you do. It requires a change in how you pay attention to what you do. 

Strategy #2: Patience

  • Patience, or the ability to endure discomfort, can be an effective strategy for choosing a rational response rather than an impulsive reaction.

Fight, Flight, or Patience

  • With mindfulness training, we start to perceive a process reality more through our cortex - the rational, intellectual, and logical part of our brains - and much less through our reptilian brain.

Strategy #3: Kindness

What Does It Mean to Be Kind?

  • In the midst of our deadlines and demands, we forget kindness.
  • In fact, it is not just other people who benefit from our kindness. Kindness can be one of the most effective ways of looking after yourself.

The Science of Kindness

  • Before we’re kind to others, though, we need to be kind to ourselves. If we are not kind to ourselves, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be genuinely kind to others.

Strategy #4: Beginner’s Mind

  • In mindfulness training, we call the ability to see things with a fresh perspective as “the beginner’s mind.” 

Unlearning Habitual Perceptions

  • The ability to face reality as it is—or at least not be stuck in old ways of seeing things—is the essence of a beginner’s mind.

Strategy #5: Acceptance

  • Acceptance is the ability to refrain from making an already difficult situation more difficult.

Acceptance is Power

  • With acceptance, we case to make difficult situations worse by dwelling on the unchangeable.

Strategy #6: Balance

Boosting Serotonin

  • Serotonin and dopamine are closely connected. 
  • When they’re in balance, we can enjoy good food, or a glass of wine, or praise without becoming addicted.
  • Chances are, once you start regular mindfulness training, you will notice an increase in calm and a decrease in impulsive reactions.

Strategy #7: Joy

  • As you proved to yourself, we can choose anger or happiness or any other feeling simply by thinking about things that make us feel that emotion.


  • In other words, no only does joy have a positive impact on your own nervous system but it also helps others feel calm and relaxed.

Strategy #8: Letting Go

  • Mindfulness training can strengthen your ability to let go of a thought before it leads to more related thoughts. 
  • In fact, the better we become at letting go, the lighter and more flexible our minds become.

Part III Foundational Practices

Chapter 2: Training Sharp Focus

  • Success in training is the ability to manage your wandering mind with relaxation, focus, and clarity. 

The ABCD Method

  • For every moment you maintain focus, you create new “focus” neural connections and abilities.

Anatomy: Finding the Right Posture

  • And a more relaxed body lays the groundwork for a more relaxed mind, both prerequisites for training sharp focus.

Breathing: The Anchor for Attention

  • To manage your wandering mind, you need an anchor for your attention. Breathing, the “B” of ABCD, can be that anchor in terms of sharp focus.

Counting for Focus

  • Breathe in. Breathe out. When you finish breathing out, count “one.” 
  • Breathe in again, out again, and count “two.”
  • Carry on in the same way until you get to ten, then count backward to one. Repeat this cycle.
  • Distractions: Relax, Release, Return
  • Basically anything that is not your breath is a distraction. 
  • Regardless of where the distraction comes from, the instructions for dealing with it are the same: Relax, Release, and Return.
  • You are training your mind to be more focused and on the task at hand regardless of what it is, and at the same time to be aware when you are distracted, and redirecting your focus back to the chosen task.

The Three Core Qualities of Mindfulness: Relaxation, Focus, and Clarity

  • …the three main challenges people experience in mindfulness training: tension, overactivity, and drowsiness.
  • …a relaxed body and mind is the best foundation for developing greater focus.

The Benefits of Focus Training

  • Improved Focus
  • Increased Responsiveness Versus Reactiveness
  • Enhanced Creativity
  • Greater Peace and Happiness
  • Besides subjective self-evaluation, research strongly supports the relationship between increased focus and greater happiness.

Chapter 3 Training Open Awareness

  • Open awareness is the ability to observe your mind.
  • Training open awareness provide you with the opportunity to experience, with a depth of understanding, that your thoughts are the root cause of your problems.
  • Open awareness gives sharp focus direction and intentionality.

The Choice Is Yours

  • The essence of open awareness training is observing your thoughts, senses, emotions and tasks in a neutral way—like a mental observatory.

Open Awareness Training

  • When training open awareness, it isn’t your breathing that’s the anchor for your attention, like with sharp focus but your distractions.

The Three Insights

Insight #1: Everything Changes

  • When you are no longer attached to things you like or resistant to things you dislike, you develop greater freedom.

Insight #2: Happiness Is a Choice

  • Rather, it’s the way we relate to our surroundings that creates the problems we perceive in life.

Insight #3: Everything is Potential

  • The more we come to appreciate that we are no as simply and clearly defined as we think, the less vulnerable we become.

What Do We Stand to Gain?

  • Enhanced Mental Capacity
  • Improved Relationship with Thoughts
  • Let your thoughts be thoughts without getting involved in them and without holding on.
  • More Compassion For Self and Others
  • Mindfulness and an ethical life are closely connected.

Chapter 4: Mastering Your Life—Next Steps

Focused Awareness: Revisiting the Matrix

  • Being the master of your mind—and your life—requires a combination of both focus and awareness
  • This open awareness provides you with the ability to have greater wisdom in terms of where best to place your focus

How Long and How Often to Train

  • Daily training is the best way to get results. 
  • When you do it every day, it will become a habit.
  • In my experience, people who commit to ten minutes of daily training start to notice a change in their ability to respond within a few weeks.

When to Train

  • But in my experience, the morning is a good time for most people.

Where to Train

  • But try to choose a location that gives you the fewest distractions and allows you the space to comfortably assume and maintain the correct body posture, which is the physical foundation for successful training.

Self-Directed Mindfulness Program

  • Mindfulness is training.
  • And as with any training, you won’t achieve results without effort.

Recognizing Progress

  • Maintaining training discipline is helped by experiencing progress.

Taking It Into the Organization

  • The measured benefits of corporate mindfulness initiatives are numerous, including increased focus, enhanced awareness, improved productivity, higher job satisfaction, enhanced creativity, reduced absenteeism, and reduced stress.

Leadership Support

  • Any significant organizational initiative requires leadership support. 
  • If leaders are not onboard, individuals may benefit from mindfulness, but the organization is unlikely to become more mindful.

Link to Organizational Objectives

  • Much of an initiative’s success, therefore, depends on the ability to directly tie the personal benefits of mindfulness to tangible outcomes for the organization.
  • This may include explicitly explaining the business benefits of mindfulness—not that it will make people feel better or sleep better, but that it will result in fewer sick days and increased productivity, meaning lower costs, and higher revenue.

Effective Communication

  • The word mindfulness itself can raise concerns about something spiritual or flaky, causing immediate skepticism and resistance. 
  • In this case, it’s better to avoid the word when promoting an initiative.

Time and Commitment

  • …successful corporate-based mindfulness programs generally take place over four months, with a number of bite-sized, in-house workshops and daily training.

Be the Change You Want to See

  • If you’d like to get your organization to consider corporate mindfulness training, the very best piece of advice I can give you is to be mindful rather than to preach mindfulness.