It goes without saying that mindfulness is trending nowadays. We hear it everywhere; scientists, therapists, coaches, and even teachers advising us to seek and practice mindfulness and live mindfully.
But what is mindfulness? Is it a new concept? A 21st-century buzzword? A trend that will vanish with time? And how can it help us at work?
Actually, people around the world have been practicing mindfulness for thousands of years, whether on its own or as part of a larger tradition.
Initially inspired by Buddhist practices, mindfulness today is available to us all as a wholly secular practice focused on stress reduction and increased focus and tranquility.
A large part of the current popularity of mindfulness in the western world can be credited to the work of Dr. Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He defines mindfulness as: “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, in Purser, 2015). In addition to awareness, Kabat-Zinn advises us to focus our conscious attention on the “right here, right now”.
We all have the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not to overreact to, or be overwhelmed by, what is happening around us. And we can cultivate this ability to be mindful by using proven techniques while we move, walk, sit, or stand during short breaks we can add to our everyday lives.
When we’re mindful, we can gain awareness and insights into our own minds, lower our stress levels, boost our focus, creativity, and performance, and become more attentive to the well-being of others. It allows us to look at situations from a rational, non-judgmental, and calm perspective, which will almost always help us to arrive at better decisions.
How can mindfulness benefit us at work?
We spend over 50% of our time either working, dealing with work issues, or thinking about work, while over 50% of our daily stress is the result of work situations. Often, this work-related stress follows us home and affects our relationships with our family and friends. And this doesn’t consider the work-related emails, chats, and social media messages that tend to run over into our free time these days.
Practicing mindfulness at work can help us to manage our stress, improve communication and teamwork, become more compassionate and therefore make our workplace a psychologically safer place.
Neuroscience shows that practicing mindfulness daily can boost the area of the brain that regulates our attention. We’re constantly distracted; while we’re working on one task, we may regularly think of the other tasks we still need to complete. We are also quick to check social media, WhatsApp, or our email. When we’re mindful, we train our mind to come back to the present moment whenever it wanders, over and over again, and to get what needs to be done, done.
Boosts creative thinking
Creative thinking, hypothesizing, problem-solving, strategizing, and visioning are managed by a part of our brain called the neocortex. An idea will only reach the neocortex for processing when we are calm and emotionally in balance rather than stressed or in fight or flight mode. Mindfulness practices can stimulate the creative brain, the neocortex, and improve emotional intelligence so that our ideas can flow directly to the neocortex for processing.
That’s why more and more organizations are offering mindfulness training to their employees to promote stress reduction, productivity, and engagement. But if you don’t work for an organization such as Apple, Ford, General Mills, Facebook, or Nike you can easily get started by practicing the mindfulness tips bellow and making them a regular part of your daily routine.
Mindfulness practices for the workplace:
When you get to work and sit down, take a few moments to ground yourself to the floor by placing both your feet flat on the floor. Focus on the soles of your feet, feeling the floor underneath them. This mindful contact of your feet with the floor, or Mother Earth, helps you get out of your mind and thoughts for a moment and to connect to the earth.
Next, set an intention for the day, one that is not necessarily related to your tasks. You might wish to let go of stress that day or be more focused for example. Write it down on a post-it note where you can see it. Before you start any task, take a moment to connect to yourself and your intention so that you are aligned with it throughout the day.
- Sit upright with your arms resting on the side-arms of your chair or on your lap.
- Take a slow breath in through your nose, breathing into your lower belly while counting to 5.
- Hold your breath for 3 counts.
- Exhale through your mouth while counting to 5.
- Repeat for a minimum of 1 minute.
Use and abuse this technic anytime during the day and before you sleep. With time, it will become a cherished habit that will help you to oxygenate your body and brain, relax, and focus. It’s the first step toward meditation.
When you listen mindfully, your full focus should be on the person speaking, without any distractions or emotional or physical reactions to what the speaker says. If you’re not mindful, your own concerns and thoughts may distract you. If you have the chance to do so, practice a few relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to clear your mind before your meeting.
When experiencing any kind of negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, or sadness, PAUSE and observe your feelings and in which part of your body you feel them. Put an exact name to each emotion and try to discover its origin. Be kind and compassionate to yourself and consider writing down your experiences in a journal which you can then review regularly to monitor your progress. With regular practice, you can train yourself to identify the underlying causes so you can find accurate solutions.
At lunch focus just on eating. Notice your food, the texture, the colors, pay attention to every bite. Savor and appreciate every bite of your meal.
Annoyed with a colleague? Take 3 conscious breaths and try to put yourself in their shoes. Can you listen mindfully and consider their point of view? Can you show compassion and understanding? Are they facing personal issues? When you realize that people are not purposefully annoying you, then you can mindfully alter your reactions. You have the power to look at each situation from different perspectives.
In moments of self-doubt or when the day isn’t going the way you planned it, visualization is one mindfulness technique that can help you to reevaluate what is going around you, feel more positive, and move forward. Simply close your eyes and visualize all the great things you have accomplished so far, all your victories and everything you’re proud of. Focus on that, take deep breaths, feel the sensations in your body and allow yourself to smile. Come back to the now and feel the difference.
Another easy way to practice mindfulness is to use a meditation app such as Headspace or Insight Timer. You can meditate in any quiet spot, where you are unlikely to be distracted, including your office. When you have a short break, or when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, put on your earphones, close your eyes, and follow the prompts. You’re guaranteed to continue your day more relaxed and mentally refreshed.
Practicing mindfulness at work is a simple yet powerful way to achieve focus, reduce stress, boost performance, and bring more balance to your life.
Do you practice mindfulness at work in other ways? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below!