By Jessica Brownlee
What exactly is mindfulness, how can you practice it at work and in the professional interactions you have?
Mindfulness may not be a new concept, in fact in recent times it has been a bit of a buzzword. It is a popular tool or practice which is pretty accessible to everyone and offers a myriad of benefits. Mindfulness itself has a lineage in human history extending beyond 2500 years ago. And while it has taken on new forms and practices, the essence of mindfulness has stood the test of time. With its earliest roots in Buddhism, the modern practice can be understood as a form of mental training. And what the ancient and old did thousands of years ago is finally getting some of the spotlight in modern science, proving itself again and again.
As humans we are hardwired to always strive for the next thing and never be satisfied, it is the nature of our consciousness. The appeal of mindfulness is that it slows us down and brings us into the present. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness is quoted as saying, “The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little”. And that is the crux of it, the world passes us by while we tweet, Instagram and email. We miss the little things in the moment which are actually the sum total of our lives.
The power of mindfulness is it is always available to you whether you are dealing with disappointment, stress, loss or personal challenge. It is a way to remove yourself from the human condition and acknowledge what you are going through and grow through it. Research shows many benefits of mindfulness including reducing stress, physical health improvements, enhanced cognitive function, positive social outcomes and even possibly living a longer life.
Mindfulness is certainly a valuable tool for you to utilize to help you WORK WELL. Let’s face it, work is an integral part of our lives, and as much as we love our jobs and that we can pay the bills, it can be a significant source of stress. With any job there will be more pressurized days, deadlines, anxiety provoking situations and difficult conversations. And that really is where mindfulness can help.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply about paying attention to the present moment, in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness is the ability to stay in the present moment and to focus your thoughts on what is happening in the here and now. It’s our ability to not think about the past or the future but to instead observe what is happening right here and now. Mindfulness can equip you to not be yanked around by your emotions. It is simple and effective, allowing you to get the most out of every moment. With the changes in the workplace, innovation, always on tech and the fourth industrial revolution it is more important for us now than ever to disconnect, take control of our anxiety and be present in the moment. As Emily Dickinson said, “Forever is composed of nows”.
Apart from being an appealing way to live your life, mindfulness has some science backed advantages. Various studies have found so many benefits, including:
- Frequent mindfulness or meditation practice actually changes parts of your brain on an MRI in your amygdala.
- Harvard researchers have shown a positive impact of regular mindfulness practice and depression.
- Mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, reducing cortisol and resulting in a physical reduction in the body’s stress induced inflammation response. Blood pressure and improving stress-induced physical conditions.
- Mindfulness can increase your resilience and promote emotional wellbeing, making you less depressed, reactive and prone to negative thoughts while increasing your coping skills.
- Practicing mindfulness can increase your self-awareness, acting as a trigger for many positive changes in your life.
- Mindfulness using focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention, enabling you to better redirect and maintain attention.
- It can boost your mental clarity and memory, keeping your mind young.
- Mindfulness can positively impact your relationships, making you more likely have positive feelings towards yourself and others, acting in a kind and compassionate manner.
- It can be a useful tool to control pain and improve your sleep. Who doesn’t want more, better sleep?
Ultimately, mindfulness is a great tool to cultivate a well, meaningful, and happy life at work and home.
Being mindful at work
“Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of This Moment.” – Rumi
Practicing mindfulness at work is so easy, accessible and practical because it is something that can be done in a short space of time, in any setting. While it’s not something that comes naturally for us especially with the many distractions at work that demand our attention and focus, there are many ways to bring yourself into the present moment. Instead of being bombarded by information, jumping between texts, emails and notifications we need to carve out some time to check in with ourselves, connect and be content with the present.
We thought we would share some mindful practices that would be particularly useful in the workplace. Try carving out 60 seconds throughout the day to practice some of these, pick and choose what feels good to you and make some space for it in your day:
- Practice gratitude: by practicing gratitude we can bring our focus onto things that are good in the here and now. And focusing on the present positives lets us cultivate a more positive future.
- Check in with your body: your body is the vehicle you experience life through. Take a moment to pause and feel bodily sensations – they are all little signs of your experience. Where are your aches or pains? Do you feel light or heavy? Where are you holding tension?
- Fire up your senses: one of the simplest ways to be in the present moment is to observe what is going on around you and within you. Work your way through your 5 senses and fully take in the moment.
- Focus on your breath: focus your mind and bring attention to your breath and notice how you are breathing. Take a moment to observe it before you try to do 5 deep belly breaths, focusing on the inhale and exhale.
- Observe your thoughts: here’s a fun game – stop what you’re doing and start observing your thoughts. Can you do that? What do you notice? Try it and see what happens!
As you become more comfortable practicing mindfulness, try to do so more frequently throughout the day to reap the benefits for you.
Tips to being more mindful with co-workers
It is important for you to understand how mindfulness can benefit your relationships at work and how to be more mindful when you interact with others. When you are mindful, you are more emotionally balanced, allowing you to react to others in a more professional and empathetic manner. Let’s face it we are social beings and the workplace is one of many social situations where we have and need relationships. In-fact relationships are critical to work.
Here are some tips to assist you in building more mindful interactions with others:
Be aware of your ego
Often our reactions or unhealthy relationship tendencies stem from our ego, an unhealthy one. An unhealthy ego can mean we take things too personally, become defensive, arrogant and play the victim. Using mindfulness to grow your self-awareness you can cultivate a healthy ego with positive self-talk and reacting from a place of genuine empathy rather than fear. Be aware of the feeling when your unhealthy ego wants to kick in. A mindful/healthy ego can observe what is happening to them, not react, and return their attention back to the other person, fully listening and not conjuring up their response.
Start meetings with mindfulness
Begin meetings, whether in person or online, with 60 seconds for everyone to really arrive and center themselves. This gives people the opportunity to bring their best selves to the meeting, both mentally and emotionally. It gives you the opportunity to clear away the clutter of the day and be really there.
Practice mindful listening
Mindful listening goes beyond active listening, it is the act of shutting out noise and distractions to give someone your full attention. As Jon Kabatt-Zinn said, when mindful it is about “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”. The average person only remembers a quarter of what was said in a conversation, the goal of mindful listening is to silence your own internal noise and external distractions to hear the entire message. Try to be present, aware of your own triggers and cultivate empathy.
Give others your full attention
Embody mindfulness and pay full attention to others, that means minimizing distractions and making a point of focusing on them. Wouldn’t you like to feel heard and validated without someone taking calls, texting or surging on social media in your presence. Stay present and practice non-judgement in your interactions.
Accept yourself and others
It sounds like a lot of work, accepting yourself. But once you do, it becomes easier to accept others. Acceptance is the fundamental building block of trust in a relationship and fosters understanding between you and others. If you interact with others in a judgmental way, it’s likely they will resist your points of view and probably disregard the valuable insights of any interaction with the judgements.
Show coworkers’ appreciation
In order to appreciate others, we need to show them we appreciate them which in turn enhances and deepens our relationships. At work this can look as simple as praising and showing confidence in someone else’s point of view or a piece of work. Try to find ways to praise someone aside from performance, such as their positive attitude on a project or their other contributions at work. By showing appreciation you can build trust and respect.
About Jessica Brownlee
Jessica is an industrial and organizational psychologist specializing in learning, leadership, talent, neuroscience and wellness. A self-proclaimed wellness geek, Jessica writes The Humble Humanologist blog to inspire, motivate and uplift others on their work and wellness journey. She is her own boss, running a consulting company, Psychology360 (www.psychology360.org) and consults globally to some of the leading organizations. Jessica also strives to find balance and is an avid yogi and yoga teacher (who is yet to master a hand stand).