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Mindfulness at Work
By Suja Johnkutty
Have you ever found yourself at work functioning on autopilot?
It’s happened to me. I wake up and head to the office like an automaton until one day I realized that without mindfulness at work, I was less productive, just doing things for the sake of it and feeling absolutely unfulfilled even though this was my passion.
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What Is Mindfulness Training?
Mindfulness is living in the moment or having a conscious awareness of what you’re doing right now. Often, we drive to work and get through the workday, without being fully aware of the moment, without consciously realizing where we are and how we’re going about it.
Mindfulness is not something that happens automatically. It requires a continuous, conscious effort to choose to live in the moment. Being busy is somehow worn as a badge of honor. And in all that ‘busyness,’ we’re constantly chasing the next deadline, the future client, the better fish, and the next promotion. In all that “busyness” we forget to savor the moment. Mindfulness at work can help you bring each moment, each task, every activity through a more appreciative lens.
So how can we be more mindful at work? Especially when another email brings about more work, a phone call distracts us from the task we’re currently doing or another meeting yields more things for the to-do list. We’re constantly distracted and it can be hard to focus. Now before you brush this off as hocus-pocus, let me point out to you, that mindfulness meditation is now recommended by psychiatrists. At Oxford University, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), was developed by Professors Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale. Oxford neuroscience has used it in the treatment of depression and stress reduction.
How To Practice Mindfulness Meditation At Work
At work, it’s going to be hard to find a quiet place and it’s not necessary to be quiet. Just find a place to sit. It could be at your desk or the restroom. It could be by the window overlooking the city or the rooftop garden. Here are a few beginning steps on how to be mindful.
- Just sit and set aside this time. If the phone is ringing, feel the anxiety to answer it and let it pass.
- Observe this present moment.
- Feel your breath. Inhale and exhale fully.
- Notice your body, where are your hands, feet, hair, ears…
- Observe your thoughts, the feeling they evoke, and the decisions. Let them roll over.
- Bring yourself back to the present moment. Feel the air, smell it, watch the clouds, watch yourself in relation to them.
- Your mind will be distracted repeatedly. Don’t be hard on yourself, simply bring yourself back to the present moment.
- Be in the here and now.
Do this as many times as you can. Through every task and activity that you do, center yourself and bring your mind to the present moment. Don’t think about what you will do next, just focus on the here and now. This self-regulation can help you function more effectively, as you increase your focus and concentration. Over time, by being mindful you’ll start seeing results with increased practice.
What Are The Benefits Of Meditation?
Clinical trials have already shown that mindfulness meditation has multiple benefits for the human body. Some of the conditions they’ve been effective for include, pain, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, ulcerative colitis, insomnia, depression, anxiety disorders, smoking cessation, and many others. Research is ongoing, as to how mindfulness meditation can help people with fibromyalgia, alcohol dependence, and asthma. However, mindfulness in the workplace has several advantages through regular mindfulness meditation.
The first is stress reduction. Did you know that corporations such as Google, Adobe, General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Mayo Clinic, and Target, all have a formal mindfulness meditation program? Their main aim was to combat stress in the workplace.
The University of Westminster conducted a study and found that being mindful increased self-confidence among leaders, and improved individual skills.
Feelings of Empowerment
Research has shown that employees don’t feel squashed or sidelined despite controlling bosses if they practice mindfulness. Instead, they feel empowered as they go about doing their work.
Increased Attention and Focus
This doesn’t require research. If you’re mindful and present at the work you’re doing at every moment, your confused is sharper and your attention span improves with time.
With improved attention and focus, your brain is free to think divergently. Divergent thinking is what makes people more creative. Mindfulness meditation can improve divergent thinking that allows you to think innovatively as your brain is free of distractions.
The skill of problem-solving depends on how uncluttered your mind is. If your brain is multitasking it might be hard to focus on a problem. Left free of distractions, you may be able to apply all your faculties to a particular problem and look at it with a fresh perspective that can yield solutions.
Empathy and Adaptability
Adaptability at the workplace is super important, especially when priorities shift multiple times a day. In a fast-paced work culture, there are often new demands, almost hourly that require our attention. By practicing mindfulness at work, you find it’s easier to adapt and be flexible. No longer are you in a rush to answer the latest email or do the new task that has been dumped on your desk at the last minute. As you are more mindful, you can prioritize, and adapt to the day without losing your mind. It also makes you more empathic to other people. Since you’re mindful, it’s easy for you to put yourself in other people’s shoes and do the right thing.
What Are Some Examples Of Mindfulness Exercises?
To help you get started on mindfulness meditation, we’ve drawn up a list of a few mindfulness at work exercises you can practice. They don’t require fancy equipment, just space and yourself.
Increase your awareness of the moment. Use all your five senses to experience your surroundings. Be consciously present. By this, I mean choose to be present and attentive.
Live In The Moment
Focus on the here and now. It’s easy to let your mind drift to that impending client meeting four hours later, your argument with the boss yesterday and the targets you have to chase this quarter. You must accept to live in the moment without letting yourself get carried away by the past or the future.
Don’t be self-deprecating. Accept who you are. Accept that we all have a wandering mind, that a million thoughts will race through our minds as we meditate. Accept that we make mistakes and we learn from them. Don’t beat up yourself over the past or worry too much about the future. Accept the way things are, the way people are and don’t attempt to change anyone but yourself. Be kind, above all to yourself. Allow yourself to be less than perfect.
Focus On Your Breathing
Breathing is a huge part of meditation. Have you paid attention to your breath? It happens so automatically that we take it for granted. Have you counted how many seconds you inhale or exhale? Focus on your breathing. Breathe fully, empty out your lungs, fill them to capacity and do it again, doing so for longer and longer as you participate in it. Throughout the day, if you can’t be mindful, simply focusing on your breathing can make a huge difference to your mindfulness. These are also known as mindfulness breathing exercises.
Body Scan Meditation
This meditation requires you to lie down with and by your sides. From head to toe, become consciously aware of every part of your body, where it lies, how it lies, how it feels, the sensations over your skin there and the emotions you associate with it. Here’ an audio version of body scan meditation by Jon Kabat Zinn himself, the creator of the mindfulness stress reduction program.
In the sitting meditation, you sit down, with your hands folded in your lap. You place your feet flat on the floor and gradually become aware of your body from head to foot like the previous meditation.
I personally love walking meditation. There’s so much to focus on while you walk. As you walk on a flat surface, for about twenty to thirty feet, make yourself aware of how your hands swing and your legs move. Focus on how you get this complex task done without so much as blinking even though your opposite hand and footwork together to keep your balance. Feel the breeze on your skin, and the way your body makes its way through the walk. You’ll find a surge or creativity and endorphins after a walking meditation.
The Present Moment
How To Be Present?
A pocketful of the present! That’s all each of us really has.
If you’re not focused on the present moment, you’re enslaved to time. You’re either hung up on the past or caged to a future that is yet to come. Your thoughts and actions will be dictated by them. Instead, if you choose to be present when you choose to not simply exist but live. Instead of becoming a creature of habit you can choose how to act in the present moment by being more mindful.
Work Is Stressful, Find Focus
40% of Americans complain about how stressful their life is at work thanks to the workload. 42% believe that yelling and verbal abuse is common. We all wish our horrible bosses would simply get fired or go away, but who are we kidding? Learning how to deal with stress and finding focus at work is up to us. The study done on MBCT and its systematic review revealed that participants of this program had reduced levels of emotional exhaustion, burnout, stress, psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress. They also found people who practiced mindfulness, had increased personal accomplishment, more (occupational) self-compassion, improved quality of sleep, and were more relaxed. So how can we practice mindfulness at work? Here are a few key ways.
Use Short Mindful Exercises At Work
Be a Single-Tasker
Everyone raves about how they can multitask. It seems like a virtue in the corporate world. When the reality is that no-one can really do it. What their brain is doing, is constantly switching from one activity to the next, losing data and time in the process. A study at Ohio State University of multitaskers has shown that students who did it “felt” they were more productive, even though they weren’t. Chalk out blocks of time and assign yourself a task to accomplish in that time period. Keep a journal and review your achievements in all your time blocks throughout the day.
Use Mindful Reminders
It’s easy to say be mindful, but since it’s something that has to be done consciously you may actually forget to do so! Remind yourself about being mindful. These reminders could be an hourly alarm reminder, or a carved reminder rock, a sticker on your board or a particular ringtone on your phone. With mindful reminders, you will remember to stay in the present moment.
Slow Down To Speed Up
We all sleep because rest recharges our brains and renews us. With rest, our brains get to slow down in order to do more. We’re not recommending that you sleep at work to be more mindful, just that you should slow down. Stop being in such a haste to go nowhere. Don’t rush to answer a phone call, listen when someone’s talking, focus on the timbre of their voice, take as much time as you need to do a good job instead of hashing it just to meet a deadline. As you slow down, you’ll find your efficiency increase.
There are various gratitude meditations to help you be thankful for small delights. For waking up, for your heart beating without question a million times and so many more. Expressing gratitude does affect the general well-being of a person. There are so many benefits to being grateful and the research proves it. With gratitude, you can deal with the negativity, the misfortunes, and the failures of life simply because you’re more mindful of the many good things you have. And so the vicious circle of negativity ends and you tend to become a happy person.
Studies have shown that mindfulness is positively related to servant leadership qualities of standing back, humility and authenticity. Great leaders tend to be humble. This is because humility requires a great deal of self-awareness. The people who are self-aware tend to be thankful to those who’ve helped them and appreciate those who have positively helped them, being modest about their own accomplishments.
Accept What You Can’t Change
You can’t change anyone but yourself. Being mindful of that and your own self, you realize that you can only work on improving yourself. Not the boss, or your co-worker or even your client. You must be mindful of each moment and yourself and that somethings won’t change despite your efforts but how you react to it can and that will shape your interactions and behavior.
Adopt a Growth Mindset
As you are more mindful you won’t be fixated on particulars. Your entire focus is on growth and self-improvement. You improve as you learn instead of striving for perfection and a fixed mindset. The goal of a growth mindset is to try again and again. You’ll feel safe to make mistakes and reflect on what went wrong and why. Growth mindset through mindfulness is being used by sports teams and Olympic athletes. Maybe you can use the same to achieve your personal goals and dreams, no matter how big or small. With mindfulness, you are willing to embrace new challenges and become better as your main goal is to grow and improve over time. You’re not afraid to fail!
Listen To A Guided Breathing Exercise
To help you do mindfulness meditation, here’s a guided breathing exercise. This is a good example of how you can start. Gradually, you can develop your own long-form meditation. When you find your mind straying, simply refocus on your breathing and return to the present moment. You may be itching to get to an email or start work at your desk, just realize that nine hours await where people and work will compete for your attention. The meditation is only ten minutes that you want to invest in yourself. Ten minutes of undivided attention on you.
Can You Be More Mindful At Work?
Now that you’ve learned about mindfulness tips at work, how do you plan on going about it?
You can start small. Perhaps, a five-minute meditation before you start your day. You can carve out timed breaks every hour where you bring yourself to the present moment.
Remember to be gentle with your wandering mind. There’s no success or failure here. Over time, the results of your meditation will accrue. So how about giving mindfulness meditation a try and tell us how it helped you.
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Suja is the recharge coach for busy to burned out professionals helping them multiply their better relaxation time. She is trained in both neurology and psychiatry and is a high-performance coach. Her specialty is helping professionals overcome burnout, apathy and income stagnation. Her clients benefit from powerful mindset techniques, wellness practices and tactical guidance, so they go from feeling empty and broke to creating happiness in their lives. This means showing up more fully for themselves, their patients or clients and their families, while working well-paying, fulfilling, REASONABLE hours. She’s living proof.