There is a lot of talk lately about Mindfulness. There are books and magazines (Mindful is available at Whole Foods), articles and classes. Just recently a Mindfulness Center opened in a strip mall near my office. Mindfulness is taught in schools, in hospitals, and it is used in pain recovery and healing centers. Recently, the American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association (APA) devoted an entire issue to mindfulness. There is even a meditation smart-phone app, Headspace. My Apple Watch is always reminding me to slow down and Breathe.
What is Mindfulness and What Role Does it Have in the Workplace?
Mindfulness has many definitions, but most consider it a state of mind of deep awareness of what is going on around and within you. Sounds surprisingly simple, but in practice, our modern minds have evolved to focus on quick decisions, sometimes at the expense of this awareness. If a lion is attacking, we can’t sit and contemplate that, we just need to know to run. In much the same way, we have developed routine ways to approach our personal and work situations, under the constant barrage of stress that comes with modern life. During a typical day, the client is yelling for a report, the kids are late for practice, I forgot to get milk, and the car needs new breaks. Modern life requires us to make immediate decisions while multi-tasking through the day.
Mindfulness strives to cultivate a deeper sense of awareness in the mind. Not to slow down our reactions or diminish our ability to handle stress and modern responsibilities, but to add to the way we approach such things by allowing us access to deeper levels of consciousness. Even though our modern minds are trained to react quickly, there is much more that can be accomplished if we are also operating with a more aware, mindful approach.
In the last decade, empirical studies have been performed which show the positive effects of mindfulness in the workplace. According to Harvard Business Review (Schaufenbuel, 2015) many companies now offer mindfulness programs and courses to employees. Companies with such programs include: Google, Aetna, General Mills, Target and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Mindfulness techniques are also being integrated into some emerging leadership theories, where self-awareness is considered a paramount feature of successful leadership.
What can you do? Mindfulness needs to be cultivated. Much like the body needs to be trained to run a marathon, our mind needs to be trained for mindfulness. Below are some suggestions you can try, to begin to integrate mindfulness techniques into your workday (adapted from Dhiman, S., 2009). It takes time to develop a strength of mind. Give it a try!
Ways to Be Mindful During the Workday
- Take between five and forty minutes in the morning to be quiet and meditate. Sit or lie down and be with yourself. Gaze out the window, listen to the sounds of nature or the city, take a slow quiet walk where you won’t be too disturbed.
- While sitting at your desk or other workspace, pay attention to bodily sensations, again consciously attempt to relax and rid yourself of excess tension.
- At lunchtime, don’t stay at your workspace; instead, try changing your environment.
- Stop for one to three minutes every hour during the workday. Become aware of your breathing and bodily sensations, allowing your mind to settle. Use it as a time to regroup and recoup.
- Take some time at lunch or other moments in the day to speak with some of the people you work with. Try choosing topics that are not work related.
- At the end of the workday, try retracing your day’s activities [in your mind], acknowledge and congratulate yourself for what you’ve accomplished.
- Dhiman, S. (2009). Mindfulness in life and leadership: An exploratory survey. Interbeing, 3(1), 55-80.
- Schaufenbuel, 2015. Why Google, Target, and General Mills are Investing in Mindfulness. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/12/why-google-target-and-general-mills-are-investing-in-mindfulness