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10 Ways to Bring Mindfulness to Your Work Day

November 11, 2010

still

 

Tools – give me tools

 That’s what most of the people we meet in the workplace want – tools. Tools to be more efficient, productive, effective and less stressed. Often what they want are solutions to complex problems – more often what they want is out of their control.

 So the question becomes – is there a master tool?  If so much of what people want at work is control – is there a “tool” to help them?

Well – there is no tool or formula or magic to control other people – or events that can often feel random and overwhelming.  However, there is one tool we have that is within our domain to control – and its power is being explored and revealed by an ever-growing body of research – and that is mindfulness.

 Mindfulness, a concept and practice inherited from Buddhist traditions, has found its way into mainstream psychology and medicine – and slowly into the workplace.

The benefits of mindfulness are many – and the list keeps getting longer: help with depression,  alleviation of pain,  quicker recovery from surgery, relationship issues, help with sleep problems, eating disorders, anxiety and phobia issues and overall stress management.

The “magic” of mindfulness is that it rearranges neural networks.  Cutting edge science continues to prove this in powerful ways.   And the truly exciting news is that power comes from us. We are the tool 

What is Mindfulness?

 As earlier stated – mindfulness is a concept and a practice.  While there is no set definition it can best be described as:

Paying focused attention
On purpose
Without judgment
To the experience of the present moment

This definition comes from mindfulness pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Western Buddhist practitioner who founded the renowned Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

According to Kabat-Zinn, at its essence, mindfulness is the “confluence of intention, attention and present time experience.”  It is the awareness of awareness.

Daniel Stern, author of The Present Moment in Psychology and Everyday Life, defines the present moment as being approximately three seconds – between three and ten. And in describing Stern’s work, author Ruth Cohn explains, “many functions in nature and culture that occupy such intervals of time: an exchange of communication between infant and caregiver, a cycle of breath inhaled and exhaled, a musical phrase, a conversational “turn.” Perhaps the moment of now is an essential ingredient in the operating system of our design.” 

Bringing the Benefits of Mindfulness to Our Work

 Developing mindfulness in everyday life takes effort. Many related practices (meditation, yoga, some martial arts, time spent away from media and technology, time spent in the natural world) will help to cultivate mindfulness. But the mind needs the focus and consistency of a regular practice if it is to undo old neural patterns and learn new ones.

For many, the workplace is one of the most stressful places in their lives. Pressures are constant. Differences, even non-conflictual ones, among people requires lots of neural energy to manage.  Most people in this culture work too many hours, often without any breaks.  Many workers operate in a low – level flight or fight mode. Out of touch with feelings and the thinking patterns that reinforce stress and anxiety, many people constantly “re-trigger” those negative habits throughout the day. Mindfulness practice offers the possibilities of mental and emotional rest, despite the events that surface in the average workday.  

10 Ways to Practice

 

  1. Make a commitment to practice. The first step is to become more aware of being aware.  Essentially mindfulness is the art of being an observor of your self – your thoughts, feelings and your behaviors. As the definition above states – without judgment)
  2. Start slowly – today I will become more aware of _________ and practice by placing your attention on that. 
  3. Start each day with a few minutes of conscious awareness. Breathing is the key to opening up your awareness. Instead of jumping right out of bed into your routine, take a few minutes to notice how you feel and consciously set your intentions for the day.
  4. If your tendency is to move at a very quick pace while getting your day started, focus on slowing  yourself down.  Even if you have to get many things done in a short time frame – you can control the racing to-do list in your mind. This will help regulate your energy in a different way.
  5. In the course of your work, practice really listening to others. This requires you to shift your energy to the other person and take the focus off you and your mental to-do list, even for a few minutes.
  6. Consider ways to recognize other’s accomplishments, needs, difficulties and practice small, simple acts of empathy and kindness that may lighten their load. They have loads too!
  7. Pay close attention to your body language. The way we use our body has a powerful effect on closing our attention down – or opening it up. We can’t stress enough the value and importance of being aware of how you breathe.
  8. Watch your language – the words you use cue your physiology. When you tell a colleague that you are “slammed” in terms of work – you are signaling your brain that it is having or about to have an unpleasant experience.
  9. Take a few minutes to identify what you would like your outcome to be in certain interactions – an important call, email or meeting. Most of us find ourselves in the midst of interpersonal situations with no idea of what we really want. In other words – know your intention.
  10. Find some time, at the end of your workday or in the evening for self-reflection.  It’s challenging to do this without judgment. Discernment and judgment are very different.  Practice noticing without judging.

I didn’t say this was easy.  That’s why it’s called a practice. We get the chance to do it over and over until we can perceive the little shifts and changes that evolve into habits. 

There is a power in mindfulness that you can tap into. It’s all up to you.

 

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2010 6:25 am

    Thanks for this post. We can’t have too many reminders about mindfulness, and I really worry that too many of us are “dismissing” this concept b/c we hear about it a lot. That would be a great mistake – as there is a hidden golden nugget here if we could only be disciplined in our practice. (I’m preaching to myself) Thanks again. I find your posts very meaningful. ~Terry

    • November 13, 2010 9:14 am

      Hi Terry,
      We write this to remind ourselves, too! Yes, mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword (an up and down side to that but I think mostly up) but few are doing the practice. It is so easy to stay distracted. I try to imagine a world where even 10% of us would practice mindful living – it would transform the culture – create more good feeling workplaces. Imagine what THAT would do to productivity?? Most workers in this culture work so hard, but sadly work from a very depleted place emotionally.
      Appreciate the comments – and the appreciation…
      Best, Louise

  2. November 25, 2010 6:01 am

    Nice!

    I too like your “to do” list.

    I am mindfully grateful today.

    Enjoy the day.

    Lynda

  3. November 25, 2010 11:16 am

    Hi Lynda,
    thanks for the comment – glad you liked the “to do.”

    I guess another way of practicing mindfulness is to grateful in that we bring attention to what “is” right now!

    Gratefully,
    Louise

  4. Merrinell permalink
    October 18, 2011 1:52 pm

    Nice reminders. I’m preparing a seminar on Mindfulness in the Workplace and will certainly incorporate some of you thoughts and give reference to this site.

    Breathing

    • October 18, 2011 4:30 pm

      We can’t have enought seminars on bringing more mindfulness into the workplace. Best of luck on yours!
      Thanks for commenting and subscribing!
      Louise

  5. May 9, 2012 4:11 am

    Thank you for a timely and comprehensive article! The world truly needs more mindfulness, in and out of the workplace.

    I have an additional tip to add if I may, for those who may be new to the concepts. What I’ve found in teaching mindfulness to others is that an important anchor was missing for some of them because mindfulness requires letting go of some habits that are, well, not mindful. This would leave them feeling a sense of disconnect, especially if their perceived self connection had been high on the anxiety or depression scale. My tip is to first outline core value(s) and come from that space. For a really rough example this could look like: “From a point of honesty, I observe the present moment without judgement”.

    • May 10, 2012 10:38 am

      Hi Tracy
      Appreciate your thoughtful comment. You make a good point and add a valuable point – letting go of less “mindful” habits does often leave
      a void. Most of us are unaware of how these neurally wired habits are emotional investments – whether they serve us or not.
      Uncoupling from these habits takes conscious effect and consistent attention. New cognitive strategies must be formed.

      Very pleased you liked the post! Hope you will stop by again.

      Best
      Louise

  6. Chris permalink
    November 15, 2012 5:22 pm

    I used to be quite mindful, and practiced it frequently, but in recent days i have found i’ve grown out of the habits I once had. I’m trying to reestablish myself again because I got great value from when I was practicing.

  7. johanna mcintosh permalink
    January 9, 2013 6:55 am

    Loved the article. I find that to remind myself to practice is tough (I guess that is mindful in itself.) Try this link to themindfulness bell http://www.fungie.info/bell/#. You can set it to ring at any time intervals and then you have that reminder to be mindful

    • January 9, 2013 9:33 am

      Johanna,
      I’m glad you liked the article and yes, the remembering is the challenge.

      All the best,
      Louise
      PS thanks for the mindfulness bell. It’s “activated.”

  8. March 15, 2013 8:44 am

    Excellent ways to practice mindfullness. Thank you! To slow things down, I like to reduce my walking speed on the way to the next meeting. Breathing deeply it helps me to calm down and become present.

    • March 15, 2013 8:49 am

      Hi Philipp,

      Thanks for commenting. I love the idea of walking slower. The Buddhists, of course, have a long tradition of walking meditation which simply means, walking mindfully. Imagine a world full of mindful walkers. I think of today’s urban streets filled with people rushing everywhere (even to buy a quart of milk or get a coffee) never looking up, glued to their mobiles. I often remind me that the walk to the meeting is the chance of remind ourselves to enter the room – and the conversation mindfully. Glad you brought that up.

      Best, Louise

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