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10 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness to Your Work Day ~reprise

May 17, 2012

This post consistently ranks #1 on this blog.

The topic of mindfulness seems to pop up with more and more of our clients. True, there is the buzzword effect, but I believe that on some level there’s a growing sense of how scattered and overwhelmed people feel. The new gold standard of work is becoming better able to focus more intently and resist constant distractions. How do I do that, they ask. There’s also a longing for calm, serenity and peace. Even for those people I meet who claim they don’t have 5 minutes to themselves, the lure of rest and renewal is enticing.

Hope this article finds new readers – and for those who follow the blog, hope you’ll benefit from a re-read.

Tools – give me tools

That’s what most of the people I 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, attention 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 require 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 others’ 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. I 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 which triggers the threat response. 
  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 with cumulative rewards.

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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8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2012 6:38 am

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing about such an important and tranformational topic for the workplace. I agree that mindfulness and meditation are a key components to creating change at work and in our lives.

    • May 24, 2012 7:29 am

      Hi Beth,
      Thanks very much for your comment and support. I believe that we’re just at the beginning of seeing these ideas become integrated into
      the workplace. If that happens, some sort of transformation in how we think, feel and behave at work will be inevitable.
      Best,
      Louise

  2. June 5, 2012 3:26 am

    Hi Louise, Brilliant article. One of my goals is to get mindfulness practice more assimilated into the workplace. What a kinder, more productive and joyful place that would then be.

    • June 5, 2012 6:25 pm

      Hi Jenny,
      Thanks so much for your generous comment and recognition. This article had been very well received and I hope that’s due to a growing interest in the subject.
      Although I think we’re a long way from widespread assimilation of the topic, the glimmer of progress is there. And I have no question that a KINDER (to self and other) AND more productive work experience would be realized by all.
      Pleased to have you as a partner in this quest.

      Warmly,
      Louise

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