Mindfulness @ Work

By Rob Hershorn, PhD

Any discussion of mindfulness must begin by considering both workplace wellness and the well-being of our society as a whole.

Being Mindful of Fulfillment?
When we look at personal wellness, we need to ask whether people are realizing a balance between their personal lives and within their workplace cultures. Are they experiencing fulfilling, supportive, trusting friendships that bring joy?

Of equal importance is noting whether work provides us with necessary challenges, a sense of overwhelm or barriers for growth—and how we manage the inevitable stress that comes with such adversity. If we place this in a broader context, to what extent do we as a society realize what we need to be fulfilled?

If we had the opportunity to answer this question accurately, we might get a clearer picture of the state of our collective wellness. Even those with some soft skill mastery who claim to be satisfied in most areas of their lives, have days that seem unmanageable, where stress gets the better of them. This is perhaps why mindfulness is so central to any discussion of how we shift our perspective of where we might find ourselves as individuals at any given point in time regardless of our circumstances.

Definition Into Action
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, mindfulness can be described as: “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment…to create a feeling of calm.”

There are many definitions of mindfulness that highlight or expand upon any component of the definition we find here. For these words to have meaning however, we need to closely consider what we can put into practice related directly to where we’re at in a given moment.

The words “present moment” within the definition strike me as the most significant. After all, it is the only moment we have to be in—whether in social situations, working on a given project professionally or living any component of our lives for that matter. Still, while we know conceptually that what occurs “now” is fleeting, we are still challenged—finding our thoughts circling back to the recent or distant past or fabricating future, unwanted scenarios.

Being the Active Observer
If, as mindfulness practitioners advocate, we practice “being aware,” we can become an observer to our own thoughts and feelings, and, with time, transform them. Such a process is a long journey, but is realizable with a commitment to developing the discipline that this practice requires.

Many mindfulness practitioners such as Sharon Salzberg or Jack Kornfield have been long-term meditators, spending time in the East and cultivating their practice over decades. Through their writings and talks, they’ve done an incredible job of making their experiences accessible to the everyday Westerner. While mindfulness is often associated with meditation, there can be equal benefit in other mind-body techniques such as tai chi and deep breathing.

In fact, many people have gained a deeper sense of self through immersion in a creative, athletic or artistic endeavour. So, we can stretch the potential for “presence” beyond self-awareness to include activities that spark joy. Within such endeavours, joy is heightened in the moment of engagement, with deeper self-awareness as a by-product.

Any of these practices when coupled with a commitment to observing oneself as we’re moving through our daily routines have the potential to dramatically shift our patterns.

Personal Benefits of Mindfulness
As we develop more self-awareness through deepening our mindfulness practice, we tend to respectfully respond to others more and react less. For example, if in the past you were more likely to internalize the pressure of a team deadline by adding an internal dialogue that was self-condemning, developing a mindfulness practice can dissolve the internal critic. Over time, as your practice deepens, you will feel be more trusting that your work will be completed on time and with ease.

If you often overreact to things that people say which you perceive to be insulting, you might find yourself noticing that tendency to react, pause, breath deeply and respond in a neutral, harmonious way. What’s more, there is a level of detachment realized, regardless of what the other person’s original intention may have been. This may be viewed as a degree of presence serving to harmonize dynamics that may have otherwise spiraled downward.

Organizational Gains of Mindfulness
While benefits of a mindfulness practice can certainly transform the lives of individuals, when introduced by a skilled practitioner, it can help entire workplace teams grow tremendously. In some cases, small changes can be applied that can provide tremendous results over time.

For example, before your team pushes ahead with work, gather each member and have them each briefly share a particular strategy, practice or point of focus that they might anticipate would help them realize success throughout their day. Similarly, regularly reflecting on insights gained, new productive collaborations or revised approaches provides ideas for future refinement. All of this comes back to deepening self-awareness, being in the moment more often and by extension responsive to our colleagues needs.

Self-Compassion Required
While mindfulness/self-awareness practices are important, well known educational psychology professor Kristin Neff suggests a way to truly make them expansive. She suggests that the process and overall journey becomes easier with self-compassion. This means releasing judgment or condemnation in times of work or otherwise. With a little more kindness to ourselves our experience becomes more joyous and fulfilling, naturally deepening our relationships with others over time.

Self-compassion does not mean being complacent or straying from our goals. It does mean being our own best supportive foundation no matter what unexpected twists or bumps are experienced along the way. Our self-compassion can increase as well, once we acknowledge that adversity is a universal part of the human condition.

Whether in solitary moments, team building activities, or as part of the collective, we can take small steps to deepen self-awareness. After all, furthering the momentum towards socially-conscious workplace cultures and inclusive team building depends on it.

Why not deepen your own mindfulness and harness the potential of real wellness at work, socially and in the community at large?

Dr. Rob Hershorn, PhD, a workplace culture facilitator providing authentic leadership and teambuilding skills to organizations and individuals alike. He transforms interpersonal dynamics from conflict to resolution through soft skill and awareness techniques. His work has improved the working relationships for HR and Project Management professionals within private and public organizations.

Neff, Kristin, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, Harper Collins, 2011.

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