Seven Tips to Grow Mindfulness at Work
Mindfulness is at the forefront of solutions recommended for our fast-moving and changing world. It has its own magazines, apps, books, and is frequently touted in the media, and of course by its practitioners and trainers. As always, along with celebrity, myths also develop.
Let’s clear the air before we take a deep breath of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not new. Mindfulness, as we know it today is derived from Buddhist tradition of sati, and its practices from Zen and Tibetan techniques. As a matter of fact, it was in 1881 that the term “mindfulness” was used as a synonym for “attention,” which is an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati.
Neither is mindfulness is “woo-woo” or “flaky.” The psychiatric and psychological fields have developed a number of successful therapies based on mindfulness in the last 50 years. Based on ancient methods for “calming the mind,” they have been able to help people with depression, anxiety and a host of other maladies and credibility and popularity in the West a while ago.
Moreover, mindfulness is not about stopping to smell the roses. Instead, it is a psychological process of tuning into your emotions, thoughts and the resulting sensations, to understand what is going on within you without judgement.
Using simple techniques, in as little as 3-minutes, it can help to focus and expand mental and emotional capacity, while strengthening your ability to recover more quickly from — as well as reduce — stress, and improve decision-making in both the workplace and in life.
Neuroscience has proven that the continued practice thickens the area of the brain involved in these activities. It is very similar to weight training for strength. And while continued practice builds the appropriate muscles, a few tips are always handy in the mental gym.
1. Turn off the Auto-Pilot
Become present with yourself: Ninety-five per cent of your decisions, actions and reactions come directly from your subconscious. To raise awareness, start being mindful of what is happening in your mind. Get started by observing. Pick an activity you do several times in your workday, or set a few alarms, to act as a trigger.
- Become present with your surroundings: Our environment impacts our thoughts and feelings. By become aware of what is happening around you, you will be better able to understand what is happening within you.
- Silence the judge: One of the most important aspects of mindfulness is observing without judgement. That means not judging yourself or others. Whatever you are thinking or feeling, simply accept it as your thoughts or feelings. It is neither good or bad, nor right or wrong. It just is.
- Become aware: The next step in understanding what is going on in your mind is recording it. I recommend using a Mindfulness Tracking Sheet or Journal
2. Manage Your Emotions
Anger and frustration are very human responses when you’re experiencing difficulty with other people. Unfortunately, unbridled emotions tend to make things worse instead of better. Remember, however, that you can manage your emotional responses, even if you can’t manage those of other people. Not surprisingly, practicing mindfulness makes you more consciously aware of what triggers your own emotional state and how to better regulate and manage it. Your measured responses are likely to have beneficial effects on others’ reactions.
3. Manage Your Stress
Many jobs start out with what is called eustress — a moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer. Unfortunately, due to both work and non-work-related circumstances, as well as personal resilience, eustress very often this evolves into distress. Distress is stress that is excessive, prolonged, and destructive.
Mindfulness is proven to be a stress reducer. Daily mindfulness can enable you to pick up on the early feelings of excessive stress. This can be your trigger to take steps to cope, as well as to build your resilience muscle. Everyone will experience stress at times. Mindfulness practitioners are making the choice to reduce how long the stress affects them, and to improve the shape they are in when the stressors are gone.
4. Practice Mindful Communication
Mindful communication is a game changer, in terms of relationships everywhere. In the workplace the barriers to communication include disinterest, interruption, focus, body language, lack of clarity and, sometimes, dishonesty. Mindful communications start with becoming present and clearing the mind of distractions. Be aware that your body language indicates that you are fully present and listening. Know the intention of the conversation, whether the speaker or the listener. Clarify rather than make assumptions about the meaning you understand, and any actions and responses that are the result of the conversation.
Even if you are not able to give the person what they wanted, studies have proven that being listened to, really listened to, makes up for many disappointments.
5. Stop Trying to Multi-Task
Studies at Stanford University shows that multitasking kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy, as well as cognitive and emotional control.
Doing each task mindfully, allows better recall, to understand and formulate appropriate responses, and to get done faster than if you were multitasking.
f you get bored doing one thing for a long time, you can still uni-task via a timer. Set it to anywhere from 20 minutes to 55 minutes, to work on one task. Take a 5-minute break in between each task for a mindful clearing exercise.
6. Focus Intent for Productivity
One of the most productive mindful practice is that of being intentional. If you are clear on what you want from your day, your relationship, your job, a conversation, or anything you are involved in, there is a much better chance of actually achieving it. The technique I favour is to write my most important intentions in order to identify what could stop me fulfilling the intention, and formulating alternatives and contingency plans to keep me on track.
7. Elevate Conflict Management
While conflict is a fact of life, it can damage relationships. Similarly, avoiding conflict by leaving things unsaid can create resentments, anxiety and further tension, which can also negatively impact relationships. This makes mindfulness invaluable in dealing with conflict, if you:
- Step into the present moment with an open mind;
- Consciously free yourself from past baggage for this meeting;
- Leave the judge out of the meeting, as best as you can;
- Don’t assume, and always clarify, even if you believe you know what was meant;
- Deal with any issues that arise if and when they actually do so; and
- Make sure your body language is open and respectful.
A Caveat in VUCA Times
In the last 10 years the role of mindfulness in the workplace has become an important topic for researchers and recent studies show significant improvements in well-being, job satisfaction, job performance and emotional regulation as a result of mindfulness.
However, it would be erroneous to leave you with the impression that mindfulness is THE answer. Mindfulness is part of the answer for employers and employees looking for productivity, wellbeing and engagement in the workplace. The whole picture is an interweaving of self-awareness, motivation, mindfulness, resilience and emotional intelligence.
All of those soft skills are necessary to navigate the Vulnerable, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in. As technology continues to grow and dominate, it is the understanding of ourselves as humans and our desires, that will be the currency of our future.
Akeela Davis is a productivity, engagement and cultural strategist at courageousbusinessculture.com. Using Motivational Map diagnostic surveys, she co-creates solutions for optimal outcomes.
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