Mindfulness is one of the newest business buzzwords around the proverbial water cooler. If you are a Type A personality like us, you may have the idea that mindfulness involves sitting cross-legged for hours trying (and most likely failing) to empty your mind of everything superfluous and meditating on the great mysteries of life. Well, you’d be wrong. Today, we’re digging into the meaning behind the buzzword – what is mindfulness and how can you practically implement it in your life? First, let’s paint a picture to make this a little more real…
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting across from an old friend catching up on life. Maybe you’re hugging a cup of coffee and enjoying the rich aroma and the feeling of being with someone you enjoy when all of the sudden your mind wanders to the vacation you’re taking with your family that weekend.
Before you know it, you’re caught in the vortex of your to-do list… renting a car, finalizing your scuba plans with the family, and buying a birthday gift for Aunt Janice’s party because you know she’ll make it rough if you don’t show up with a thoughtful gift. You’re abruptly called back to the moment when your friend innocently says, “So, what do you think?” You realize you haven’t heard what they said for the last 3 minutes. What happened to the beautiful conversation you were having with your friend? It was swept away in a flurry of distraction and the connection was lost.
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Our culture is inundated with interruptions. You can’t wake up without being pinged by 6 different types of notifications on your phone. Distractions come through social media, text messages, emails, news updates, apps that track our health data all day, watches that let us know the instant anyone wants our attention and more. Is it any wonder that being in the present moment has become more of a challenge? Mindfulness in the workplace allows you to stay focused and is essential in order to increase your work productivity.
What is Mindfulness?
If that sounds appealing to you, you may be saying to yourself, “That’s great – sign me up! But what is mindfulness?”
To answer the question of what is mindfulness, take a look at the mindfulness definition Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (who helped bring the concept of mindfulness to the Western world decades ago) gives in his introductory video to the meaning of mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” says Kabat-Zinn. “And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.” Kabat-Zinn also goes on to say that mindfulness helps you switch the focus from solely “me, me, me” to being more aware and connected to those around you.
Let’s put this into simpler terms. To borrow from Cal Newport, “focus is the new IQ.” Mindfulness gives you the ability to stay focused on what is most important – and stay present – in the midst of distraction.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Now that we understand mindfulness and its importance, the question becomes how to practice mindfulness? There are many different perspectives and suggestions for mindfulness techniques, but they all begin with the base of observation. Here’s a quick 1-2-3 for how to practice mindfulness. Set aside some time – and set a timer to keep yourself honest – to put these simple steps into practice.
What is happening in the present moment? Where are you? What are you experiencing? Your goal isn’t to empty your mind, it’s simply to be aware of what’s happening without judgment.
You will inevitably feel judgmental thoughts rising up – we all do. When they do, make note of them and then let them pass by. It’s that simple.
Practicing mindfulness is the process of coming back over and over again to the present moment – no matter how much your mind wanders and tries to run away with you. Just come back.
Now that you’ve given stock to what is happening in and around you, the next step is to identify what in the present moment you should be doing. This is what separates the practice of mindfulness on a yoga mat from the practice of it in the workplace.
In a nutshell, that’s how to practice mindfulness. It isn’t complicated, and the basics are present in any of the mindfulness exercises you may come across.
Mindfulness at Work
When you know how to practice mindfulness in your daily life, it’s a simple step to begin implementing mindfulness at work. Practicing mindfulness in the workplace allows you to increase your effectiveness. As you practice, your focus and attention will grow allowing you to accomplish more in a given timespan. You’ll find yourself able to concentrate on what you’re doing while simultaneously being able to pay attention to the distracting thoughts that arise and release them so you can keep moving.
Mindfulness in the workplace also allows you to lead shorter, more effective meetings and avoid the trap of getting caught in the email circle of death we’ve all been held captive by on occasion. Mindfulness at work can also help you interview for that dream job you’ve been eying for months. Incorporating some of the basic mindfulness exercises in this article into your daily routine can bring surprisingly large results with minimal effort.
Benefits of Mindfulness
The benefits of mindfulness are numerous. Here is just a short list of what you can expect to gain:
- Reduced Stress – Anxious thoughts about the past or future create stress. Mindfulness pulls you back into this present where in most instances you’ll find things are “okay.”
- Muting the Chatter – we all have one. That little nagging voice in our heads that seems to be an endless stream of to-do lists, insecurities, musings and worries. What would your work life look like if you gave shut that voice out and refocused on what is most important? Mindfulness gives you the chance to find out.
- Increased Focus – Mindfulness practice increases your ability to focus and accomplish goals you set for yourself.
- Creating a Judgment Free Zone – Mindfulness techniques help us suspend judgment of ourselves and others and tap into the natural curiosity in our minds. In this judgment free zone some of your best thoughts and ideas bubble to the surface. Speaking of…
- Increased Creativity – Without the internal sensor interrupting you all the time with “shoulds” and worries, your brain is free to allow ideas that may have been buried to bubble up. You’ll find answers to problems and creative ideas you’ve been neglecting.
- Better Connections – Mindfulness keeps you present and engaged so you can connect with colleagues.
- Brain Transformation – This one is cool. Research shows that mindfulness meditation actually reduces the amount of connections to portions of our brain where stress and fear live. It also reduces the rather reactionary amygdala and increases the connections in the parts of our brain where emotional regulation, planning and problem solving live.
Mindfulness exercises can easily be incorporated into your daily life. Let’s dive for a minute into the topic of meditation. Contrary to what we may think, meditation isn’t about emptying our heads until they are a vacuum void of thought. Meditation is more like exploring. We are venturing into the wonderland of our minds and observing what is there without trying to correct. We are observing, allowing and returning our focus to the moment.
If mindfulness is the ability to be present throughout your day, then meditation is the method that builds your capacity to be mindful. Here are examples of mindfulness exercise that begins with meditation to start you on the journey.
- Location is Everything – Find a spot where you won’t be interrupted and can feel settled.
- Position for Success – Make sure you’re comfortable so you won’t feel the need to move around. Ideally your legs are in contact with the ground, your hands are resting on your legs in some way and you are sitting with your spine straight but not rigid.
- Breathe In, Breathe Out – Feel the breath coming into your body and flowing out of it. What changes do you notice? What do you feel in different parts of your body? Maybe your chest expands. Maybe you can feel your ribs moving up and down.
- Be Aware – At some point, your mind will wander from your breathing to something else. It’s okay… it happens to all of us. Just be aware of the change and gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
- Judgment Free Zone – The whole purpose of mindfulness meditation is to decrease stress and increase compassion, so don’t judge yourself when you feel your mind wander. Just notice the thoughts, let them go by and keep coming back to the breathing.
That’s it! It’s that simple. Once you learn how to practice mindfulness you can intentionally grow your attention and focus. Here are a few other mindfulness exercises you can add to your repertoire.
- Visualization – This one is simple. You visualize a person or an object in your mind in as much specificity as possible. As you do, your capacity to focus and see details will grow.
- Body Scan – As you meditate, simply scan your body and make note of any areas of discomfort, tension or pain. These can be indicators of stress or anxiety.
- Walking Meditation – Trying to meditate but also feel the need to move? Simply pick a space about 10 – 20 meters long where you can walk back and forth. Use the principles listed above and focus on the experience of walking. When you reach the end of your path, turn around and continue and maintain your awareness of the sensation of walking.
There are any number of mindfulness tools out there, and we’ve found several we believe to be particularly helpful for the consulting industry. These three practices can drastically change the flow and current of your days and therefore your life.
Start your day off right!
You may think your workday begins with the first meeting or the first email you send, but actually so much happens in the first several minutes you’re awake. Cortisol floods your system as the weight of the to-do list comes into your consciousness. Take the first 2 – 3 minutes you are awake and practice mindful meditation. Breathe in, breathe out. Be present. Focus on your breathing. You will feel your system calm and you’ll be better equipped to tackle the day.
Steal Mindful Moments
There are a couple of places throughout the day that lend themselves to grabbing a few mindful moments. On your morning commute, silence everything and implement the breathing technique listed earlier. Allow the silence for 5 – 10 minutes and notice how you can feel yourself coming to the present moment. You’ll find yourself more intentional, aware and effective when you get to work. You can also do this for a couple minutes before you go into that important meeting or when you get home from a long day to make the transition easier.
Many of us spend precious energy with judgmental thoughts about our actions or feelings. “I shouldn’t feel this way.” “I should’ve called that person yesterday!” Practicing self-compassion allows you to actively replace those thoughts with ones that bring you energy instead of draining it. Although it may not feel directly related to your work like, your capacity to be effective will increase the more you are at peace with yourself.
Mindfulness meditation is a life skill that will translate to every area of your life. Practicing mindfulness is particularly helpful for those in the consulting field as it will help you easily transition throughout your day as you tackle a multitude of tasks, meetings and interactions. Those who have the ability to be present, give their full attention to the person or task at hand, and fully offer themselves are often the most successful in life. We hope this article has helped you set yourself up to succeed!
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