If you haven’t heard about mindfulness by now then you must have been hiding under a rock. Today, mindfulness is cropping up everywhere from the prison service, the military, education, health care, parenting, sports and business as well as in popular mainstream activities such as mindful gardening, eating, walking and so on. But how can it help you in the workplace? First, a little background on the buzzword of the moment…
‘Mindfulness’ was first introduced to the West in the late 1950’s and was then secularised into mainstream medical circles in the 1970’s where it was initially trialled – with extreme success – for patients with incurable and/or terminal pain and illness. It was discovered that focusing on the present moment, with open awareness and non-judgemental attention to whatever arises (thoughts, feelings, body sensations), reduces our levels of stress and increases our sense of well-being. A wealth of research supports mindfulness as a highly effective technique for (deep breath): stress reduction, pain management, increased productivity, enhanced creativity, improved memory function, greater self-confidence, better self-awareness and self-care and, above all else, a significant increase in happiness and well-being.
In the workplace, this all translates to being able to get your job done more effectively and with less stress, which is good for you – and for your business, colleagues or company. The major reasons that mindfulness is so beneficial to working smarter are that it increases focus and attention. Most of us tend to rush around under the illusion that trying to do several things at once is an effective strategy. Whilst research consistently indicates that women are better at multi-tasking than men, it still isn’t a smart way to work. In fact, multi-tasking is sometimes dubbed ‘the art of messing several things up at once’ – this is NOT an accolade. With mindfulness, the art is in learning to train your mind to become more focused, to sustain this focus and to get each task you have to do done with clarity and efficiency. The result is that you will become more productive and less stressed – fantastic!
It does often feel counter-intuitive not to rush about haphazardly from one thing to another, even if you know it isn’t really helping, and this is because you may have trained your brain to be heavily distracted – at work, according to research, this can actually mean that for up to 50% of the time your mind may be wandering off task. So it is time to rewire your brain to get focused, effective and really productive using the simple practice of mindfulness.
If you want to try training your mind to become more focused give the following very simple exercise a go, try it frequently (2-3 times a day) for at least a week:
● First begin by noticing that you are breathing. You should find that you are doing this all the time, everywhere you go! This means you can do this exercise anywhere, anytime.
● Watch your breath flowing into your body, starting at the nose or mouth, and then follow the course of the breath as it leaves the body. Allow yourself to pay good attention to the physical sensations of breathing.
● If your mind wanders, don’t panic, this is just your habitual distractibility appearing, it is inevitable and normal. Just be gentle but firm in guiding your focus back to the sensations of breathing.
● Any thoughts, emotions or physical sensations that you notice can now be observed, you do not need to engage with them, embellish them or push them away. Just see them appear and come back to the breath.
● Allow yourself to watch the breath come and go for a few minutes. Doing this keeps you present-moment focused, and every time you notice and are aware of the present moment (in this exercise by watching the breath) you are strengthening concentration.
With time and practice you will see that your distractibility decreases and that you can apply the same technique that you have used here for watching the breath towards any task, so that you learn to work smarter. To find out more about how mindfulness can help you reduce stress, gain confidence and get more done, check out Working with Mindfulness.
Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel are the authors of Working with Mindfulness. It is out now, published by Pearson, priced at£13.99. ‘Working with Mindfulness is an engaging and practical guide to reducing stress, transcending setbacks and enhancing performance at work. With more than 50 mindfulness exercises, it’s a perfect introduction to a more fulfilling way of working.’ – Arianna Huffington, Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post.