Benefits of mindfulness at work
Chances are a typical day goes like this: you attempt to get that big project done, but you’re easily distracted by emails popping up, the co-worker who asks for advice and a ringing phone. The more distractions, the less you get done. And, then you review what you got done so far and realized you missed a major part of the project. You wish the work world would slow down so you could catch up. Sound familiar?
Juggling numerous projects while working as efficiently as possible is an expectation in nearly every workplace. It’s a stress that many companies have recognized, and some have found a way to slow things down-at least for a few minutes throughout the day. How? They’ve introduced mindfulness to help employees focus their thinking and reduce stress.
Why is Mindfulness Helpful?
So, what is mindfulness? A formal definition sounds like this, ‘Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.’ In other words, it’s the artform of focusing attention on the now, rather than what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.
Science tells us that like going to the gym and training our muscles, through meditation we can train our attention to be a valuable resource. Taking a few minutes out of the day to close your eyes, breathe and pay attention to the present moment can be beneficial to our emotional and physical health. This isn’t a fad; it’s an effective resource. Being mindful keeps the brain healthy, builds resilience to stress and improves focus.
A study from the University of Washington tested the effect of mindfulness-based meditation on three groups of workers and their effectiveness with multitasking. The results of this study were definite.
‘We found that only those trained in meditation stayed on tasks longer and made fewer task switches, as well as reporting less negative emotion after task performance, as compared with the other two groups. In addition, both the meditation and the relaxation groups showed improved memory for the tasks they performed.’
It’s easy to see why mindfulness is taking the business world by storm and is becoming a ‘must have’ in the workplace.
Mindfulness in Business
In an effort to help stressed-out employees, America’s businesses are offering free training programs in mindfulness. Some of these companies include General Mills®, Google® and even professional sport teams that make it part of their training program.
Blue Door Consulting employees participate in a mindful learning program, too. After morning traffic meetings, team members listen to consultant and mindfulness teacher, Melissa Blank, as she provides a daily mindful exercise for all employees.
‘It is so crucial to realize how our minds and bodies respond to stress in a culture where we all have stress. Being mindful of this helps us free ourselves from getting stuck in things,’ Blank said.
Some mornings she leads the team in breathing exercises, while other mornings she focuses on being present and listening to what our five senses are discovering in the present moment; that could be the smell of coffee, the feel of a wool sweater, the sound of the fireplace crackling. Being in the present moment in the morning helps set the day for success.
Kelli Karpinski, a senior consultant at Blue Door Consulting, has started practicing mindful meditation both in the workplace and in her personal life and has seen a world of difference.
‘I realized that I didn’t always feel focused at work. With all the details I had to deal with, I felt scattered, and worse, I was making mistakes.’
To combat these feelings, she made a New Year’s resolution for 2017 to meditate every night. She also listens to podcasts on meditation and mindfulness in her free time.
‘The more I practiced the more I found I’m calmer at work and I slow down, in a good way, and make fewer mistakes.’ Karpinski said. ‘Science has proven you can change your brain. And, meditation is as good for you as many other healthy habits-there is a belief that for every minute you meditate, it adds a minute to your life.’
5 Mindfulness Tips
When many of us think of meditation, we envision sitting cross-legged, chanting ‘ohm’for long periods of time. In reality, anyone can start meditation by simply trying and taking it slowly. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. You only need a few minutes to meditate
The traditional way to meditate, and what many people think of, is that you must dedicate an hour or more a day to meditating. Many studies show that even brief meditation practices can change our brains, and we respond better to a few short bursts of mindfulness. If you are consistent with making time everyday for a few minutes to practice mindfulness, you’ll notice a difference.
2. Practice while you wait
Being stuck in traffic, waiting in line for your morning coffee or letting your computer reboot are all times where frustration can emerge from impatience. Taking these moments to instead practice being mindful can change this nuisance into an opportunity. Instead of fixating on the irritation of waiting, focus your attention on breathing.
3. Be easy on yourself
When building mindfulness, it is important to take it easy on yourself. When focusing your thoughts, focus more on the positives than the negatives. When your mind wanders during meditation, recognize it and refocus your thoughts.
4. Bring awareness to routines
When we are comfortable and do things over and over it is easy to go into autopilot. During these activities, pay attention to where your mind wanders. Is it when you are making dinner, doing the dishes or texting? Practice bringing more awareness to this activity.
5. Spend more time in nature
Whether it be in the woods or in the city, being outside opens your mind to experiencing more. Sometimes sitting in the same environment everyday can be restricting on the senses and mind. Experiencing a new field of vision or variety of smells or sounds refreshes the mind. Take a few minutes during your lunch break to walk the block or take your dog to a new place for an evening walk.