What is mindfulness?
It is a term that refers to a practice - not ability - of maintaining acute awareness and focus. That reads easy enough, but it is truly a process. For example, research shows that people spend close to 47 per cent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are actually doing in the moment. If that number seems too high, reflect on how your thoughts wander when doing everyday things like brushing your teeth, driving, or walking to the office.
In the present tech age, people are even more challenged to focus on just one thing. Not only does the attention economy lead to a great deal of distraction, but also the expectation to multitask throughout the day. Despite the fact that studies show that multitasking is not a skill to be embraced, a workday inevitably includes answering emails while sitting in a meeting, as just one common example.
In my professional experience, there are many people who are open to mindfulness, in theory, but feel it is quite daunting in practice. In the following I offer simple steps that anyone - experienced or novice - can use in order to introduce mindfulness practice into their work day.
Start your day off right
The first moments after waking are really essential in setting the tone for the rest of the day. Instead of jumping out of bed or wishing you did not have to get up at all, take a couple of minutes to just lie in bed once your alarm clock rings. Notice the state of your body by feeling into the physical sensations (aches, tingling, lightness) without judging them.
When you arrive at your desk, sit with both feet on the floor and a straight spine for five to ten minutes. Observe your breath without trying to control it. Your breath is the best indicator of your present state. Release tension you might be holding in your abdomen, jaw, neck and shoulders. Become fully present. Then begin your day. Check-in with yourself regularly throughout the day. For example, at the top of every hour take a two-minute mindfulness break and simply observe your breath and release the tension you find yourself holding.
Before each meeting, even if the meetings are back-to-back, take a two-minute break. Checking in allows one to de-clutter. Meetings are most efficient when everyone is focused, and mindfulness is known to significantly increase an individual’s ability to focus.
Some studies have found that mindfulness positively impacts a part of the brain that is responsible for self-regulation. Conflict is a part of the job, especially for leaders. No matter if the situation calls for delivering constructive feedback or negotiating contracts, mindfulness can ease the experience. Before such discussions, take five minutes to tune into the breath. Release feelings of anxiety, and let go of thoughts as they arise. You can only control your actions, not others’ reactions, so make sure those actions are carried out with full awareness.
End your day right
At the end of your work day, take pause for five minutes. Listen in to your body and your breath. Let go of the events of the day and leave them in your workspace. Conscious closure, as I like to call it, helps you transition to your personal space and time at the conclusion of your work day.