How to practice mindfulness at work
Workdays filled with meetings, emails and surprise deadlines have turned busyness into a lifestyle. Our evenings are crazy, trying to catch up for lost time, but the ends—a successful career, a satisfying home life—justify the means. Right?
Well, it’s complicated.
Research from Victoria’s Monash University suggests that instead of living in the moment, our brains are stuck in ‘Default Mode’ reviewing mental checklists and worrying about what’s to come. Experts have a solution: practicing mindfulness. With just a few thoughtful changes to your day, you can tap into your feelings and thoughts for a more stress-free workday. Here’s a step by step guide to making it work for you.
1. Pause before beginning your day
Before starting the day, take a moment to pause, breathe and observe your surroundings. While this may seem silly and unproductive for professionals used to being busy, advocates from The Black Dog Institute say just a minute or two of mindful reflection can help you break unproductive routines and foster focus and creativity.
2. Learn from your body's reactions
Usually, our response to bodily pain or discomfort is to distract ourselves or to try and ignore the pain. But being aware of your body’s physical responses can help you accept and notice your body in its comfort and discomfort.
Simply knowing how your body reacts to different situations can assist you in forming more positive physical responses over time, and can help you anticipate a negative response before it happens. By understanding your body’s reactions to distress, you’ll feel more in control and less irritable when the time comes. Try this University of Sydney guide to get you started!
3. Practice non-judgmental observation of others (and yourself)
Paying close attention to others is great in theory, but we have a human tendency to turn this into criticism of others (and ourselves). Mindfulness researchers suggest beginning with non-judgmental observation: watching and listening closely, but holding back your inner critic at first.
Non-judgmental observation allows you to discover new things about others and your environments. Although this shouldn’t replace critical thinking, or healthy debate, you can start with objective awareness to gather a better understanding of your colleagues from the get go.
Self-evaluation can be good in small doses, but left unchecked, it can develop into a toxic cycle. Psychologists note that negative experience are processed more thoroughly than good ones, leaving little room to learn from the positive. So cut yourself some slack. Rather than analysing every thought, decision, and daily interaction, you should start simply observing. By noting each detail—but temporarily withholding self-judgment—you’ll gain a more balanced perspective and you’ll be less likely to think poorly of yourself.
5. Encourage colleagues to practice mindfulness
Being a manager or in a position of leadership, you have an opportunity to encourage your colleagues to practice mindfulness.
As a boss, encouraging breaks, walks, exercise, or other escapes can be critical. If employees feel comfortable putting their work aside when they can’t focus, even for just six seconds, can refresh one’s sense of purpose and concentration.
6. Accept the past, and practice ‘radical acceptance’
Learning a lesson from the past is important, but over-obsessing only creates problems. Mindfulness enthusiasts recommend focusing on the present as much as possible. When something does go wrong, experts suggest practicing ‘radical acceptance.’ Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you agree, or are happy with what has happened, but rather acknowledge the reality of the situation, and help to focus your energy on your next steps.
7. Visualise success
Mindfulness advocates suggest leaving the present in one specific case: visualising success. Even if you don’t achieve success at first, by visualising success and instilling a sense of self confidence, you can train your brain to take in the good and be more open to accomplishment.