Today, many corporations are adopting the idea of teaching and incorporating mindfulness in the workplace. Apple has a meditation room for its employees and provides yoga and meditation classes. Proctor and Gamble provide their employees with health and fitness classes, meditation, and quiet rooms. Many other global corporations including SAP, Google, Deutsche Bank, Yahoo!, and Nike, to name a few, all provide their corporate employees with quiet spaces and promote meditation.
Ten years ago what was seen as a fluffy, progressive fad, mindfulness seems to be here to stay and with good reason. Having a regular mindfulness practice can improve mental and physical health and can improve your overall satisfaction in life. People who practice mindfulness say they find themselves less caught in things they cannot control and worry less about the future and past regrets.
Imagine how much your work life would improve if you weren’t bothered by personalities and demands you can’t control! Disclaimer: mindfulness doesn’t change the people and situations around us, but it does give us a more clear perspective on life.
Why Start Now?
Leadership around the world has begun to recognize the detrimental effects of the modern-day workload. While technology has allowed businesses to grow at an exponential rate and connects employees at lightning speed, it is not without drawbacks. Endless notifications, expectations of immediate feedback and constant (so-called) multitasking overstimulate workers. This mental exhaustion causes employees to become less proactive, engaged, and invested in their work.
But there is a solution to workplace burnout and it can be found in mindfulness. Recent studies have shown mindfulness is linked to “better workplace functioning“ and that “cultivating resilience and mindfulness may assist in preventing psychological distress, burnout and secondary traumatic stress.“
How does mindfulness work?
Quite simply mindfulness is full awareness of the present.
Adopting a mindfulness practice can change your brain function. Humans have evolved and operate to be efficient. To function at maximum capacity, humans have come to rely on the most primitive parts of our brains for survival. These primitive parts of the limbic system control our awareness of danger, our mood and help us make sense of the world around us.
What happens when the reactions in our limbic system go unchecked? If our automatic response system goes unchecked we begin to develop negative thought patterns and emotional reactions which can be detrimental to our well-being, security, and relationships.
For example, an instant message marked ‘urgent’ pops up at the same time you are crafting an important email. Without even realizing it your heart starts racing, your breathing becomes shallow and you are anxious. All of this happens automatically, seemingly without control, triggering past experiences and a reflex to perceived danger.
In this case, the danger is in our perception. We think people are depending on our immediate response and we will be judged if we do not respond right away. There is a sense of lack of control from the interruption. All of these thoughts (and more) derive from our basic needs of relationships and survival.
Practicing mindfulness over some time has been shown to redirect activity from the primitive part of the brain, responsible for automatic reactions, to rational, executive functions in the prefrontal cortex. We go from reacting to responding. We begin to have more control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions when we come from a place of conscious thought.
Mindfulness or the act of becoming aware, creates a pause, a place of space and time between our thoughts and our reactions. It is an intentional space of awareness of the present moment. This pause or moment in time delay allows us not only to recognize what we are thinking and feeling but allows us to make a new conscious decision of how we want to respond.
Rather than our mood and instincts running the show, mindfulness allows us to regain control of what was once an automatic reaction. What once felt like being a passenger in an out-of-control vehicle, mindfulness brings your hands to the wheel and you can steer the direction you choose. There is a heightened sense of calmness because of the feeling of being in control of yourself and not dominated by circumstances.
Over time you will begin to notice you are not tired so easily burning up precious energy. In the workplace, practicing mindfulness promotes a sense of security, allowing for creativity, vulnerability, and commitment. Ultimately leading to a happier, healthier, and more productive workplace. It’s no wonder that large corporations have started to adopt the mindfulness concept. They realize providing fitness and yoga classes stimulates the mind and a designated space for quiet time refreshes the mind; leading to higher levels of productivity and dedicated employees. These companies have learned investing in the upfront costs saves them millions in lost productivity and training costs due to turnover.
If your company does not offer such perks, you can mention the workplace culture and productivity benefits of mindfulness to your manager or HR department; see if they are willing to invest in a workshop or speaker. If you are working from home, cultivating a practice may help you focus more and feel more connected to your peers.
Ultimately, a mindfulness practice is a personal experience and is not dependent on where you work or what your employer provides. It is accessible to anyone, at any time. All you have to do is pause, take a breath, and realize the choice is yours.
Here are a few tips to get you started today:
Start your day out right! Do not check your email, the news, or social media right when you wake up. Give yourself 30 minutes to focus on yourself and your thoughts before getting distracted and full of anxiety. Take those 30 minutes to be fully aware of the thoughts that run through your mind. What you find may scare you; racing thoughts about your day, fear of what is going to happen at work, playing out a conversation with a coworker you dislike. We have all been there! The point is not to beat yourself up for negative thinking, but to become fully aware of these thoughts so you have a better chance of changing them into more constructive thoughts, or letting them go altogether.
Take a few minutes a day to focus on your breath. In the beginning, you will want to try this in a quiet space, without distraction. Spend about 3-5 minutes with your eyes closed, just focusing on your breath and the rise and fall of your body. If you start to notice your mind wandering to other thoughts, acknowledge them and simply go back to focusing on your breath. Intentionally focusing on your breath will help you become aware throughout the day when you are tense or drifting into worrisome thoughts. When this happens, you will have trained your mind to redirect your attention to your breath and not continue on a negative thought pattern.
Try a guided meditation. There are plenty of resources on Youtube or apps like Mindfulness or Calm to help you along your journey.
Do a body scan. Notice each part of your body from toes to head. You can start with being aware of the soles of your feet being planted on the ground, then move up to your calves and focus only on the feeling of your calves. Do this all the up through your body until you reach the top of your head. This helps train your mind to focus on one thing at a time and learn how to intentionally bring full attention to something.
Take a moment to observe (sensory technique). Throughout your day take 3 minute pauses to observe your sense and the world around you. Notice sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Acknowledge them, name them and let go to the next sense. Try to not get caught up in drifting thoughts about one observation for too long. Become acutely aware of all that is happening around you without being attached to anything.
As you begin to adopt these simple tools the benefits begin to show up in your life. You may find yourself wanting to invest more time in your mindfulness practice. Global leaders may be catching on to how mindfulness can change workplace culture, but you don’t have to wait for your company to start your mindfulness practice today.