What Does Mindfulness Have to do with You and Work?

Why mindfulness at work? You might have heard the term overused to the point of becoming a cliché. I do hope that if this is the case for you, that you keep reading to discover more about this term and what it could mean for you and your life and work-life. Simply, mindfulness is a tool for helping you to become more self-aware, raise your life state to deal with problems and deal with the pressures of life.

“The ordinary mind is the ceaselessly shifting and shiftless prey of external influences, habitual tendencies, and conditioning; the masters liken it to a candle flame in an open doorway vulnerable to all the winds of circumstances.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

What do we mean by mindfulness at work? It is about being connected to what is happening within and around you. There are two aspects of this:

  • Mindful of yourself – noticing when your…
    • Thoughts and beliefs are affecting your behavior
    • Mood is impacting on your performance
    • Preferred way of communicating with others is unsuitable for them
    • Personality type is impacting negatively on your relationships with others
    • Approach to problems and challenges at work are ineffective
  • Mindful of others – noticing if…
    • Someone’s tone of voice is betraying more of what they are thinking and feeling than what they are saying
    • They are not as happy and are not smiling as usual, and taking action to check in with them
    • You are not feeling as much rapport or an energy exchange with them as is typical
    • Their behavior and/or performance has changed

If you haven’t read Mindfulness at Work by Maria Arpa, you’ll want to grab a copy and read it until it’s dog-eared or if you are like me, read it several time while attempting to not crease even the binding. In it, she starts off by saying:

“When the world around you isn’t performing how you would like, your choices are either a change of attitude or a change of direction, mindfulness will help you to choose.”

What are the benefits of mindfulness at work? When you are more mindful of yourself and of others you can:

  • Quickly spot when problems/issues arises within yourself, or with others, and take action before they spiral out of control
  • Feel in the driving seat of your life and career, rather than being at the mercy of your environment, emotional triggers, and the external stimuli you receive from others, etc. because you’ll be able to better manage your reactions and responses in situations
  • Be more sensitive to the needs of others and your own needs, noticing when they or you need support, and giving a friendly word of encouragement or smile, or by being grateful

Research by INSEAD suggests that “mindfulness based leadership interventions offer the potential for managers to act with greater care and compassion.” Research by the American Institute of Health at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard have found that mindfulness interventions at work can lead to:

  • Reduced costs of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury and stress
  • Improved cognitive function – including better concentration, memory, learning ability and creativity
  • Improved productivity and overall staff and business wellbeing
  • Enhanced employer/employee and client relationships

“Every human has four endowments: self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom; the power to choose, to respond, to change.” – Stephen Covey

What does mindfulness involve? It is about being in the here and now, focusing on what you can see, hear, feel, taste and smell, as well as your other senses. Intuition and your solar plexus are not to be ignored. Neuroscientists have found that we spend about 80% of our time in our heads telling ourselves stories, rather than being connected to our direct and current experience in the here and now. Here are examples of some stories we can get ourselves caught up in at work:

  • “I know that Mark is going to be a pain in the next meeting, he is bound to throw his weight around and not listen to anyone else’s ideas.”
  • “Look at Sally, she is so confident when dealing with her team, I’ll never be like her.”
  • “I’m never going to get through all my work this week, my boss keeps on at me about deadlines, but I can’t see how I will be able to meet them.”
  • “I’m dreading doing this appraisal, I hate having to do them, they seem to ignore anything positive I say to them and only focus on the few negative comments.’
  • “I’m dreading my appraisal, my manager always dominates it and I can hardly get a word in.”
  • “All I’ve got to do is get through the next three weeks and then I’ll be on the beach for two weeks of holiday, I can’t wait.”

What are the stories that run through your head during your working day?

What happens when we tell ourselves these stories? It affects how we feel, our mood, and often our confidence takes a nose-dive. This then impacts on our ability to work, to speak as articulately, active listen at level 2 or 3, be assertive, and ultimately our performance suffers. So what would it be like if you focused on your direct experience rather than the stories that you tell yourself? What if you let go of the racket? Whatever your racket is, has become or is becoming. Whatever negative self-talk or chat about others, let it go!

Let’s take the situations above and apply mindfulness to them. This would mean that you are aware of what you are thinking, how you are feeling, and you then take action to deal with the situation you face rather than the story you are telling yourself, for example:

  • “I’m feeling anxious about the meeting because of Mark’s past behavior, so I need to do the following: prepare notes against the agenda so I am clear about what I need to say. Get myself into the right frame of mind, so that I can be assertive with Mark if he starts to dominate the conversation. I can remember that sometimes, perhaps even often these meetings do go smoothly so I must not create a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy.”
  • “I need to deal with the facts about Sally and myself. Firstly, she is more experienced than me, but I also know she has undergone training in performance management, which I could do as well. I also don’t know if she worries on the inside, and just gives off an air of confidence. I could use Sally as a mentor and model to learn more about performance and team management”
  • “Ok, let’s deal with the here and now, what are my priorities this week, what can I realistically get done, what do I need to start on first? Do I need to keep my manager updated on progress? Can I renegotiate some of the deadlines?”
  • “I’m going to ask my team to prepare for their appraisal by listing out all the things they are proud of, what they’ve found challenging and what they want to develop further. We will go through what they have prepared, with me adding in any parts that they might have missed out.”
  • “I am going to prepare for my appraisal and email my manager beforehand telling her what I’d like to cover, and go in with that agenda written down. I’ll also visualize myself taking an equal role in the meeting and keep on doing that until I feel confident I can.”
  • “I am being too future focused and in that I am created an all or nothing dichotomy and this creating anxiety about the present. No everything is bad or negative right now, at work or in the whole of my life. Let me take a moment to be present and therefore grateful that I have this job, even if it is challenging at times. Challenges if approached with a growth-mindset will mean that I am growing. I’ll look forward to my holiday but also enjoy the time leading up to it. I’ll prioritize what needs to be done before, and what my colleagues can take on in my absence.”

When we get stuck listening to the negative stories in our heads, we can often feel disempowered and stuck. By recognizing them simply as stories we tell ourselves, we can recognize that we have the power to rewrite the script. We can focus on the here and now, what we see, hear and feel and what actions we can take to change the situation and most importantly how we think and feel about it. The first step to doing this is to become more mindful of what is going on within and around us.

What actions will you take to deal with the negative stories you tell yourself?

“Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to stay awake, slow down, and notice.” – Pema Chodron

How can you become more mindful? Here are some ideas:

  • Write in a journal to check in with yourself daily.
  • Be more mindful, use a guided meditation – these can be found on the internet for free, find a voice that you find pleasant or record your own. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time either, 3 to 10 minutes daily practice is a great start. Create the breathing space to be used anywhere or anytime. Give it a go right now!
  • Understand your personality type and the implications of this on how you communicate and work with others. I use MBTI®, DiSC® and the Enneagram with clients to help them to understand themselves better
  • Get involved in doing some body work, I also use somatic assessments to help clients to relax into a new beingness of awareness and mindfulness.
  • Read Mindfulness at Work by Maria Arpa; this book is not very long and has exercises to help you to be more mindful at work

Call me or email me, and I can assist you in becoming more mindful at work! I look forward to breathing together.