Mindfulness by definition is, “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Seems simple enough, right?
However, achieving a state of mindfulness as defined above, while balancing the busy schedule of a working professional seems like another impossible task on the grand to-do list. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the health and wellness industry hit a record high of $3.4 trillion dollars in 2014, and that number continues to grow as more and more businesses seek to launch health and wellness initiatives of their own.
While mindfulness is a highly personal state of being, to me, it is the feeling of being more aware of myself and what’s happening around me. This takes dedication and a willingness to be fully aware of even the most-minute aspects of my daily life, both at home and at work. Mindfulness can give you the tools to handle the ups and downs of office culture. No matter how you achieve it, once you experience the effects of having a mindfulness practice, it can help you to successfully navigate all areas of your life.
To get started, here are four areas of focus that will help cultivate a mindfulness practice within the office:
1. Awareness and breath
Despite the ubiquity of health and wellness programs in contemporary office culture, it feels as though our society is more stressed than ever. Most of us work at least 40 to 50 hours a week, and then juggle personal tasks like looking after kids/pets, rushing to the gym, staying in touch with friends, a monthly book (read: wine) club, etc.
Our lives get so jammed packed, we need multiple calendars just to keep up with it all. The American Psychological Association found that “…money and work are the top two sources of very or somewhat significant stress (67 percent and 65 percent in 2015.)”
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or out of control, take a few minutes to simply take some deep breaths. By completing the easy task of breathing, you are already more mindful because you acknowledged how stressed you felt before reacting. From there, take it one step further by aiming for balanced breath; equal lengths of inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
While continuing this breathing exercise, observe how the signs of stress in your body reveal themselves. Were your shoulders up to your ears? Was your jaw clenched? Is your breath short and chest tight?
After you’ve identified the symptoms of stress, try to relax that specific area of tension by at least 20%. As little as 2-5 minutes of controlled breathing will bring you to a greater state of control over your feelings and help take your physical being out of fight or flight mode. By increasing circulation to the brain and slowing your heart rate, you’ll have greater clarity, allowing you to better assess the situation at hand. If you would like to go one step further and give meditation a try, Headspace is a great app for beginners.
2. Forgive yourself
Gary Hamel, one of the world’s most influential business thinkers said, “You can't build an adaptable organization without adaptable people.” To me, the essence of this quote is understanding that none of us are superheroes; it can be very difficult to finish everything within the work day and still live a balanced, healthy personal life. This is why it is crucial to let go of any emotional baggage you might carry with you, in both your personal and professional life.
Forgiving yourself when things are not going as planned is critical in accepting the way things truly are and gives us the ability to move forward toward a more productive mindset. Feeling guilty, mad or frustrated can render us unwilling to be open-minded.
Instead, use this as a learning experience to reflect on what you can do better next time these feelings of frustration emerge, focusing on understanding why the end goal is important and then letting go of whatever is out of your control. Flexibility within the workplace is key to success, regardless of the environment in which you work. Behind every great person, company or business success, there was probably a moment where the prospect of failure was faced and overcome. The difference between losing and victory was likely a reinvention or evolution of an approach that turned failure into triumph. So make a conscious effort to learn from difficult situations in the moment and then, let go.
3. Lighten up
If you’re a “Yes Person” like me, your workload can rapidly become overwhelming. One way to counteract the weight of a stressful week at work is to lighten up and laugh more often. If you’re laughing while reading this, you’re off to a great start.
We’ve all had moments when things took a wrong turn and it feels like the WORST has happened. In these situations, it’s hard to remove the typical ‘should have, could have, would have’ narrative that is on constant loop in your mind. Next time, break the habit of being hard on yourself by focusing on a positive aspect. Ask yourself: what is it that is making me so upset? Why do I feel like this is so important?
Once you have answered the questions above, approach this situation with gratitude for what you DO have, it will likely help illuminate the problem and help reshape your frame of mind from “this is what I need to do… [Fill in what you are dreading]” to “this is what I want to do because… [Fill in what you are grateful for.]”
If you still need a lift, reach out to your colleagues; the people around you are there for support and will offer much needed perceptive on some of the challenges you’re facing.
4. Recognize others
The average American spends over 2,000 hours a year in the office, which means aside from sleep, we are spending more time with co-workers than anyone else in our lives. This is why ‘working with great people’ is such an important core value for many working professionals.
Recognizing the fact that your team plays a major part in creating a positive office environment is crucial for work happiness. Treating work relationships with mindfulness will open your eyes to the great things people are doing around you every day.
In, The Neuroscience of Trust, published by The Harvard Business Review, the author states, “Neuroscience experiments by my lab show that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves.”
A Google study similarly found that managers who, “express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being outperform others in the quality and quantity of their work.”
In the daily flow of work, a simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way to boost morale. A company that fosters a culture of mindful employees leads to a team that is recognizing, communicating and celebrating the accomplishments that make the organization successful. Increased employee mindfulness will also contribute to reduced stress, increased productivity and a better bottom line for the company; a win-win for all.
For more information on creating a culture of recognition, check out this ebook on Recognition Culture: The MVP of Employee Experience.