Do you find your mind wandering when you’re in the middle of your commute to work? Do you often react to people or situations that irritate you without thinking, and later regret your actions? Have you ever wished you were better able to control your physical responses to stress at work, when people are depending on you to keep your cool? While there is no magic pill that can make you perfectly focused, emotionally intelligent, and constantly collected, there is a strategy that might be useful to you when you feel you need an extra boost at work. What is this secret sauce?
It’s actually been around for a few thousand years – but mindfulness training is only now just starting to take hold of workforces around the globe. Consisting of meditation and various activities that focus on quieting the mind and enhancing focus on the present, mindfulness is both relaxing and energizing all at once.
How does mindfulness work?
Over the last decade, research on the topic of mindfulness in the workplace has become increasingly popular. Mindfulness has been defined as “a state of consciousness characterized by a state of receptive attention to and awareness of present events and experiences without evaluation, judgement and cognitive filters” (see work by Teresa Glomb and colleagues for more on the definition of mindfulness, reviewed here and below). What does that mean? Basically, it means that mindfulness allows you to focus on the present moment and to make the best, well-thought decisions possible, without being distracted by irrelevant thoughts or emotions. While some individuals may naturally be more mindful (it can actually be measured as a personality trait), individuals have been shown to benefit from mindfulness interventions as well, particularly with regard to mindfulness-based stress reduction trainings (MBSR). These trainings are offered all over the country, but they can be pricey. If you want to find more cost-effective ways of engaging in mindfulness, read on below.
Tips for becoming more mindful
I get it – you’re already stressed. How can you possibly be expected to add something else your already overwhelming routine? The good news about mindfulness is that it actually makes your more efficient and effective at completing your daily to-do list, without having to take a lot of time for the positive impacts to take hold. In fact, mindfulness practices have been linked to a whole host of positive work outcomes, including increased job satisfaction and decreased emotional exhaustion. Interestingly, mindfulness has also been found to decrease stress and increase overall well-being. So, on the whole, mindfulness allows you to feel happier, healthier, and more productive at work.
Additionally, there are many reasons to believe that mindfulness may create more positive working relationships between you and your coworkers. First, because mindfulness training helps individuals to become “decoupled” from the self, it creates a separation between negative events and your ego, allowing for the objective evaluation of events. This process results in greater emotional regulation within stressful situations. So, when Bob from Accounting eats your lunch AGAIN, you’ll be able to cope better with your emotions and respond in a way that will actually get him to read the label on the brown bag before he chows down tomorrow. Second, mindfulness is thought to decrease automatic mental processes, such as bias or rumination (you know, that thing where you replay a work scenario over and over again in your head). When individuals are driven by automatic responses to situations, it can cut down on their ability to control their emotions and reactions. However, when automatic mental processing is decreased, individuals are likely to take more time to think through events and consider many possible responses to them. Therefore, you’ll be less likely to rely on emotionally-driven responses and more likely to respond to stressful situations in a thoughtful and controlled way if you practice mindfulness regularly.
Tools for mindfulness practice
So, how can you practice mindfulness on a daily basis? There are quite a few apps that I like, which help you to stay more mindful. For example, Insight Timer has over 4,000 meditations available right inside the app. Aura gives you a new meditation every day – and they are short – only 3 minutes and you’re on your way. If you’re a beginner, Stop, Breathe and Think, is a great app to help you get started with mindfulness. There is even a wearable mindfulness tracker, called Spire, that allows you measure your breath and alerts you when practicing mindfulness might be most necessary. Whatever you choose, make sure that the app is based in science. While there is a serious body of research that supports the power of mindfulness, companies looking to cash in on the trend may not leverage that research in creating their products. Look for reputable teachers and trainers who are affiliated with the apps or ensure that the apps are recommended by scientifically-based mindfulness gurus. Ensuring that teachers are certified in MBSR, rooted in the practices founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is a good way to verify that you’re getting exposure to the real deal.
Overall, mindfulness is a really powerful technique that you can start incorporating into your daily life today. Thinking more clearly, reacting more intentionally, and being more connected to yourself and others at work might sound like a dream. So, more over apples – a meditation a day is the new way to keep the doctor away.