I was drowning in work, stacks of digital paperwork were piling up in my hard drive. It had been like this for months.
All of a sudden, my right eyelid started twitching. What the hell?
What could it be?
It was stress. I didn't think I got affected by stress, but there you go. I took a toll on me.
I decided then and there I had to do something to fix my predicament.
I had been studying meditation for a while and learned about its benefits. But the thing is you can't meditate at work. Why? Well, did you know that 90% of bosses can't tell the difference between meditation and a nap? Joking aside, meditating at work wasn't realistic because of all the work I had pending. With my workload, I couldn't afford to take 10 seconds, let alone 10-20 minutes to “relax.”
I decided I needed to adopt a different approach.
That's when I started practicing mindfulness at work.
What is mindfulness?
Science defines mindfulness as, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.1”
But I'm not going to bore you with scientific stuff. Let's keep it casual.
Mindfulness is being aware of the present.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Mindfulness is when you pay active attention to what you're doing. It's an intense focus.
It involves accepting whatever is in your mind with humility by fully engaging with whatever you're doing at that precise moment.
Some mindfulness experts will tell you that to be mindful you must free yourself of every distraction. But let's be honest, is avoiding distractions at work even possible? You're right, it's not. Especially when you consider open offices seem to be the new standard.
Before I introduce you to 5 ways to practice mindfulness at work, let's talk about the benefits of practicing mindfulness at work.
Three Benefits of Mindfulness at Work
Wouldn't you like to feel more comfortable, energized, and in control of your emotions even during the most stressful times?
You're probably looking to find simple fixer-uppers for dealing with mountain loads of work. It could be a problematic coworker, demanding bosses, or a schedule designed to grind you down into dust.
I mean, you arrive early at work with a clear idea of what you'll be doing that day. But by the time you're ready to clock off, you've worked on everything except what you were supposed to.
How did that happen?
Everything changed in the blink of an eye.
New deliverables and demands, of course. Your boss and clients decided it was a good idea to move forward your deadlines. So now you have less time and more work. And your clients are not taking their foot from the gas. They're now demanding you go full speed ahead.
Not only was this me, but it is also many other others.
You're not alone.
All that said, here's why you should practice mindfulness at work.
I'll give you 3 powerful reasons why – now, there are many more, but these are the ones that apply perfectly for 9-5ers.
Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Stress has been linked to many adverse effects on health.
According to neurobiological studies, the amygdala becomes hyperactive and can flare up during stressful situations. The amygdala is the part of the brain involved with experiencing emotions. As you've probably already guessed, stress is an adverse emotional response to a *cough* stressful *cough* situation.
A study performed by Britta K. Hölzel in 2009, suggests there's a correlation between changes in the amygdala's structure and perceived stress. The study consisted of an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
“MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga and exploration of patterns of behaviour, thinking, feeling and action.2”
By the end of the 8 weeks, there were positive changes in the amygdala. There was also a significant reduction in the perceived stress of individuals.
Improves your Focus
One of the key tenets of mindfulness is focused attention on what's happening around you and inside you.
Focus, like many other skills, can be trained.
Imagine being able to sustain your focus and attention on one thing at a time.
In my opinion, in the era of information technology, being mindful is a superpower.
For a long time, I didn't believe this. I was proven wrong not just by putting mindfulness into practice, but science itself backed it up.
Improves Interpersonal Relationships
Practicing mindfulness at work has shown to “reduced work-life conflict, increased job satisfaction, and an increased ability to focus.3”
While it would be beneficial for companies to train their employees in the art of mindfulness, don't expect this to happen.
In fact, don't wait for it to happen for you to get started.
Get started now!
5 ways to practice mindfulness at work
1. Stop multitasking
Your brain can't do two things at the same time.
While you could be doing things simultaneously (like driving, listening to music, and taking a peek at your Twitter feed), what your brain is doing is juggling between those actions.
2. Practice gratitude
Expressing gratitude has been proven to make you more appreciative of what you have.
Gratitude makes you focus on the positive. Instead of focusing on what you don't have, focus on what you do have. This allows you to ignore distractions and reduce dissatisfaction with what is happening in your life.
Practicing gratitude helps you appreciate the present moment with a positive attitude. You understand you are alive! So taking action becomes simpler.
How do you show gratitude?
Practicing gratitude isn't complicated.
Here are 2 ways to practice gratitude at work.
Way #1: Before starting to work, say thanks for even having the work. It doesn't matter if you're not in love with your current job. Being employed is a good thing. If you don't like your workplace, you can always start sending your resume to other companies.
Way #2: Say thanks to your coworkers. People love when their input is recognized. They also love when their viewpoint is taken into consideration. Do you remember anything good that one of your coworkers did for you? Just say, “Hey, Susan, remember that time when you said good things about me to John? Thank you for that.”
These two simple actions will make you feel better about yourself. The practice will also boost your mindfulness at work. If you're fortunate, appreciating people's efforts will have a knock-on effect. People might start liking you more!
3. Accept you can’t change everything
In many ways, you can't control what happens around you. You can't always control how you feel about certain events. But, you will always have the choice to control how you react.
Right now, many opportunities are waiting for you to knock on their door.
So you might be worried that if you open one of these doors, it's going to close off all the other ones to you. Here's the thing, you're right. But you have to understand that thinking about the worst-case scenarios can drive you crazy.
What you did yesterday, a year ago, five years… there's nothing you can do about that.
You cannot change the past. Once the moment is gone, that's it.
Sometimes you'll feel regret, sometimes happiness, either way, it's in the past.
Make your peace with that.
All you have is NOW, the present moment.
Even right now, as you read this, you're using your time to take in what I have to say.
Whether you've made bad choices or hit challenging obstacles isn't important now. Your past, be it distant or close, isn't important at this moment. Your past frustrations? They aren't important now. And worrying about the “what ifs” and the future isn't doing you any good.
The only important thing right now is you take informed actions.
You will not be able to control the outcome. But, you can certainly influence them. How? By understanding what's happening around you and making careful decisions about how you'll act.
4. Practice active listening
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie, author of How To Win Friends and Influence People.
Listen attentively to the other person, maintain eye contact, paraphrase their ideas, and say it back to them so they know you're on the same page. Reflect deeply on what they have to say.
This practice will not only help you develop your patience, but it will also help you set yourself as someone others can bank on.
5. Slow down
When was the last time you slowed down to pay serious attention to what you're doing?
In today's fast-paced society, people expect you to deliver everything yesterday.
Do it for yourself: Give up any sense of urgency you may have as most of it is fake anyway.
The problem with not slowing down is that we have convinced ourselves that everything needs to be done instantaneously. But doing things fast reduces the quality of your work. It also adds unwarranted stress and could provoke a sense of anxiety within you.
Do you want to be anxious? Do everything as fast as you can.
Do you want to eliminate that kind of energy from your life? Slow down.
However, slowing down doesn't mean you take things lightly. It means thinking thoroughly about your plans. You use your words carefully when talking with your boss. You take informed actions to complete the plans you've considered.
It's easy to try to do everything as soon as possible. But the results usually end up being subpar.
When you slow down, you realize how much time you have. It will be scary at first, but you'll find yourself becoming more comfortable as time goes on.
Begin practicing mindfulness at work today
Often, we procrastinate on the activities we know could change our lives for the better. Most of our problems were self-inflicted.
Commit to practicing mindfulness at work from today on.
Find ways to influence others to join you.
Give yourself a chance to reduce your work-life conflict. Increase your job satisfaction, and boost your ability to focus on the things that matter.
Once you decide to start, get started, and find ways to help others join.
- “Mindfulness Definition | What Is Mindfulness.” Greater Good, 2020, greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition.
- “Mindfulness-based stress reduction,” Wikipedia, last modified April 19, 2020
- Slutsky, Jeremiah, et al. “Mindfulness Training Improves Employee Well-Being: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol. 24, no. 1, 2019, pp. 139–49. Crossref, doi:10.1037/ocp0000132.