Work can be stressful, especially if you spend a lot of time on your computer and cell phone. Mindfulness can help reduce stress, increase our effectiveness, and bring wellbeing to ourselves and to those around us.
I'm an MBA and ex-lawyer, and I've been practising mindfulness for about 11 years now. It's made me happier, more connected and much less angry.
When I say mindful, what I mean is being aware of what's going on in my body and mind. When my mindfulness is strong, I can choose what to say, do, and even think.
Many people don't realize that much of the time they don't have this choice. If you watch yourself carefully, you'll see that your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations push you to do things that you wouldn't intend if you were able to step back from them.
Like when you fire off an angry email. You read it later and wonder, why did I do that?
Or when the tension in your body causes you to react by unthinkingly reaching for a piece of chocolate. It's all cause and effect, and the trick is to have the presence to see the linkages.
Studies show that mindfulness training improves wellbeing, emotional resilience, attention, decision-making, creativity, and even corporate social responsibility. And, of course, it reduces the number of angry emails sent.
Mindfulness is simple, but it's not easy. When I'm on my computer, I can forget to check in with myself for hours. Then, when I do, I may notice that my shoulders are all tense, or that I've been wasting time checking email when I need to get something more important done.
That's why I have a mindfulness bell. When it chimes, it reminds me to stop, relax and really feel my body and become aware of my emotional state and thoughts. I used to have it on my computer, but now I have an app on my phone so it follows me everywhere.
The effect of the mindfulness bell is much greater if you practice mindfulness elsewhere. Actually stopping in the midst of your work isn't easy. Your habits of mind will tell you to ignore the bell, and you will be powerless to stop.
That's why people practice sitting meditation. You're not distracted by having to do anything, and you're not engaging your intellect. You can allow your mind to settle down, and practice bringing your mind back to your breathing in a situation where you don't have to do anything else. You strengthen your capacity to be mindful. In fact, studies show you actually rewire your brain. So the practice you do outside of work helps you at work.
You can also do other practices at work, many of which are easier than stopping in the midst of something. Try walking mindfully when you go to the bathroom or whenever you're walking alone. Notice your breathing as you walk, being aware of when you're breathing in and when you're breathing out. Really feel your body and your steps. Your mind will wander and, when you notice that, intentionally bring your mind back to your walking and your breathing. Every time you bring your mind back to what you're doing, you strengthen your ability to pay attention and be self-aware.
Another good practice is mindful listening in meetings or conversations. To be truly present with someone, listen with your whole being, with the intention of really hearing and understanding them. When you catch yourself going into judgment or analysis, or thinking about how to respond, remind yourself to just listen. You can analyze or formulate a response later.
Mindful listening strengthens the connection between you and the person talking, and creates a strong foundation for working together.
One final suggestion -- pause after you turn on your computer and say the following, one line with your in-breath and one with your out-breath:
Turning on my computer
I get in touch with my body and mind
Going back to myself
Love and understanding grow naturally
Give it a try!
Laurie Arron is the founder and Executive Director of Discover Mindfulness, a non-profit that champions mindfulness in education. See www.discovermindfulness.ca.
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