In this day and age of busy-ness and multiple distractions, mindfulness has come into common usage as an antidote to scattered minds. Time Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes and many other well-respected publications often extol the reasons for their readers to learn more about this hot new buzzword. “Many corporations and employees are also realizing that the benefits of mindfulness practices can be dramatic,” reports The Huffington Post. Well-known companies such as Google, LinkedIn, and General Mills, are starting to provide mindfulness training to their employees because they understand that mindfulness reduces stress and allows employees to acknowledge their emotions, to stay in the present, and to remain productive.
What exactly is mindfulness? Neuroscientists define it as paying close attention to what is happening around you so that you are open to new opportunities and new ideas. Dr. Daniel Siegel, a professor at UCLA, describes mindfulness as simply the opposite of mindlessness. “It’s our ability to pause before we react,” says Siegel. “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”
Most of us focus on ourselves and often lose track of what is around us. It is easy to do, given the hours spent on email and the temptations of social media, but this inner focus does not lead to greater productivity. Unfortunately, it often leads to more stress. The examples below happen all the time:
Example #1: You walk into your office and immediately turn on your computer to download email. An hour later you are not even close to done and then you remember that the project due today has not yet been touched. Had you been mindful when you walked in the door, you would have planned your day carefully. The email check would have waited until the important project was sent off. Using mindfulness gives people more control over the day.
Example #2: You are in a meeting and strongly disagree with a colleague. Both of you leave in a huff. Here is where practicing mindfulness is invaluable. By acknowledging your feelings, you now become an observer. It takes the sting out of the strong reaction you have just experienced and provides a calming effect. You can “see” your feelings but not be “undone” by them. Without the emotional baggage, it is easier to communicate with your colleague and stay productive that day, instead of angry.
Example #3: You are back in the meeting but only in body because you are thinking about something else. Join the ranks of people (virtually all of us) who are not in the present. With this mindset, it is unlikely that you will benefit from the meeting nor will you contribute to it. On the other hand, good things happen when you pay attention and are engaged — you are more likely to provide valuable input because you are in the present and paying attention.
Here’s the good news: most of us have the ability to be mindful. Fortunately, this skill can be developed — the more you activate it, the more mindful you become. However, it requires work to become a habit. The benefits are worth it:
• It is easier to process information at a higher cognitive level because there is less stress getting in the way of clear thinking.
• It changes the way you react to everyday occurrences because you have time to pause before acting.
• It helps eliminate distractions by acknowledging them and moving on.
• It supports overall health and well-being due to less stress.
• It improves productivity.
Seven actions to improve your mindfulness:
1) Stay alert. Ask questions. Listen actively, gathering insights and perspectives from other people. Dr. Daniel Goleman in “Focus” says that “This active engagement leads to smarter questions, better learning and a more positive early warning radar for coming changes.”
2) Let go of judgments by resisting assumptions and not coming to premature conclusions.
3) Wait before acting. Give yourself time to observe and think.
4) Identify your emotions and label them. It is not always easy to describe to yourself what you are feeling but, when you do, you will have better control over them. The feelings will be easier to regulate and to put aside.
5) Inhibit the emotion. Once you are aware of your feelings, stop them from interfering. Push them away. Otherwise, it is difficult to return to your current activity. Do not allow them to take over.
6) Maintain your focus on one thing only. Consciously put other thoughts out of your mind.
7) Take mini-breaks throughout the day to give your brain time to rest. Switch to easier, less cognitive tasks, take a quick walk outside and enjoy a short lunch break.
By practicing mindfulness and paying attention on purpose, you can become more efficient, more focused and more productive. Why not give it a try? Let me know what happens when you do.