What is mindfulness? In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness. When one practices mindfulness, the individual is able to focus on the present moment without pre-conceived judgment. The origins of mindfulness can be traced back to the principles of Buddhism, but its application is now widespread with far-reaching effects in the workplace. Mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety, resolve conflicts, positively influence emotional intelligence and improve workplace communication.
In the present business environment, employees spend long hours at their workplaces, need to be more productive with fewer resources and deliver results against stringent timelines. Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, says that working in a culture where stress is a medal of honor is counter-productive in the long run.
“We can spend so much time in rushing from one task to another and still complete tasks within deadlines. We may think we are working very efficiently, but as far as the brain is concerned, we are working against the tide. No wonder we get exhausted,” says Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford
The brain based benefits of mindfulness are linked to an increase in emotional intelligence such as empathy and self-regulation. It’s the development of these areas that influence our ability to manage communication and relationships at work. Mindfulness also enables us to step back and consider alternative ideas rather than reacting to events impulsively while decisions are made using the least intelligent areas of our brains. Mindfulness helps us to toggle to more active and intelligent areas of the brain, enabling us to be in greater control of our emotions and thereby a choice of more appropriate response.
Mindfulness expert, Mirabai Bush, famous for introducing it to Google, says: “Introducing mindfulness into the workplace does not prevent conflicts from arising or challenging issues from coming up. But whenever they do arise, they can be responded to appropriately after due thought and judgment. Over time with mindfulness, we learn to develop the inner resources that will help us navigate through difficult, trying and stressful situations with more ease, comfort, and grace.”
Becoming aware of one’s emotions as they arise gives an individual more choice in terms of dealing with them. Mindfulness helps become aware of one’s emotion by noticing the sensation in the body. Then one can follow these guidelines: stop doing what you are doing and breathe deeply. Notice how you are experiencing the emotion in your body. Reflect on where the emotion is coming from in your mind (personal history, insecurity etc.). Respond in the most compassionate way.”
Regular practice of mindfulness enhances the brain’s ability to repair itself and grow new networks and hard-wiring. But it is important to practice consistently for better results much like physical work-outs that need to be sustained for effectiveness. A simple mindfulness practice is a one-minute meditation. All it needs is a quiet place and one has to focus attention on the breathing process. As the mind starts wandering, the attention can be brought back to the breathing. Then relax as the calm sets in.
“Introducing mindfulness into the workplace does not prevent conflicts from arising or challenging issues from coming up. But whenever they do arise, they can be responded to appropriately after due thought and judgment. Over time with mindfulness, we learn to develop the inner resources that will help us navigate through difficult, trying and stressful situations with more ease, comfort, and grace," says Mirabai Bush, Contemplative Practice Expert, Smith College, Massachusetts
In order to improve mindfulness, one may get started at work with these four simple exercises:
- Chant a ‘Mantra’: Begin your morning by choosing a positive message or ‘mantra’ and repeat it to yourself throughout the day.
- Focus on your breathing: Slowing down your breathing puts you into a calm emotional state and is something that can be done almost anywhere. Simply focusing on each inhalation and each exhalation can relax you. An easier exercise is: Breathe in deeply through your nose to the count of three, hold for three and release through your mouth to the count of three. Repeat. This is best done with eyes closed.
- Take a relaxing lunch break: It is good to step away from the workplace and go for a relaxing lunch break into the cafeteria or at an outside restaurant. Sitting at the workplace and having lunch is not a good option. Detaching oneself from work for some time is a great way to regain mindfulness and boost concentration.
- Write a gratitude note: One can write a positive event that happened during the day and think as to why it made you happy. Expression of gratitude is shown to increase mental strength.
Incorporating mindfulness in the workplace can be a game changer. Emotional Intelligence (EI) impacts the workplace positively in a number of ways and mindfulness can help improve EI.
A vibrant and energized workforce is a key to organizational development and it is here that mindfulness can play a pivotal role. Business today is about well-rounded growth and development and its social contribution towards equitable and progressive societies cannot be underestimated. It is here that mindfulness can play a decisive role.