It is the awareness of awareness.

Most people in the workplace seem to want that unobtainable master tool; that solution to their complex problems. That one thing that will improve efficiency, productivity and overall upward movement. Often what this is, they already have. It’s the ability to have a bit more control. It is, simply, employing more mindfulness. Mindfulness, a concept and practice inherited from Buddhist traditions, has found its way into mainstream psychology and medicine and is slowly entering the workplace.

While there is no set definition, it can best be described as: ‘Paying focused attention on purpose, without judgement, to the experience of the present moment’. This definition comes from mindfulness pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Western Buddhist practitioner who founded the renowned Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. According to Kabat-Zinn, at its essence, mindfulness is the ‘confluence of intention, attention and present time experience.’ And so, we are the master tool.

Bringing the Benefits of Mindfulness to Work

Developing mindfulness in everyday life takes effort. Many related practices (meditation, yoga, some martial arts, time spent away from media and technology, time spent in the natural world) will help to cultivate mindfulness. But the mind needs the focus and consistency of a regular practice if it is to undo old neural patterns and learn new ones.

For many, the workplace is one of the most stressful places in their lives. Pressures are constant. Differences, even non-conflictual ones among people require lots of neural energy to manage. Most people in this culture work too many hours, often without breaks. Many workers operate in a low-level flight or fight mode. Out of touch with feelings and the thinking patterns that reinforce stress and anxiety, many people constantly re-trigger those negative habits throughout the day. Mindfulness practice offers the possibilities of mental and emotional rest, despite the events that surface in the average workday.

11 Ways to Practice Mindfulness

1. Make a commitment to practice. The first step is to become more aware of being aware. Essentially mindfulness is the art of being an observer of yourself; your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, as the definition above states, without judgement:

2. Start slowly. ‘Today I will become more aware of (insert here)’ -practice placing your attention on that.

3. Start each day with a few minutes of conscious awareness. Breathing is the key to opening up your awareness. Instead of jumping right out of bed into your routine, take a few minutes to notice how you feel and consciously set your intentions for the day.

4. If your tendency is to move at a very quick pace while getting your day started, focus on slowing yourself down. Even if you have to get many things done in a short time frame, you can control the racing to-do list in your mind. This will help regulate your energy in a different way.

5. In the course of your work, practice really listening to others. This requires you to shift your energy to the other person and take the focus away from yourself and your mental to-do list, even if for a few minutes.

6. Consider ways to recognise others’ accomplishments, needs and difficulties and practice small, simple acts of empathy and kindness that may lighten their load. They have loads too!

7. Pay close attention to your body language. The way we use our body has a powerful effect on closing our attention down, or opening it up. I can’t stress enough the value and importance of being aware of how you breathe.

8. Watch your language, the words you use influence your physiology. When you tell a colleague that you are ‘slammed’ in terms of work, you are signalling to your brain that it is having or about to have an unpleasant experience.

9. Take a few minutes to identify what you would like your outcome to be in certain interactions, an important call, email or meeting. Most of us find ourselves in the midst of interpersonal situations with no idea of what we really want. In other words: know your intention.

10. Find some time at the end of your workday or in the evening for self-reflection. It’s challenging to do this without judgement. Discernment and judgement are very different. Practice noticing without judging.

11. And lastly, Breathe a bit deeper, walk a bit slower, speak with purpose and smile with grace.

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