Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace
What is Mindfulness?
In the last decade, mindfulness has become a hot topic and somewhat of a buzz word. But do we really understand what it means? Mindfulness is defined as: the ability to be fully present and engaged in the present moment. This seems like a very abstract notion to many of us. We may think we are present in the moment while shopping for groceries, driving home from work, and spending time with family. However, once we take time to truly understand mindfulness, we come to realize we may not be as present as we may think.
Take the drive home from work for example. Your mind is likely racing with thoughts such as these:
Ø What should I make for dinner?
Ø Why did that meeting not go well today?
Ø I have so much laundry waiting for me at home.
Ø Should I call my mom back now or tomorrow?
Ø Do I need to make a stop for gas?
Ø I hope I make it to my workout class in time.
Next thing you know, you’re sitting in your driveway and feel like you got home on auto-pilot. Did you take in the scenery? Notice the leaves starting to turn orange? Listen to music and hum or sing along? Did you release all tensions from the day and focus on how your body and mind feel? The majority of us fail to do this. Being mindful isn’t always about what you can experience with the five senses, but also being internally present. This can include taking a breath, not reacting to thoughts that are constantly popping into your mind and focusing on the here and now rather than the events of your day or what is planned for tomorrow. In this article, we will discuss how important it is to practice mindfulness, not only on your drive home, but in the workplace as well.
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
It is crucial to understand that mindfulness is not the same as meditation. Meditation is to practice mindfulness and be in the present moment for a temporary amount of time, then continue on with your day, whereas mindfulness is a way of living and working, always with the present moment in mind. Meditation can be used as a tool to train your mind to become more mindful.
Mindfulness in the Workplace
You might be thinking – how can I practice mindfulness at work? I can’t be meditating in my office, I have work that needs to get done!
The main culprit of a lack of mindfulness in the workplace is multi-tasking. We all have it on our resumes as a skill, but it can be a detriment to our well-being. It is scientifically impossible to fully give your attention to more than one task at one time, which means multitasking results in lower quality work. With mindfulness, you can focus on a single task at hand and fully delve into it, creating higher quality work and higher levels of productivity overall.
We are living in a knowledge-based economy, where your mind is your greatest asset at work. It is important to keep your mind sharp and focused on one task at a time. By focusing on one task you are fully present and engaged in the present moment – you’re practicing mindfulness!
Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace
Practicing mindfulness over time changes the shape of the brain by reducing the size of the amygdala, the centre of stress, fear and anxiety, and increasing the grey matter and cortical thickness, responsible for emotional regulation, problem-solving skills, learning, and memory. Those who have incorporated mindfulness into their daily lives report higher levels of happiness, compassion, and patience, along with fewer feelings of stress, sadness, and frustration. Here are six benefits of practicing mindfulness in the workplace.
1. Stress Reduction
Reducing stress is something we are all constantly striving towards. By being mindful, you become better at focusing on one thing at a time and not dwelling on the past, which allows you to better manage stress. You leave the constant “fight or flight” mode and enter into a more relaxed state of mind, which reduces anxiety levels as it reduces activity in the amygdala. Mindfulness can also help with the feeling of imbalance between work and personal life which is one of the main causes of stress at work.
2. Increased Memory
We tend to forget people’s names as soon as we meet them, or walk into a room and forget why we’re there. By being mindful, you are focused on the present moment, and therefore on the present task, which has been scientifically proven to increase absorption of information as there are no distractions. An increase in memory allows you to work more efficiently and produce a higher quality of work.
3. Emotional intelligence – empathy, adaptability, and resiliency
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as the ability to understand, use, and manage your emotions in a positive way. Mindfulness increases EQ drastically as you can come to terms with your emotions and learn to slowly respond to them, rather than suddenly reacting in a negative way. You can become more in control of your emotions, and therefore be more at peace in your mind during the workday. EQ also increases empathy as you become more aware of how others feel. Empathy allows you to cultivate stronger working relationships, which makes going to work more enjoyable. Furthermore, EQ makes you more adaptable to sudden changes or surprises in your work; so rather than stress levels skyrocketing when a deadline is pushed up, you can be mindful and calmly and rationally prepare your next steps. Adaptability makes you more resilient when facing challenges in the workplace.
4. Creativity and problem-solving
Practicing mindfulness allows you to drill into the details as you are focused on the present moment, thereby increasing your problem-solving skills. With that comes an increase in creativity – your mind allows you the space to come up with new and fresh ideas that a clouded, stress-filled mind would otherwise not allow. Studies show that negative thoughts hinder the creative side of your brain, so by being mindful and reducing stress, your creativity can flourish.
5. Communication skills
Communication is a cornerstone of any workplace and can become challenging when working with difficult colleagues. By practicing mindfulness, you will see things more clearly from an empathetic lens and understand where the other person is coming from. Mindfulness acts as a protective tool when facing tough conversations, as you can truly put yourself in the other person’s shoes and communicate with them in a more effective way for the situation at hand. We are living in a fast-paced age of communication with smartphones and instant messaging. We can easily become impatient when we do not receive a reply right away. Mindfulness creates compassion, kindness, and patience, which allows conversations to be more positive rather than filled with frustration and impatience.
With all the benefits mentioned above comes an increase in overall productivity. Multiple studies have shown that companies who provide mindfulness training or champion being mindful as a daily workplace practice have more productive and efficient employees with a greater quality of work.
What You Can Do Right Now
· Slow down and pay attention. Use your 5 senses and take in things you can smell, hear, feel, see, and taste.
· Find joy in simple pleasures. Slowly take the first sip of coffee and revel in the happiness it brings you.
· Breath. Take 5 deep breaths in for a count of 8 and out for a count of 5. Focus on the feeling of your stomach and chest rising and falling.
· Take a walk. Walking meditation involves focusing on the physical experience – your feet rolling on and off the ground, the smells and sounds around you, and the movements of your arms and torso. If you can’t take a walk, go stand at a window and take in the sights of outside and notice things you may have never noticed before.
· Body scan to release tension. Take a deep breath and “scan” through your body from your feet up to your head. Relax your hunched shoulders, unclench your jaw, and release any other muscles in which you find that you are holding stress and tension.
A starting point to self-assess how mindful you are on a daily basis is the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), a 15-item scale developed by two Doctors of Psychology. Take the test here: https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/resources/questionnaires-researchers/mindful-attention-awareness-scale
Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out by David Gelles
Working with Mindfulness: Neuroscience at Work by Mirabai Bush
One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness by Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Gillian Coutts
The Awakened Company by Catherine R. Bell
10% Happier by Dan Harris
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle