Mindfulness while you are at work

 I have been talking about mindfulness in my last few blogs. Now I want to explain in what specific ways mindfulness can be used in an organisation… 

It’s the Monday morning review meeting. Whether it’s you leading or someone else you’re going to spend the next 30-90 minutes going over past events and planning future activities. You’re hardly mentally in the present at all, except when you’re focussing on how to handle the dynamic in the room. But you are physically in the present of course.

What’s more there’ll probably be some people writing emails on their laptop while half listening – or pretending to.  Body in the room, mind elsewhere. That’s a total location imbalance…

Obviously the review is very important – I do it myself. And of course it’s just one example of how our attention is inevitably drawn away from where our body is in time and space. Meetings, report writing, planning and forecasting, analysis, attending presentations, interviews, training, leader / follower interactions, project management can all take us away from the Now.

These important routines are all essential to getting things done so, clearly, we’re not going to abandon them. But that doesn’t mean we have to be helpless about the mindfulness implications.

Mindfulness is about uniting mind, body and spirit in the same time and place to give us harmony, balance and a calm awareness and acceptance of our feelings, thoughts, and sensations.

To refresh our memories, the benefits of mindfulness include:

  • Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increasing effectiveness, wellbeing, and happiness
  • Improving physical health

Therefore, what can we do at work to avoid missing out on all that!?

Quite a lot:

  1. Shorten the length of meetings by having everyone circulate a bullet point update so they can read it pre-meeting. Meetings can then be for questions only. Updating each other verbally is inefficient and leads to attention wandering.
  2. Ban laptops and mobiles unless they are needed to share desktops in real time – working on emails slows meetings down, which in turns detracts from mindfulness:
  • Attention wanders
  • Focus moves to different times, places and people
  • It lacks grace: it is perceived as disrespectful, signals that people value their time more than yours, and triggers negative emotions
  1. Begin and / or end meetings with a two-minute mindfulness exercise:
  • Deep breathing, preferably combined with a silent mindfulness mantra or affirmation
  • Meditating on the Now
  • Savouring the moment by taking sips of water and focussing on the sensations we normally tune out, sharing them if it’s that sort of group, privately if not.

This not only promotes mindfulness; it puts people in a calm high performance state for the meeting itself.  Reasoning, grace, motivation, creativity and resilience are all aided.

  1. Being highly prepared for a meeting means that more of our bandwidth is available for focusing on what is happening in the moment – watching people’s emotions to optimise grace for example. Equally it means that less of our attention is taken up with remembering what you are supposed to have said or what comes next.
  2. Ensure that several times a day you consciously adopt a mindfulness technique. As well as the ideas above here are a few more suggestions:
  • Take a ten-minute walk, enjoy feeling your body move, focus on the sensations as your feet meet the ground, feeling the weight shifting as you step forward, be aware of how the muscles in your legs alternately contract and relax, feel the air on your face and on your hands as your arms swing to and fro, look at the sky and enjoy the beauty of the weather, fair or foul.
  • Walk in nature, even if it’s just flower beds by the office or along the side of the road. Focus on the scents and textures, touch the flowers and trees, noticing how they feel to your fingers, try to maximise the sensory input as you pay attention, notice the effect on your breathing, your pulse, feel your shoulders and body relax as you sink deeply into this brief present moment of savouring your surroundings.
  • If you are working from home you’re particularly blessed as you can spend a few minutes in the garden, walk barefooted on the path and lawn, notice the intense sensations and textures with your feet, touch the scented plants and bring your fingers to your nose, inhaling deeply and feeling the aromas deep in your lungs.

It’s tempting to think of such time-outs as lazy and unproductive. In fact they have precisely the opposite effects:  giving energy, enhancing effectiveness, and maximising positive.

Inspirational business psychologist Graham Keen is CEO of New Impetus International Ltd, an independent company with bases in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Copenhagen. He founded the company in 2000 to create and deliver services solidly based on hard evidence. The firm now works with 140 clients worldwide, including many household names, mostly in the UK, Continental Europe, and a bit in the USA and Middle East.

An Oxford University Engineering Science graduate, Graham trained in positive psychology with Prof Martin Seligman in 2003, which taken together with his earlier experience as plc CFO and corporate finance practitioner, brings a unique view of business.

Graham is an energising tutor and speaker. He is warm but direct, passionate, and occasionally hilarious. He has the knack of telling surprising and uncomfortable truths in a way that inspires acceptance and ignites action.

He has a 20 year track record of winning even reluctant people’s buy-in to change, and consistently improving patterns of organisational behaviour.