Can you be mindful in the busyness of work?

The value of mindfulness practice is becoming more accepted in the business world. But how realistic is it to apply mindfulness in a daily working life, where we are beset by pressures from all sides? Can we be mindful in the midst of stress, anxiety and meltdown?

Stress in the workplace is a growing issue, and now according to the Stress Management Society, it affects one in five of the working population in the UK. In this blog and future blogs I will suggest some simple ways that you can reduce the impact of stress by starting to be mindful in your working life.

Although mindfulness comes from Buddhist meditation practices, you do not need to be in a quiet calm place to practice it, nor do you need to meditate for 30 minutes to get the benefit. My first meditation teacher, John Garrie Roshi, was insistent about the importance of bringing mindfulness into daily life. He used to talk about his own meditation training with Thai monks in London. When he expressed frustration about the sound of traffic from the London streets in the meditation room, the teacher was insistent that the noise was an aid to meditation, not a hindrance.

Since then, I have spent many years finding out how I could do my job and still be mindful.  I certainly did not often get the chance to quietly meditate at work. However, I did slowly discover how to be more present in my body, and to allow whatever I was experiencing, including stressful feelings and sensations, to be there.  More recently, I have been trying out these approaches in my coaching practice and with groups, as I did at Plymouth Thinqtanq earlier this week. These four exercises are some of the approaches I have tried – you can try the first one right now if you are willing.

  1. Notice what is happening right now, without trying to change it.You are reading this blog – notice how your body feels, where it contacts the seat. What is your emotional state? Are you aware of your external environment – the hum of your laptop. colleagues talking or moving around?  Notice any thoughts or mental commentary that arises. Just spend 30 seconds doing that.How was that? I have just done it myself, and noticed tightness in various places in the body. When I stopped, I also noticed that I was disappointed the tightness hadn’t gone away! However, I also experienced slightly more acceptance of myself, and notice I am piling on less pressure about creating the perfect blog in five minutes flat.Especially if you are working with deadlines from a boss or client, the last thing you need is an internal boss applying even more demands. So taking 30 seconds out can help you separate the real stress (the deadline) from the unnecessary added stress you are likely to be putting on yourself. It may sound like a very short time, but feedback from the Plymouth Thinktanq group was that 30 seconds is just long enough.
  1. Repeat.How you apply the exercise in your daily routine is up to you – each of us will have a different approach that works. Some people have an hourly timer on their phone that reminds them to be aware of what is happening at that moment. Or you can use a chrome app for the same purpose. Other people prefer to be more random, allowing the noticing to pop-up. Some people have post-it notes on their desk. In my experience, whatever the approach, the common factor is that the effectiveness will wear off. So it is helpful to keep changing, trying new approaches.
  2. Mindfulness on the screen.Since most of us spend a lot of our time on the computer, a useful variation on this, is to consciously “zoom out “ from the screen, notice what you can see and hear beyond the computer monitor, notice that you have a body, and feelings, as well as a mind. Next time you are writing that particularly delicate email, notice if you are holding your breath,– it is common to unconsciously hold your breath while being on the screen. Then let go the noticing. I have just done it, and find that there is some change in the tightness of my shoulders.
  3. Mindfulness in meetings.Another useful variation is to apply this in a meeting. Notice your thoughts, and also notice what you are feeling, and how your body is, including where you are in touch with the seat or the table. Notice the room and the people in it. Then let it go. I find this very useful in helping me “wake up” and be present in a meeting, particularly if I am feeling bored or anxious to get my point across.

None of this will make your working life stress-free. However, it is the start of changing your relationship with stress. It can be surprisingly effective, particularly when combined with some more structured mindfulness practices. I look forward to sharing these with you in my next post.

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