Mindfulness is more than a few deep breaths, says Nancy Priest.
From a health perspective, mindfulness is all the rage. The practise can help us adapt to change; maintain calmness in difficult situations; and decrease anxiety. What’s more, when applied in business, this restorative technique can leave lasting effects on employees and the organisation.
Because mindfulness encourages a focus on what’s happening in the present moment, rather than reacting and being overwhelmed, it prompts better engagement with peers and more effective completion of tasks. It also helps with skillful decision-making; alertness; and reduces stress. Plus, it boosts productivity and teamwork – all from just being more aware.
Consciously paying attention to daily routines; pausing before responding; listening carefully by using our eyes and ears; tuning into thoughts, feelings and surroundings; focusing on breathing to calm thoughts and still minds; and meditating in short bursts are all ways to practise mindfulness not only at work but in daily life.
According to the Positive Psychology Program, there are also several in-depth mindfulness techniques that can be pursued, including:
- The body scan – Taking several minutes away from work to focus on breathing and the way individual body parts feel can tremendously shift negative moods and decrease stress. For this exercise, sit in a comfortable chair with palms facing up to the ceiling and legs slightly apart.
With eyes closed, envision that your entire body is hollow and that sand is slowly filling up each space starting from the toes all the way up to the top of the head. Pay attention to how each body part feels and maintain controlled breathing.
- Mindful seeing – Observing the environment is another way to recharge and centre wandering thoughts. For this practise, look outside of a window and pay attention to everything you see – noticing features such as the colour of buildings, the architecture, the shapes of trees and flowers.
Avoid labelling, judging and criticising what is seen. If you notice that you’re getting distracted, regroup and begin again.
- Mindful listening – Listening is an important skill to have especially when it comes to problem solving; interacting with colleagues and understanding the bigger picture. It requires placing attention on someone else and restraining ourselves from reacting impulsively.
The Mindful Listening practice should be done in pairs. Each participant should think of something they are stressed about and something they’re excited about. As each person speaks, they should focus on how it feels to discuss something stressful versus something exciting.
Participants should also consider how they feel as they’re speaking and listening; if they’re distracted; how they re-group; if they’re judgemental and how they felt before and after speaking.
- Self compassion pause – Self-compassion is the act of offering yourself sympathy, understanding and kindness during times of failure, suffering or misfortune. Showing compassion for others is often easier than showing it to ourselves.
However, practising self-love is a vital component in maintaining happiness, mental strength and perseverance in all aspects of life. Pause a few times a day, particularly when stressed and overwhelmed, and notice your negative feelings. Acknowledge and accept them, and calm yourself down by using positive language.
- Self-inquiry – Self-realisation is defined by Webster’s dictionary as ‘a fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one’s character and personality.’ Having a true understanding of yourself, your motives, beliefs and values, and tuning into them can stabilise stress and reactions in difficult situations.
Self-inquiry is perhaps the toughest skill to master. It takes great practice to achieve the best results; but, it is the one practice that most effectively nourishes and centres thoughts. For this technique, sit in a comfortable meditative position allowing your mind and body to relax.
Let go of all thoughts and hone in to your inner self. If other thoughts come up, briefly acknowledge them and let them pass. Then re-centre yourself and begin again.
These techniques sound simple but in reality they can be challenging for us to implement. In our busy lives, we underestimate the impact and intensity of our activities and interactions. Pausing to regroup, re-centre and focus on positive thoughts can rejuvenate and propel us to constructive outcomes.
When overwhelmed with negativity, centre your attention on the positive things in life – people, places, things. This doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the unpleasant things; instead, you’re opening yourself up and broadening your thinking. Redirect self-talk as the voices in our head can create an imbalance in thinking.
Approach the unpleasant areas of life with an optimistic presence.
Having business leaders that encourage the practise of mindfulness is just as important as practising it individually. Organisations should urge employees to take periodic breaks; go out for walks; have lunch away from their desks and provide them with private spaces to exercise mindfulness in order to recharge and restore their physical and mental state.
Awareness, focus and acceptance are at the root of mindfulness. Using this practise to let go of distractions will optimise employee performance and in turn greatly impact the bottom line.
About the author
Nancy Priest is the founder and chief experience officer of Glass of Learning