Living and working in an era with instant gratification and nearly universal access to information and real-time communication has put us in a tailspin of multitasking. Research has found that multitasking leads to lower overall productivity. Individuals who constantly and rapidly switch tasks have less ability to filter out irrelevant information, and regularly make more mistakes. We have also reached the point in our daily practices that many corporate workers find it impossible to take breaks. According to a recent survey, more than half of employed American adults check work messages on the weekends—four out of 10 do so while on vacation. It’s hard to unwind when your boss or employees know you’re just a text/email/call away.
Rewiring our brains to resist the always present urge to keep in touch constantly is not easy. We are continually bombarded with thoughts about deadlines, unanswered emails, social media likes, family matters—even our senses are pinged by things like the smells from the break room, or the smoke detector beeping because of low battery.
There has been a recent trend of mindfulness in the corporate world. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is something we inherently have coded into us, it is more readily available to us when we practice it on a daily basis.
Dating back as early as the start of Buddhism, mindfulness is closely tied to meditation, and has been accepted by organizations and leaders from Fortune 500 big wigs, to educational and medical organizations, to call centers across the world. Meditation can be a great part of achieving mindfulness, but the strength of mindfulness lies in its accessibility. The goal is to fully give your attention to what you’re doing—you can work mindfully, play mindfully,and learn mindfully.
Mindfulness isn’t about “fixing” yourself or escaping from reality, nor is it a “cure all” or belong to any religion—it is not just for stress reduction. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of the internal workings of our mental, emotional and physical process, and find ways to allow them to work together for our benefit.
Think of your attention as a muscle. The more we flex and use it, the stronger and more durable it becomes. When you become aware of what you’re experiencing “in the moment”—what you’re experiencing with your senses, your state of mind or emotions, how you are sitting or breathing—you are in a state of mindfulness. And there is mounting evidence that this has measurable benefits, both personally and professionally.
It makes sense. Individuals from different professions—athletes, coders, researchers—talk about being “in the zone.” This is the epitome of being present and paying attention. Focusing on one singular task at hand, and putting all mental energy and emotion into that task, is being mindful.
If we view mindfulness as just another passing self-help fix, we undervalue its power. Mindfulness has the potential to continue the transformative path currently trending. Why?
Accessibility: It’s free, it’s accessible to everyone, and does not require anyone to change their beliefs/schedule/etc. Mindfulness recognizes the best of who we are and allows those traits to shine.
Sparks innovation: Living in a time of complexity, fast-paced worklife and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to effective, thoughtful and low-cost answers to any situation.
Evidence-based: Both science and experience show the positive benefits of mindfulness for our health, happiness, and personal and professional relationships.
So how can we rewire our brains toward mindfulness? The ability to recognize that your attention has been diverted is the first step—and the core of what it means to be mindful. Through the use of mindfulness techniques—including meditation—you can free up mental space for creativity and big thinking.
Simple Ways to Achieve Mindfulness
1. Be “In the Moment”: The goal of being mindful is not to quiet your mind or become calm. The goal is to pay attention the present moment—what is happening now, not our inbox, our grocery list or the next difficult phone call you will have. Focus on the task you are completing, how you feel about it and what you’ve accomplished so far.
2. Be Kind to Your Mind: Don’t judge yourself if straying or distracting thoughts arise. Recognize when your mind has wandered, and let it pass. Return to the present moment.
3. Set Aside Time: One of the best things about practicing mindfulness is that you need no equipment, books or instructors. But time is something you do need to set aside. If it is for meditation, self-care or even scheduling time to focus on one project while being mindful—dedicate that chunk of time to be in the moment with that task.
4. Utilize Help When You Need It: There are hundreds of apps dedicated to mindfulness and meditation. If you need help at first to devote time to being mindful, or need reminders, encouragement, support or great graphics—find one that fits you best!
5. Meditate: Meditation is training for the mind, just like the gym is training for your body. There are many levels of meditation, and different techniques. Find one that best fits you! This could be:
- Breathing Meditation: Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Breathe naturally. Focus your attention on your inhale and exhale, and how the body moves with each intake and exhalation. Focus your intention on your breath without trying to control it. If you find your mind wandering, bring your focus back to your breathing.
- Mindfulness Meditation: Focusing awareness on wandering thoughts as they pass through your mind. The goal is not to get involved with the thought, or try to solve them, but to be aware of each thought as it arises
- More Advanced Practices: Yoga, Walking Meditations, Tai Chi, etc.
As you practice mindfulness, you’ll find that you will feel calmer and patient. Tasks will become easier, and your stress levels will reduce. These changes will, in turn, generate changes in other parts of your life—interactions with customers and clients will become easier, conversations can become more enjoyable, even sleep can be positively affected.