How to Use Mindfulness to Make Your Work Life Fulfilling – Part One

Not that long ago, meditation was seen widely as the preserve of hippies and saffron-clad monks, unsuited for the business world. Nowadays, a growing number of businesses recognise what mindfulness has to offer, and the corporate wellness services sector in Australia produces close to $50 million in annual revenue.

Mindfulness practice has been linked to activating parts of the brain correlated with states of well-being such as happiness, joy and enhanced self-awareness. But how can you use mindfulness at work and make your professional life more fulfilling?

Mindfully relating to others at work is an especially challenging and important skill. After all, relationships are the foundation of business. Business happens because people make it happen. Unless you work completely alone, you get things done with and through other people. And ‘performance’ is based on feelings, even when those feelings are outside of conscious awareness.

One of the most significant findings of the recent year is a greater understanding of the social nature of our brains. According to research, “advances in our understanding of social neurobiology show that our interactions with others shape our brain’s neural pathways, including those that are genetically programmed. The brain responds to nonverbal messages and emotional cues throughout our lives.”

So, what is mindfulness? With its roots in Buddhist meditation, it is a secular version that is now widely practised. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.

How can you use mindfulness at work?

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing, for instance, that there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we are sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.

So how does this translate to the workplace in a way that has practical, quantifiable results? Well, firstly you try this. When you get stressed out and start thinking of every little stumbling block in disastrous terms, your mind tends to accept this black-and-white thinking as the absolute truth, which unsurprisingly creates even more stress. But in actuality, this thinking is a just product of your emotional reaction to a situation. When you find your stress levels rising, do not try to force yourself to cheer up or calm down. The first step to returning to equilibrium is to simply accept the way you currently feel. Dr Danny Penman, author of ‘Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in A Frantic World’ is quoted as saying, “If you accept that that is how you feel at this moment, you take the sting out of your emotion, and out of the stress, anger, worry and unhappiness. The act of observation and the act of accepting the situation is tremendously powerful.”

But this does not mean just getting up and quitting if you have a bad day at work – it is a matter of accepting how things are at this moment before making a plan to do what you can to improve them. “It’s a strategic acceptance, the way a general will accept the situation when he is going into the heat of battle,” says Penman. “He may not like it, but by accepting it, he can then find a solution.”

In the new post-COVID paradigm we find ourselves living in, home working could well become the new norm. Lots of people have taken to it very well, but an equal amount finds the shift hard to cope with due to the many distractions they are now dealing with, leading to frustration and even despair. Even in open-concept offices, distractions are rampant, whether they are in the form of a noisy colleague, phones going off or the lure of social media. But paradoxically, paying attention to those distractions, rather than trying to tune them out, can be a good way to prevent them from stressing you out. Gently notice the sounds and see if you can become aware of the effects they have on your body. The observation tends to rob the distractions of their power. “When you get distracted and stress, you might start tensing up in your stomach, neck or shoulders,” says Penman. “The simple act of observing the effects of stress and worry on the body causes our tension to run into the sand.”

This is using mindfulness in the office to make your workday easier. Next time, we will share some more tips on how to leverage this useful tool to your advantage. 

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How to Use Mindfulness to Make Your Work Life Fulfilling – Part Two