Imagine a workday where you have the regular onslaught of back-to-back meetings, inbox overload, texts, calls, requests, and other demands on your time and yet, throughout the day, you feel relaxed, clear minded, and energized. Sound too good to be true? It may be not as impossible as you might think.
The root cause of stress and work-related exhaustion does not come from what is happening in our external environment, but how we respond to it from our internal landscape; more specifically – from how our mind reacts to what we are experiencing and the extent to which we are able to effectively manage our mind, or not.
Mindfulness training is a way of enhancing our mental fitness, so we can be more calm, clear, and focused moment to moment. Extensive research has found that mindfulness training alters our brains and how we engage with ourselves, with others, and with our work. When practiced and applied, mindfulness fundamentally alters the operating system of the mind. Through repeated practice, brain activity is redirected from ancient, more reactionary parts of the brain, towards the newest, most rational part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex.
In this way, mindfulness decreases activity in the parts of the brain responsible for fight-flight and knee-jerk reactions, while increasing activity in the part of the brain responsible for what’s termed our executive functioning. This part of the brain, and the executive functioning skills it supports, is the control center for our thoughts, words, and actions. It’s the center of logical thought and impulse control.
Relying more on our executive functioning firmly puts us in the driver seat of our minds, enabling us to be more responsive to workload pressures and less reactive. We can choose whether we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the volume of requests or be clear minded about how much time we have and prioritize what’s most important. We can hit the pause button on doing lots of things and enhance performance by spending our precious time getting more of the right things done. And further, we can choose not to stress about things we simply don’t have time for as that just wastes time and mental energy.
The following are five easily-implemented tips to help you bring more mindfulness to every day work:
- Practice 10 minutes of mindfulness training each day. Most people find mornings the best time to practice mindfulness, but you can do it any time of day. You can find a 10-minute guided mindfulness training program, a short mindfulness training manual, and a link to a free downloadable mindfulness app here. (Or you can read our article, “How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day.”) Try it for four weeks.
- Avoid reading emails first thing in the morning. Our minds are generally most focused, creative, and expansive in the morning. This is the time to do focused, strategic work and have important conversations. If you read your emails as you get up, your mind will likely get sidetracked and you’ll begin the slide towards reactive leadership. Choosing email as your first task of the day can be a wasted opportunity to use your mind at its highest potential. Instead, try waiting at least half an hour to an hour after you get to work before checking your inbox.
- Turn off all notifications. The notification alarms on your phone, tablets, and laptop are significant contributors to reactive leadership. They keep you mentally busy, put you under pressure, and thereby trigger reactionary responses. In short, they create far more damage than add value. Try this: For one week, turn off all email notifications on all devices. Only check your email once every hour (or as often as responsibly needed for your specific job), but don’t give in to compulsively checking email as they roll into your inbox.
- Stop multitasking. Multitasking keeps your mind full, busy, and under pressure. It makes you reactive. Instead, try to maintain focus on your current, single task. Then try to notice when you find your mind drifting off to another task. You know you’re multitasking when you have many cognitive tasks occurring at the same time. When this happens, mentally shut down all the superfluous task while maintaining focus on the one current, critical task.
- Put it in your calendar. Schedule a check-in with yourself every two weeks to assess how well you’re doing with the previous four tips or as a reminder to revisit this article to refresh your memory. Also, consider engaging one of your peers to do the same thing. This gives you a chance to assess each other, which can be both very helpful and very motivating.
For more about the science, application, and benefits of mindfulness at work, please join me at WorkHuman, April 3-5 in Austin, Texas. I will be happy to answer your questions and share our experience introducing mindfulness training to tens of thousands of people in hundreds of large companies around the word. In particular, I will share case studies of our work with Accenture, Cisco, Genentech, and many more.
Although mindfulness isn’t a magic pill, it will help you be more effective, more relaxed, and maybe even get more enjoyment in every day work. And if it can have these positive impacts for individuals, just imagine the benefit it can have on organization culture. Much to discuss! I hope to see you in Austin!
Amygdala to PFC: The Neurobiology of mindfulness meditation; Fadel Zeidan in Handbook of Mindfulness: Theory, Research & Practice, Kirk Warren Brown et.al.