Mindfulness at Work

February 1st, 2018:

In today’s world of ever-increasing connectivity, our desks are littered with distractions of multiple monitors, computers, smart phones, documents, social media, and music players all while we try to accomplish demands from multiple projects and overreaching goals. Just like all of our devices, we’re constantly connected and distracted. Balancing the ever-rising expectations and competing demands for both our personal and professional lives creates ever-increasing stresses at the forefront of our minds.

For me, I tend to fall into habits that can hinder my productivity and cloud my thinking. Too often I find myself wanting to check my email during a meeting, for example, or take a coffee break when I already had too many cups. Practicing mindfulness has been a key tool in breaking away from these habits and recognizing the meaning of the stresses causing them. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment. The goal is to recognize and accept inner thoughts and feelings without judgment. While that may sound like a spiritual quest on a path to enlightenment, when applied to everyday situations it can be a powerful tool.

Spending a few minutes every day on my mindfulness practice reminds me to look at the present and observe what is happening now. To notice the body language of the people I’m meeting with or the facial expressions during a presentation. To recognize opportunities where praise is needed and appreciated. Or even in the least stressful of times, to simply improve my focus on executing a task successfully.  Instead of mindlessly trying to finish something as quickly as possible, I am reminded to take a moment to consider all the options available for potential paths to success.

The benefits for employers are just as numerous as they are in our personal lives. Research has shown that mindfulness in the workplace reduces employee absenteeism and turnover, improves cognitive functions, increases employee productivity, enhances employer/employee and client relationships, and improves job satisfaction. The old mentality of “working faster, working harder, doing more with less” doesn’t necessarily translate to greater productivity and success. The Harvard Business Review defines mindfulness as “the awareness of events and potentialities within an environment.” Instead of letting mindlessness rob every one of the opportunity to see the potential paths to success, incorporating mindfulness into the workplace can make workers both personally happier and professionally more productive.

My practice began with a group workshop on guided meditation where we followed the instructions of a steady-voiced teacher. By the end of the eight weeks of classes, I began to notice small changes in my mindset as something stressful or distracting came up. Instead of worry causing me to act rashly, I was able to identify the stress and rationalize a solution to the problem. Throughout the years, I’ve built upon that experience with more guided meditations and breathing exercises using different apps and incorporating yoga into my routine to add mindfulness to my physical activity as well.

There are many methods to practice mindfulness, but the easiest way to start is just a minute or two a day. Before you start your day, get in the habit of focusing on your breathing, being aware of the sensations in your body, and as you see your mind wander, bring your attention back to your breath. And if you find it too difficult to start with that, it’s even easier with many apps that are available today.

-Gary Carlson, Mechanical Engineer