How to Stay Mindful in the Workplace
Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. If you’re like me, you not only depend on your job for obvious financial reasons but also use work to achieve a sense of purpose and fulfillment. While our jobs allow us to support a busy lifestyle and even enhance our lives with meaning, they also serve as a significant source of stress and anxiety. Constantly juggling phone calls, emails, meetings, now Zoom meetings, Covid and presentations while attempting to complete necessary tasks can leave me feeling a bit like Wile E. Coyote. When that happens, I feel as if I keep running and running in pursuit of my goals until I run right off a cliff, suspended in mid-air and unable to look down for fear of plummeting to the canyon below.
Addressing the Stresses of Work
Between long days, short deadlines, and the immense amount of brain power required to keep up with it all, I used to feel utterly exhausted by the time the weekend rolled around. Those two paltry days off fly by at a seemingly impossible rate. If you’re like me, before you know it, you’re back at the office, feeling tense and worn out instead of rested and rejuvenated. I know there’s a lot of talk about high-stress careers, but whatever your position or industry, we all experience anxiety from work. It took me far too long to realize that I could use any help I could get in alleviating this anxiety—not only to be a better, more productive worker but to prevent excess stress from wreaking havoc on my mind and body.
So, how do we deal with the perpetual problem of balancing overwhelming job responsibilities without completely burning out or ending up in the hospital from one of the physical manifestations of stress? For me, the answer lies in practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is far from a new concept. In fact, prominent companies like Google recognize the importance of mindfulness in keeping happy, healthy employees. Accordingly, many of them have launched mindfulness training to teach these employees simple, straightforward, and remarkably effective ways to become more mindful at work. If you are interested in learning how to master mindfulness at work, review the information below as well as my practical workplace mindfulness tips to ensure you’re prepared to handle even the most anxiety-inducing work situations.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to devoting your full attention to the present moment and considering your immediate circumstances from an open, nonjudgmental perspective. Most of the time, our minds wander from one topic to the next, ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. The goal of mindfulness is to train the mind to break out of this habit by bringing us into the present moment. By practicing mindfulness regularly over time, we train our brains to become better at focusing by strengthening the attention regulation pathways in our brain.
Originally inspired by Buddhist practices, mindful meditation is now used by people of all cultures and religious traditions to refine focus, reduce stress, and promote tranquility. Some people mistakenly believe mindfulness meditation means trying to stop thinking or to empty your mind completely, but this is not the case. Instead, you can cultivate mindfulness by directing your attention to perceiving your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations with the goal of viewing them more clearly and without making assumptions or casting judgment. Mindfulness gives us the tools to approach even the most stressful situations with patience and composure.
Why Mindfulness Is Necessary in the Modern Workplace
Modern offices feature myriad distractions, many of which are unavoidable during a normal workday. With all the benefits technology has provided, being bombarded by incessant notifications on our phones, computers, and other smart devices prevents most people from truly disconnecting when we need to. Even when working from home, many people find that technology has become so ingrained in our lives that it is nearly impossible to take a break from work. As a result, workplace stress can become consuming, overflowing from our professional lives into our personal lives until they are almost indistinguishable.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate the stress inherent in the modern workplace. Considerable research shows that practicing daily mindfulness results in tangible effects on the brain and body, significantly reducing stress in many contexts, including work. By developing critical self-awareness skills, you can more easily and accurately identify your emotions and the emotions of others and respond appropriately to them. The combination of improved focus and enhanced self-awareness can give you the ability to manage your frustrations and communicate effectively with kindness and compassion. I’m a prime example—with a focus on mindfulness, my productivity increases, the quality of my work improves, and I feel more satisfied with my job not to mention the extra I can give at home and to my family.
Research on the Benefits of Mindfulness at Work
In a study conducted by researchers from Duke University, the health insurance company Aetna requested that over 10,000 of their employees participate in a mindfulness class or a yoga class. The results of the study found that after taking part in these classes, employees experienced a 28% reduction in stress levels, a 20% increase in sleep quality, and a 19% reduction in pain.
Perhaps even more importantly for Aetna, the employees became more effective at their jobs, gaining over an hour of added productivity per week. The value of that added productivity netted the company around $3,000 per year for every employee. Even without being offered incentives, employees continued to take these classes, and the demand has grown consistently every year.
How to Master Mindfulness at Work
Now that you know what mindfulness is and why it is vital for successfully navigating workplace stress, follow these ten tips to learn how to be more mindful at work:
1. Be Consciously Present
Instead of simply going through the motions at work, be consciously present in what you’re doing. When distractions arise and your mind wanders, do not fight them. Instead, acknowledge your thoughts and gently guide your attention back to the task before you.
At the beginning of every workday, pause to set your intention to be conscious. During your commute, avoid using the radio and take note of your breathing and body language as well as your surroundings, such as the feel of the breeze or the sound of the birds singing. After you arrive at your workplace, pause to reorient yourself and prepare for the day ahead.
2. Practice Short Mindful Exercises
Mindfulness exercises train your brain. The more effort you put into these exercises initially, the easier it becomes for your brain to naturally shift into a mindful state. Rest assured, mindfulness doesn’t require hours of meditating in complete silence. It can be accomplished in short moments several times throughout your day. Just one minute of intentionally focusing on your thoughts, feelings, and senses can serve as a mindfulness exercise. Practice.
When faced with intensified pressure at work, practicing short mindful exercises helps to readjust your nervous system, dampening the fight-or-flight response and engaging the logical areas of your brain. This allows you to make informed, reasonable decisions rather than reacting purely on instinct.
3. Make an Effort to Single-Task
The concept of multi-tasking pervades our culture, but research indicates that true multitasking is not possible. Our brains cannot work on two or more tasks simultaneously and are similarly unable to effectively switch between tasks. When we think we’re multi-tasking, we believe we are devoting half of our focus to one task and the other half to a second task simultaneously.
In reality, we’re rapidly switching our full attention and brainpower from one thing to the next. Then, we convince ourselves we are more productive even though this habit undermines our productivity. To help avoid the temptation to multi-task, keep a record of what you can achieve within a specific period, decide whether you were single-tasking or multi-tasking, and determine how productive you were during that time.
4. Use Mindful Reminders
We all know the feeling of being on autopilot. Our brain’s default mode is a low-energy state that allows you to navigate your daily activities while not truly focusing on them. A study from Harvard University found that a whopping 47% of the average day is spent lost in our thoughts, navigating on autopilot. Results from the study also showed that this unfocused, daydreaming state can negatively affect your well-being by blocking your access to the choices and opportunities in front of you. Setting reminders can help jolt you out of autopilot, so try setting an alarm on your phone that will sound or vibrate every so often and taking a mindful pause every time it goes off.
5. Slow Down
If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter trying to finish a project, you know that your efficiency falls to almost zero after going so long without sufficient rest. Inadequate rest causes you to operate in a panicked rush, which wastes energy and results in poor decision-making. Making the intentional choice to slow down, focus on listening, and take your time allows you to be more focused and efficient. As a result, you’ll improve your ability to negotiate challenges, meet demands, and learn new skills.
6. Change Your Perception of Stress
A research study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that even the perception of stress directly affects your health. People who experience high-stress levels but considered stress to be useful exhibited the lowest mortality rates, while people experiencing high-stress levels and considered stress to be a negative influence on their health exhibited the highest risk of dying.
The next time you find yourself becoming stressed at work, pay attention to how this changes your heart rate and breathing and tell yourself that the stress is beneficial – it energizes you, sharpens your senses, boosts your immune system, and prepares your body for impending challenges. Viewing stress from this perspective allows you to view these challenges positively and appreciate your body for working to meet them.
7. Focus on Gratitude
Unfortunately, our cognitive processes feature a negativity bias, meaning we are more likely to dwell on things that go wrong than appreciate the things that go well. Extensive evidence shows that paying attention to the things you are grateful for makes you feel better in the moment. Better yet, the thought provides a lasting positive effect on your health, creativity, relationships, and quality of work.
Instead of wallowing over the parts of your job you don’t like, nourish your mind with gratitude by focusing on the parts you do like. Considering your job from a more balanced perspective allows you to determine if you should find another job or if you might experience more advantages staying put. If you decide to change jobs, practicing gratitude enables you to select another job based on your needs and priorities, and will help you give a much more favorable impression during an interview.
8. Nurture Humility
Humility consists of retaining a quiet confidence in yourself without feeling the need to inflate your ego by constantly promoting your achievements to others. In the workplace, being humble means recognizing that you require others to succeed. As a result, when you accomplish something, you can share your appreciation for others and their contributions rather than congratulating yourself for your superior knowledge or skills.
Humility is also related to gratitude. When you appreciate and show gratitude for others, you are being humble. Practicing mindfulness nurtures humility by reducing activity in the areas of the brain associated with your concept of self, widening your awareness to include others around you and their vital roles in your success.
9. Accept What You Cannot Change
Acceptance forms a core component of mindfulness and recovery. Mindfulness means accepting yourself the way you are and acknowledging the truth of the situation at hand before you can move forward to deal with any challenges. Lack of acceptance causes constant self-criticism, a sizable drain on energy that often results in avoidance, denial, and aggressive behavior.
By contrast, acceptance provides clarity that helps you understand which aspects of yourself you would like to improve, allows you to tolerate your shortcomings, and aids in enjoying your successes. Self-acceptance serves as the starting point for personal development and improvement by ensuring you learn from your mistakes and change your behavior in the future to avoid making the same mistakes again.
10. Develop a Growth Mindset
Research from Stanford University suggests that people tend to hold one of two mindsets, a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People holding a fixed mindset consider their basic qualities, like intelligence and talents, to be fixed traits that cannot be changed. They do not attempt to develop these qualities or improve themselves, but simply hope these qualities lead to success.
People operating with a growth mindset understand they can enhance their intelligence or talents by putting in effort, viewing their current state as just the beginning and building on this through determination and hard work. Adopting a growth mindset at work means you view new responsibilities as chances for growth rather than focusing on them as obstacles. You can therefore accept criticism because you consider it an opportunity to discover something new about yourself and make improvements.
Pay attention to your thoughts – when you notice yourself adhering to a fixed mindset, pause and question this mindset. When the fixed mindset says you might fail, remind yourself that failure is how successful people learn. When the fixed mindset says you don’t have the intelligence or skills to accomplish a goal, tell yourself that the only way to know is to try. Over time, you will adopt a growth mindset naturally, helping you become a better person and aiding you in achieving your goals.
Little by Little, Mindfulness Comes Together
Incorporate the above mindfulness tips into your daily work routine, one by one. Eventually, you will find yourself more able to give your full attention to the work at hand and learn valuable lessons from the experiences you have in the process. By becoming more mindful, you can become a more effective happy employee, reduce stress, and build opportunities for a successful future. Thank you for allowing me to share with you today.