For many people, work is a pressure cooker. Even if your job is less demanding, there’s still an element of stress. Work is still work, after all. And it comes with high expectations and tough tasks, and requires good results.
As mindfulness teacher Ed Halliwell said, “We’re expected to meet deadlines, make quick and often complex decisions, and manage relationships with others effectively, all the while achieving results in the face of constraints, which aren’t always of our own making.”
Practicing mindfulness on the job offers a bounty of benefits, according to Halliwell. It soothes and calms our bodies and minds. It improves our ability to work and produce great work. Even when stress strikes, instead of getting overwhelmed, it helps us confront challenges head-on, he said.
How? Mindfulness trains us to stay in the present. “It trains us to become more aware of what’s going on in and around us, giving us the capacity to see things clearly and act from a wider perspective.”
Consequently, mindfulness sharpens our focus for tasks and projects, so we’re less prone to distractions and rumination, said Halliwell, co-author of the book The Mindful Manifesto. Having a clearer, broader viewpoint also helps us break through our habitual ways of thinking and approach problems with creativity and insight, he said.
Below, Halliwell shared three ways of practicing mindfulness at work.
A Daily Meditation Practice
A regular meditation practice gives you the foundation for being mindful at work, Halliwell said. He suggested reading meditation books or listening to guided CDs for developing your practice. (Mindful.org has a great list of resources.)
But working with a teacher is best. “In my view nothing beats working with a teacher live, as they can help you work with your own unique situation, guiding you, answering your questions and helping you work with obstacles that will inevitably come up.”
Our breath, of course, is always available to us. And we can use our breath to practice mindfulness. Mindful breathing is different from deep breathing. In fact, you’re not trying to control your breath at all, Halliwell said. You’re simply “letting it be as it naturally is and gently attending to that.”
Depending on your schedule, he suggested practicing mindful breathing anywhere from 2 minutes to 30 minutes.
Sit comfortably upright, and focus on the natural flow of your breath. Halliwell described mindful breathing as “Not thinking about the breath so much as feeling its texture, riding its waves a bit like you might ride a wave on the ocean.”
When your mind naturally wanders from your breath, simply return to it gently, he said. “You don’t have to shut out other parts of your experience, [such as] thoughts, emotions, body sensations, sounds. Just let them be there in the background as you attend gently to the breath.”
There also are many clever ways to sneak in mindful breathing, especially when you’re super busy. Halliwell knows people who use bathroom breaks to engage in several minutes of mindful breathing. “Other people put stickers on the receiver of their phones as a reminder to pause for three rings before answering, and use that space to take a mindful breath.”
Checking In With Yourself
It’s common for people to move about their days with very little awareness. For instance, without even knowing it, you might be “tensing up, ruminating [or avoiding your emotions],” which only contributes to feelings of overwhelm.
So it’s important to check in with yourself throughout the day. Notice what’s happening in your body and mind, Halliwell said.
To remind yourself to take a break and check in, you can download mindfulness bells, and have them chime every hour, he said.
As one bell chimes, for instance, you might notice yourself rushing for no reason. (For many of us this has become our autopilot.) Just noticing that you’re sprinting through your day can help you break out of the harried habit.
Even if you’re anxious over a difficult situation, you can still use mindfulness to help. “In that case, mindfulness – being aware of how that situation is affecting us – may help us to make a more considered decision about how to respond.”
The more we practice mindfulness, the more likely it is to become our default way of being at work, Halliwell said, “and the more attuned we will become, to ourselves, others and our environment. And the more attuned we become, the more skilful we are likely to be at whatever job we’re doing.”