Work life is full of challenges that can drain us and create stress. Office politics, dictatorial
bosses, co-workers emotions that you have no control over. An uncertain economy and a
volatile job market. Escalating levels of expectations. Too much to do, too little time, not enough
Most of us are beholden to the income we receive from our jobs, and beyond that, we get up
and go to work because we have no real desire to the greater good. Turning away from work is
not an option for most of us, so we throw ourselves into the challenges of the workplace. Some
of us are doing well, successful and satisfied. But too many of us are not happy at work. We’re
stressed out and quite possibly confused. We appear to be effective, but lingering issues like
those above can make work secretly (or not so secretly) a drag. That’s not great for us or for
the people we’re working with. So where do we begin if we want to improve our work life for
ourselves and for those around us? I suggest starting with the mind. Ask yourself: what is the
quality of my mind when I’m at work? What’s happening with my mind during the hours I’m at
work? Is my mind working at its utmost?
The mind contains resources and possibilities-for creativity, kindness, compassion, insight, and
wisdom. It’s a storehouse for tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a noisy
annoyance, an untamed animal, or something that can drag us down. Sometimes we would like
to just shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment of peace. Yet, our mind is
the one thing we cannot shut off. So why not put it to good use. Through mindfulness, we can
train our minds to work better.
By training us to pay attention moment by moment to where we are and what we’re doing,
mindfulness can help us choose how we behave, nudging (or jolting) is out of autopilot mode.
Here are a few suggestions on how to bring mindfulness to the workplace. This just won’t give
us some relief from stress; it can actually change, even transform how we work.
1). KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Do we really see what is really there, or is what we experience filtered through our own thoughts
and perceptions? Maybe we should check how we’re seeing before we try to change what we’re
seeing. First we need to make sure our lens is clear. It can be difficult to be open minded
towards others, but it can be even more difficult to be open minded with oneself. It takes real
training. To discover the ways of perceiving, you’re apt to blindly apply, experiment with
keeping yourself curious, attentive, and receptive. Whenever you detect yourself falling into an
old, familiar pattern, stop and examine what is actually going on. Notice the physical sensations
in your body; notice the emotions that have bloomed; notice what stories your mind is
generating that make your body tense and inflame your emotions. But it’s important not to
disparage yourself for falling into an old and unhelpful pattern. Recognize the potentially
explosive negative charge generated by your body, thoughts, and emotions. Accept that it has
arisen, then make the decision to be in control of it instead of being controlled by it.
2). Learn to respond, rather than react.
Inflexible patterns of perceiving inevitably prove too small, too confining, for all that our minds
need to encompass and accomplish. Inflexible patterns of reacting squeeze the life out of us.
Each of us has our own pet scenarios that chafe against our expectations. When they pop up,
they threaten to stir up jealousy, anger, defensiveness, mindless striving, and a stew of other
possibilities. We may end up saying or doing something hurtful, something we’ll regret later and
may have to apologize for. Conversely, when we stop to examine how we typically respond to
situations, we create space for more creative and flexible responses. Ultimately, as we build the
habit of mindfully examining our responses in the moment, mindful awareness becomes our
new default mode.
3). Build Healthy Habits
For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness and
informal practices that extend mindfulness into everyday life. Formal practice involves learning a
basic mindfulness meditation such as following the breath and practicing it on a regular,
preferably daily, schedule. Informal practice, no less important, can literally take place any
second of the day. It involves nothing more than focusing the mind on whatever is happening in
the present moment, outside of the shopworn patterns we have built up over a lifetime.
Mindfulness interrupts the conditioned responses that prevent us from exploring new avenues of
thought, choking our creative potential. Each time we stand up against a habit—whether it’s
checking our smartphone during a conversation or reacting defensively to a coworker’s passing
remark—we weaken the grip of our conditioning. We lay down new tracks in the brain and
fashion new synaptic connections. We become less likely in the future to default to patterns that
can trap us into being satisfied with ineffective and outmoded strategies. We take steps to
improve not only how we are at work but the work environment itself.
In this way, mindfulness is not just personal. It has a contagious quality that will change the
culture in an organization—not necessarily in big, sweeping ways but gradually, incrementally.