Mindfulness and Happiness at Work: How a Few Breaths Can Improve Your Business
Mindfulness has been the new buzzword for the past few years and it seems to be showing up everywhere. The business world has not escaped its influence. Before you jump into mindfulness, let’s see if it is an important practice or just another fad in employee engagement.
Are you one of the 47% of people who is on autopilot, just going through the day not aware of what you are doing from moment to moment?
Many experts would say that mindfulness and happiness at work are the missing pieces to the puzzle.
Mindfulness, what is it?
When you hear the word mindfulness, many of you probably think of meditation. That word can bring up many stereotypical images of sitting in the lotus position and saying “ohmmmmm” for hours at a time. Not only is that a generalization of meditation, but it is also a generalization of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a way to train the mind to pay attention to changes in your internal and external worlds as they happen at the moment. It trains you to focus only on the present moment and to let thoughts pass by with time.
Meditation is just one way to be more mindful.
Mindfulness in the workplace
There are many ways that mindfulness can be incorporated into the culture of a corporation or just a few of its employees. Some are more complex than others, but they all have the same benefits.
Improving mental health
Mindfulness limits the amount of rumination and worry, improving mental health and well-being. Sometimes employers do not understand or value the impact that employee well-being and mental health has on the organization. Even though companies may have employee wellness programs, they only work if there is sustained effort at both the employee and employer levels to make them successful.
Ellen Langer, one of the first researchers to publish research about mindfulness, states that it is the “essence of engagement”. It helps employees focus on the present, on new perspectives, and new ways of being productive. It helps improve engagement with the task at hand.
In one of her many studies about mindfulness, she found that boring and mindless tasks became more engaging when people used mindfulness to change their perspectives on them. She used television viewing as the mindless task in her experiments, but there are many routine business tasks that might also be considered mindless.
Ellen Langer breaks down how mindfulness leads to engagement, stating:
And so, mindfulness, for me, is the very simple process of actively noticing new things. When you actively notice new things that puts you in the present, makes you sensitive to context. As you’re noticing new things, it’s engaging.
Lengthening attention span
In a study on college undergraduates, Jha found that mindfulness was able to impact the attention spans of the students. While attention span is usually worse at the end of the semester than at the beginning, Jha found that after 7 hours of mindfulness training, student attention levels were stable and their accuracy on tasks improved.
Jha also found that two weeks of mindfulness training improved scores on the GRE and improved working memory. Test takers were able to focus on the present by limiting distractions.
Sharon Salzberg, a teacher of Buddhist meditation feels that mindfulness builds resilience. She believes that mindfulness through meditation can make work more meaningful by helping people view their thoughts in a different manner.
In a recent study on occupational meaning, researchers found that mindfulness improves engagement with work through elevating the meaning of work experiences. In other words, meaning, engagement, and mindfulness are interconnected processes. Being mindful can allow employees to find meaning in their work through being in the present and finding alternate perspectives. When work is more meaningful, employees are more likely to be engaged.
Practicing mindfulness at work
At the core of mindfulness is staying present. This means being aware of what is happening within you and around you at every moment. If you engage in a work task, being mindful means you focus only on that task. When you start to have thoughts about lunch, a coworker, a new email, or any other random thought you recognize the thought but then return to the task.
This can be a difficult thing to do when there is so much to do and think about when working, but there are some ways to practice. Try doing simple tasks and focusing only on that task. Next time you open a door or wash your hands, don’t just mindlessly go through the process, but stop and process what you are doing at every moment. Think about motions, temperature, texture, and everything else that you would probably ignore because you are too busy thinking about something else.
Mindfulness can help us step back from all the details of a situation and see the big picture. It can help us form a more objective viewpoint when looking at how things are and how they might be.
When we are able to see it objectively and believe that all outcomes are possible, we free our minds from the past and future and are able to focus on the present moment.
Using a program
Companies such as Aetna, Google, Adobe, General Mills, and Target have all used mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or another similar program to help employees be more mindful. Aetna found that after employees attended just one session they were 28 % less stressed and sleep improved by 20%. Better yet, each employee in the program gained 62 minutes of productivity per week, estimated to be about $3,000 per year.
Practicing as much as possible
Just like with any new skill, you will not master mindfulness after the first day or week. It takes practice to be able to do it effortlessly. You do not have to set aside certain times during the day to meditate or find a quiet place. You can be mindful anywhere and everywhere.
Instead of mindlessly walking to the bathroom, think about how your feet hit the ground and flex as you walk. Instead of eating quickly to get to your next task or talk with a friend, take a minute to taste every flavor of the food and feel the muscles in your mouth move as you chew. Mindfulness can be done anywhere. Just find something to bring your awareness to in the present moment.
People usually multitask because it makes them feel like they are getting more done. In reality multitasking actually hurts productivity as it takes time and energy to switch between multiple tasks. Being mindful can help us break the multitasking habit.
It may be helpful to track when you are multitasking and when you are not. Then you can see when you are the most productive. You can also organize tasks so you are doing all of one type of task at the same time instead of having to switch between them all. Turning off distractions like email, phones, or social media can help focus your thoughts. During breaks, stretch and take deep breaths.
Most people are not automatically mindful. It takes practice to master the skill. This means that we might need to schedule mindfulness and set reminders like alarms, notes, or pictures that wake our brains and keep us from going on autopilot for too long.
These reminders can help use check in with a deep breath and a stop to observe what is happening in the present. It can be easy to get caught up in all the work demands. Reminders can help keep us from getting lost too much in our thoughts and work.
Slowing things down
Sometimes when we are going through the day we can begin to feel more and more rushed. There are so many pressures to go things faster. The rat race is real.
It may sound strange to many people, but slowing down can actually be more efficient. Being mindful, staying in the present moment, can help focus your mind, listen better, and slow down your thoughts. This can lead to happier and more productive employees.
Research has shown that it is not stress that kills, but it is your perception that can kill you. 30,000 people were surveyed about their feelings about stress. Researchers found that people who had high levels of stress but felt that stress helped them had the lowest mortality rates. People who had high amounts of stress but believed that it was bad for them had the highest mortality rates. In a related study, the blood vessels of those who felt stress was bad constricted, while the blood vessels of those who felt stress was good stayed open.
Mindfulness can help you take notice of the changes in the body caused by stress (higher heart rate, sweat, faster breathing). You can then start to filter out the negative thoughts and let them pass through your mind as you focus on the task.
Be humble and modest
You can practice mindfulness by accepting your accomplishments and failures just as they are, without shame or pride. It is about finding acceptance in your life. It means to be open to others and to listen and be present to their ideas and opinions without judgment.
Mindfulness requires people to accept all thoughts and situations as they come. It does not imply agreement, but it requires nonjudgmental acceptance. Accepting situations can promote change and adaptation. Accepting the self can lead to personal growth and self-improvement. It can be easy to get distracted by our own failures, but mindfulness requires that we accept out thoughts and our failures, good or bad, and we move forward to the next moment and the next thought because there is no way to go back or to predict the future.
Creating a mindful day
Making your day full of mindfulness does not have to be a complex task. It can be as simple as finding time to focus on your breathing and letting thoughts pass through you, instead of controlling you. Here is a sample schedule or a mindful day.
After waking up spend a few minutes in bed just being aware of your breathing and the movements of your chest.
Let go of any thoughts and focus on your breathing.
When at work, take 10 minutes to sit and focus on your present surroundings as well as your breathing. Let thoughts pass over you as you focus on your breathing.
At the start of meetings, or right before they start, take two minutes to be silent and focused. Allow people to use 5 minutes to transition from the meeting to another task.
Do a small 2-minute mindfulness exercise every hour.
When returning home, turn off all distractions for 10 minutes. Take that time to focus on your breath and allow all the thoughts and stresses of the day pass by.
Many people may be resistant to the idea of mindfulness due to their perceptions of it. As a leader, you can help change how your employees view mindfulness so that they may be more willing to try it. Explaining it to them as a breathing exercise or making it a part of meetings will allow them to see that it is not some strange practice that only certain people do; It can be for everyone.
There are even apps that encourage mindfulness with principles of gamification, allowing employees to get all the benefits of mindfulness at work and the benefits of gamification. Improving productivity, engagement, happiness, and meaning can start with a few breaths.
Andy has degrees in psychology and mental health and has been working to help people find success and happiness in their professional and personal lives. He finds his own happiness through writing fiction adventures, sitting in the park with a good book, or catching the latest movie or TV show with friends.
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