Let’s look at mindfulness in the workplace and how to apply the skills we gain through persistent meditation practice to our professional lives.
My main focus is how our own mindfulness practice can inform how we behave and act in the presence of colleagues, bosses and employees. But we’ll also uncover the power of a team commitment to serious mindfulness practice and a shared ethos based on this.
It is not that mindfulness is the ‘answer’ to all of life’s problems. Rather, it is that all of life’s problems can be seen more clearly through the lens of a clear mind. John Kabat-Zinn
We’ll focus on how we can bring mindfulness into the workplace, rather than mindfulness practices per se. But let’s quickly introduce it so that we’re on the same page.
What Is Mindfulness?
When we strip mindfulness back to its underlying principles, we see that it’s really about attention. But it’s a special kind of attention: a deliberate attempt to pour our focus on what we’re experiencing at this very moment, clarify it and fully savour it.
Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. John Kabat-Zinn
For a deeper explanation and simple guided mindfulness meditation, head to my article What Really Is Mindfulness?
Let’s see how this practice relates to how we operate in the world.
The Journey Of Mindfulness
We tend to think that mindfulness and meditation mean sitting on the floor with our eyes closed, looking withdrawn from the world. We need to expand this conception before we can understand how to use mindfulness in the workplace.
To begin with, mindfulness is a separate activity that we do for a fixed amount of time each day. We might achieve a certain amount of focus, clarity and insight during our sessions, but they usually disappear when we end the session.
This is the case for a while until we’ve done enough practice for these states to become traits. Shinzen Young puts it beautifully.
Eventually, a delicious figure-ground reversal takes place. In the beginning, meditation is something that happens within your day. Eventually, the day becomes something that happens within your meditation. Shinzen Young
Mindfulness becomes eminently practical and informs all of our actions. We have presence, poise, and insight on tap. Though we might slip into our old ways, we continually work to cultivate a meditative state in all situations, and we know we operate best when we do.
Part of this clarity and focus is having a permanent vantage point on our inner world of emotions, thoughts, behaviours and responses. We remain anchored in the present and maintain a heightened awareness of our body and mind. This gives us superior control over our actions, decisions and way of being.
We realise that every moment, every experience we have, is a vehicle for our mindfulness practice. As such, let’s explore how we can bring this poise into the workplace.
the power of Mindfulness In the Workplace
see emotional reactions AND penetrate them
Let’s face it, we all have moments of annoyance, anger and anxiety at work. The workplace stirs our emotions. Our livelihood, sense of self-worth, social skills and more are in play. We often get into disagreements, feel stifled or limited, and face resistance from colleagues and bosses.
If we go around freely expressing our emotions, we might find ourselves rejected and out of favour. In extreme cases, we might face sacking or demotion.
On the other hand, we often repress and deny our emotions and never reach their root cause. We learn to be civilised, and polite, and not step on people’s toes, especially if they have the power. This works well as a front to others, but we’re setting ourselves up for emotional blockages and sudden outbursts when things heat up. We can’t keep up the charade forever.
Then there are the habitual emotions in the workplace, like tiredness, tedium and lack of inspiration. Usually, we multiply and compound our unpleasant inner states. We feel a certain way, and before we know it we’re complaining, concocting stories and hatching a fantastical plan of action. This only brings us down and makes our work suffer. Others in the team will notice.
Develop the Vantage Point
Part of holding the meditative vantage point is allowing ourselves to fully feel our emotions. We can see them. We own them. With this heightened clarity, we remain in control, not blown away by sudden rushes of emotion.
We can then decide how to act and can probe to the root of the issue. It’s a good idea to ask questions like “Where is this anger, insecurity, fear, worry or sadness coming from?” “What assumptions am I making here?” “Why do I feel threatened?”
Not only does mindfulness help us notice the cascade of thoughts and emotions in such moments, showing us hidden aspects of ourselves, it helps us downregulate our reactions such that we don’t act on these emotions or do something we later regret. With dominion over our inner world, we let emotion flow through us.
We learn to let our inner states come and go as they, please. Sure, we might feel unsatisfied, but we don’t have to feed that emotion or let it distort our actions.
Mindfulness In The Workplace reveals how we treat others
Another key asset of mindfulness in the workplace – and life at large – is that it shines a light on how we treat others.
We usually act from habit and drivenness when interacting with others. Actions guided by these qualities are often subtly or overtly selfish and unskillful. When we’re not mindful of our body and mind, we automatically fall into self-preservation and defensiveness.
Sure, these qualities have their purpose, or else they wouldn’t exist. But often we act on them when it’s not optimal. Not only does this affect the other person, but it also backfires on us. We simply reinforce this tendency and fall deeper into our self-absorption.
Aware of our body and mind when interacting with others, we can soften the rough edges, connect more deeply with the other, and communicate with a spirit of love and care, even if the situation calls for assertively. We look beyond petty politics and fruitless arguments and instead ask how we can more optimally solve the problems we meet. This form of communication ripples and positively affects our relationships with colleagues and bosses.
be present with the day as it is
The mind lives in the past and future. In every moment, it’s trying to rush ahead to some better moment or recover past joy. At work, especially if we dislike it, we tend to spend most of the time not really working, but fretting about the upcoming meeting or holding on for the moment when we can leave and go home.
Our body is tense, we’re rushing, and we’re always one moment ahead of where we are, as though working faster somehow sped up time. We contract the body into a cage. And when we eventually do get home, we spend our free time anticipating the next day. We never settle into the present.
There is much to be learned by cultivating presence – by really paying attention to our work as we work. Settle into the work; let it massage you. Watch your tendency to grasp for home time, and let it go. Feel the sense of “I don’t want to be here”. This practice will build your attention muscles, meaning you’re more likely to respond in this way in any situation.
When in this mode, we’re anchored in the present, not in driven behaviour and a desire to be elsewhere. Not only is work more pleasant this way, but we’re also likely to produce better output.
Mindfulness in The Workplace: Make Mindfulness Mandatory
My ultimate advice for any leader or decision-maker is to make mindfulness compulsory in the workplace.
Without mindfulness, we’re apt to get trapped in low emotional states, unhelpful behaviour, selfish interests and personal squabbles. Whenever we feel our pride hurt, we’ll go off on one, usually doing little to improve our own situation or that of the team.
I’ve found that the clarity, openness and self-awareness that a mindfulness adept brings to the team is diluted by members who can’t access that vantage point. The adept’s wisdom and insight doesn’t find resonance, so its power is limited.
A joint commitment to mindfulness practice fosters a spirit of trust and growth and requires a commitment to respect, self-control, and informed action. When operating from the meditative vantage point together, we’re in a prime position to come together and do great work, resolve conflicts, honour one another, and interact optimally. It takes us beyond petty politics and gamesmanship into problem-solving, solution-focused work.
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Freelance translator and founder of The Great Updraft, where you’ll find tools for self-transformation. Obsessed with psychology, philosophy, society, human evolution and personal development.