Positive Thoughts and Productivity

Mindfulness

Posted on: 20/01/2016   By: Jo Rance

I accidentally made someone feel good today by not thinking and being very British.

Mindfulness

I was leaving my 9 to 5 management job at 8pm (!) and took time to drop in to see staff working the late shift on my way home. My day had been extremely busy, stressful yet reasonably productive. I was tired and apart from planning on saying a polite hello I was “outta here!”. I met two staff and said “hi”, I was met with comments about how late it was and the hours I was working and a “how are you?”

“I’m really good thanks”

I hadn’t considered my answer before opening my mouth, it was a very British reply to a very British question, a question and answer combo that we all do all day, every day without noticing. We ask the question and we answer without thinking.

We listen without hearing.

The response I then got gave me pause for thought “crikey I wasn’t expecting that, you should have gone home hours ago, this place is really stressful at the moment, we’ve been sitting here moaning and yet you’ve come in and said that you are feeling good” – it made me think about how I’m feeling and what I’ve just been saying.

I did feel good. I was tired, but I had achieved a lot. I smiled as I replied.

My response had been heard.

I became aware of the moment.

I became Mindful.

I thought about the here and now, the moment.

Mindfulness in its simplest terms is an awareness. Its roots are in Buddhism but it is now firmly embraced by workplaces from Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Transport for London, KPMG, the Home Office and the NHS.  Mindfulness can help to reduce stress, anxiety and conflict, and increase resilience and emotional intelligence, while improving communication in the workplace.

Being mindful is about paying attention to the now without judgement. Do you need to be more mindful? In the last week have you found yourself:

  • Unable to remember what others have said during conversations?
  • With no recollection of your daily commute?
  • Eating at your desk without tasting your food?
  • Paying more attention to your iPhone than to your nearest and dearest?
  • Dwelling on past events or dreading what the future holds?
  • Are you skim reading this blog?

If you answered yes, the chances are that you’re zoning out and spending at least some time on autopilot.

In the current economic climate, employees are being asked to do more with less, Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, says working in a culture where stress is a badge of honour is counterproductive.

We can spend so much time rushing from one task to another. We may think we’re working more efficiently, but as far as the brain is concerned, we are working against the grain. No wonder we get exhausted.

There are many benefits of mindfulness; there are strong links to emotional intelligence, it increases activity in a number of brain regions, including those parts involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation and perspective taking; it improves psychological functions of attention, compassion and empathy; activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the autonomic nervous system.

Mindfulness enables us to take a step back and consider alternative perspectives rather than simply reacting to events and using the least intelligent area of our brains to make decisions. Mindfulness will not prevent difficult situations or conflict in the workplace but helps us use the part of our brain to facilitate thoughtful, reflective and measured responses, being in control of our emotions.

Mindfulness expert Mirabai Bush, famous for introducing it to Google, says

Becoming more aware of your own emotions as they arise gives you more choice in how to deal with them. Mindfulness helps you become more aware of an arising emotion by noticing the sensation in the body. Then you can follow these guidelines: stop what you are doing. Breathe deeply. Notice how you are experiencing the emotion in your body. Reflect on where the emotion is coming from in your mind (personal history, insecurity, etc). Respond in the most compassionate way.

Companies and organisations mentioned above, report benefits including improvements to physical and mental health, with an increased ability to be resilient and manage stress. For employers, this translates into higher productivity and reduced sickness absence levels, among other things.

Interest in mindfulness is happening in and out of work, people are look for strategies to cope with the challenges, complexities and ambiguity of our times. Many of us are not coping – mental health problems are on the rise, with stress topping the league of reasons for long-term sickness absence, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2011). People are turning to mindfulness as an antidote to all the doing, thinking and struggling, and discovering it offers much more besides. TfL, for example, has seen the number of days taken off because of stress, anxiety and depression fall by 71% since introducing employees to mindfulness.

So if you haven’t skim read this blog and zoned out, you may want to give it a try. There are many resources available on the Internet for individuals detailing exercises to practice right now. Making it work.

Mindfulness can be introduced into the workplace in a number of ways, including: offering it within leadership and management development either explicitly as mindfulness or as modules on emotional intelligence, self-management, resilience, wellbeing and strategic thinking; incorporating it into other learning and development programmes; putting it into corporate social responsibility initiatives; offering mindfulness-based stress management programmes; and using it to underpin coaching practice and weaving it into coaching interventions. You should look for a reputable organisation that offers accredited coaching or leadership interventions. If you are interested, get in touch and we can direct you to organisations that we have been impressed by.

Some exercises to get you started:

Mindful Hand Awareness Exercise – Grasp your hands really tight and hold for a 5 to 10 seconds, then release and pay attention to how your hands feel. Keep your attention focused on the feeling for as long as you can.

Walking – Pay attention to your walking, slow your pace down and feel the ground on your shoe and foot.

Breathing – For 60 seconds concentrate on your breathing, focus on your breaths and how your body feels inhaling and exhaling, note when your mind wanders, recognise this and gently bring your focus back you to your breathing.

Jo Rance