Practical mindfulness at work

If you could find a way to help you and your team become more resilient, better focused and confident, able to make good decisions and manage stress would you be interested?

Well, high performing organisations such as Google, First Direct, General Mill (makers of Cheerios amongst many other brands) Transport for London, KPMG and GlaxoSmithKline to name a few have an answer.  It has come to the attention of respected institutes like the Harvard Business Review and been the subject of positive articles in the Financial Times.  Is it worth us in the 3rd sector exploring this new to help us be successful?

It is about training our minds to be more focused, seeing with greater clarity, having space for creativity and feeling better connected.  It is simple to learn and takes a life time to practice.  It is Mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, being aware of our thoughts and feelings – so instead of being overwhelmed by them we are able to manage them. Practising mindfulness can steer you towards an inner place of calm, no matter how demanding our lives. Mindfulness allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings we experience and to see how we  become entangled in them in ways that are not helpful; many of us have a critical inner voice which manifests as self-doubt and low confidence. Practicing mindfulness provides the ability to break the cycle of negativity.

Mindfulness has its roots in the Buddhist system of contemplation. The secular approach was originated about 30 years ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn who defines it as “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non judgementally.”

mindfulpicFeaturedMindfulness reduces stress, helps you live in the moment, and be happier and more productive at work.

Why we need mindfulness at work

Mindfulness is for you if in the last week if you have found yourself:-

  • Unable to remember what others have said during conversations
  • With no recollection of your commute to work
  • Eating at your desk without tasting your food
  • Spending too much time on emails/social media
  • Dwelling on past events or dreading what the future holds

Practicing mindfulness will make you aware of the time you spend in ‘autopilot’ which often means if you have too much to do you work faster to fit it all in becoming more stressed and less effective. By being present in the moment, rather than relying on autopilot means you are able to make conscious choices rather than reacting in a knee jerk way.

Transport for London indicated the number of days taken off due to stress, anxiety or depression has fallen by 71% since introducing mindfulness to their employees

How does it work?

Science is catching up with the practitioners and is finding that through regular “meditation” the following happens:

  • Increase strength in brain connections associated with learning, memory, emotion and perspective taking
  • Improves attention, compassion and empathy
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Improves medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, insomnia, phobias and eating disorders

Mindfulness might sound like wishful thinking but a growing body of academic research provides a raft of scientific explanation.  For example meditation is shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress.  When cortisol levels drop, the mind grows calmer, stability, becoming more focused.

A practical start to mindfulness

An example of a mindfulness exercise you can do every day is called “Feet on the Floor” from Mindfulness @Work by Anna Black.  This is one of the simplest and most useful practices to do particularly when things are feeling difficult.

Turn your attention to your feet.  Do it now.  Feel the sensations of your feet in contact with the floor.  Push down slightly through the bottom of the feet.  It is as if your feet were glued to the floor. Explore these sensations, wriggle your toes if you like.

When something is weighted at the bottom, it is unlikely to fall over.  Focusing your attention to your feet on the floor is like weighting yourself so you don’t fall over.  You instantly bring yourself into contact with the present moment.  A sense of groundlessness eases off.  The thoughts spinning off into the world of “what ifs” slow down.  Whatever is going on is still there, but you are about to face it from a place of stability and strength.

What are the benefits at work?

Organisations that have adopted mindfulness into their work practices declare it causes improvements to physical and mental health.  The organisation Transport for London indicated the number of days taken off due to stress, anxiety or depression has fallen by 71% since  introducing mindfulness to their employees.

In addition organisations report staff having increased resilience to cope with change, including in some cases, redundancy.

Organisations have demonstrated higher productivity through improved focus and better decision making by leaders and managers. In particular managers have trained themselves to respond not react to situations, better managing the emotional issues to make improved judgements, rather than being consumed and stressed by difficult decisions.

The organisations also uniformly reported increased emotional intelligence with staff showing greater self awareness, social management and social awareness.

General Mills, an American company tracked and evaluated the outcome of the courses they ran with the following results:

  • 83% optimise their personal productivity (23% prior to the course)
  • 82% reported success in eliminating tasks with limited or low productivity (32% prior)
  • 80% of managers reported improved decision making
  • 89% of managers reported improved listening skills.

Summary

A new financial year calls for new beginnings, so if you really want to positively change your life and open up opportunities, practising mindfulness is one of the most dramatically effective things you can do. With its growing popularity, media interest, increased medical research and proven outstanding outcomes, there’s little doubt that mindfulness will continue to grow and improve people’s lives in 2016.

Gorja Breeze currently works in further education and Rob Legge is a Leadership coach and trainer in the 3rd sector.  To contact the authors to discuss bringing mindfulness into your organisation please contact them at rjlegge@hotmail.co.uk in the first instance.

Next steps

Find out how mindful you are by doing a quiz at:- www.greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/4/4

The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr Patrizia Collard

Meditations:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-courage-be-present/201001/how-practice-mindfulness-meditation

This article, by Rob Legge and Gorja Breeze, was written for the February & March 2016 edition of Update Magazine. Gorja Breeze currently works in further education and Rob Legge is a leadership coach and trainer in the third sector.

BVSC often runs Mindfulness sessions as part of its ongoing training programme. Check the website for any forthcoming dates.

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