We are out to beat the back to work blues this January with a New Year's resolution to practice mindfulness in the office. It may seem like an impossible task, you're stressed and busy, how could you possibly have time? But with these 5 simple ideas, Anna Black can show us how to easily take a moment for yourself at work each day.
My neck and shoulders are the areas that are the first to stiffen. When I pay attention to my posture at work I can see why. My shoulders are scrunched up and my chin is jutting out as I stretch my head towards the computer screen. When I notice how I am sitting, there is an instant softening and letting go. If we can check in with our posture at our desk or in a meeting, we can notice our own habitual patterns. Remember that it is only when we bring something into awareness that we have the capacity to do it differently.
Plant your feet flat on the floor. Imagine a silken thread running all the way up the spine, along the back of the neck, and out through the crown of the head. Give this “thread” a gentle tug so that your spine straightens, the crown of the head lifts towards the ceiling, and your chin becomes slightly tucked in. You are now sitting tall, the lower half of the body grounded and connected to the earth beneath your feet and the torso rising up like a mountain peak.
Get used to checking in regularly with your posture throughout the day. Our external posture often reflects our internal state of mind. Notice the connection between the mind and body.
Familiarity with how your posture reflects your state of mind—both positively and negatively—allows you to make adjustments. Consciously sitting tall can help connect you with the strength of your “inner mountain.” You can do this practice while standing and walking. Notice how you hold your head and how this influences your mood. Experiment and see what you discover.
The Mindful Minute
“I don’t have time to practice at work,” is a common refrain, but we all have a minute. Michael Chaskalson describes this practice in The Mindful Workplace, and it’s the perfect antidote to the lack-of-time excuse. People often feel uncomfortable with the open-ended nature of meditation—particularly if they are doing it in the workplace. What I like about this one is that you can create a simple and time-limited meditation tailored to you that can be done anywhere. Simply work out the number of breaths you normally take in a minute and use this as a guide to take a Mindful Minute at work.
You will need a stopwatch or timer to determine the number of breaths taken in a minute. You may want to engage someone else’s help with this so you are not worrying about when to start or finish. If you are timing yourself, I’d recommend settling yourself for a moment or two before beginning to watch the clock or timer. When you are ready, begin.
Count every breath you take—breathing in and breathing out counts as one breath. Don’t worry about the number as we all breathe at different rates. This is to determine the number of breaths you take in a minute. If you like you can always repeat it a couple of times to get an average.
Once you have your figure simply remember it and the next time you want to practice, settle your attention on your breath and count each in- and out-breath as one up to the number you determined. That is your Mindful Minute. If you can do this every so often throughout the day, you will be creating minutes of present-moment awareness with all the positive benefits this brings.
The Tyranny of Perfectionism
We are often our hardest taskmaster—demanding more and expecting higher standards than we would ever dream of asking of a colleague. The bad news for the perfectionist is that you are never going to get there—you will always feel as if you could have done better or worked harder.
This constant judging of oneself and falling short of expectations is exhausting and undermines one’s confidence and self–esteem. Often we want everything to be perfect as a way of keeping control, but life, and particularly life at work, is always beyond our control. As we feel control slipping away, we work harder and demand more of ourselves in an attempt to keep hold, but it is like running on a treadmill that someone has turned up to full speed—we can run faster to keep up at first, but at some point we will trip up. Once we deliberately begin to bring a particular behavior into our awareness, we are in a much stronger position to do something about it. So if we can become familiar with this pressured quality and how it feels we are more likely to notice it as it begins to emerge.
This is the point to take action: to pause and notice it—turning your attention to what you are experiencing. Notice in particular the thoughts—and what is driving you— and perhaps challenge or reframe them.
Begin to pay attention to those moments when you feel pressured. Perhaps it is about delivering a particular project or maybe it is a constant feeling when you are at work.
What thoughts are on your mind?
What stories are you telling yourself about this task and your role in it?
What emotions are present?
What physical sensations are arising ?
Be curious about when you notice this behaviour arising. What do you discover? Is it linked to particular tasks or periods at work? How do you behave toward o thers when you are feeling this way? How do you behave to ward yourself—do you ease off or press the accelerator to achieve more ? How does it affect you outside work—your sleeping and eating patterns and your social activities ? H ow often do episodes like that happen at work? Perhaps keep a note for a week to see what patterns may arise.
In e-mail conversation, we are acting in isolation at each point of the exchange. An e-mail communication strips out key information that we usually receive through face-to-face or telephone exchanges. We cannot hear the tone of someone’s voice or pick up on facial expressions or other body-language cues. This is further complicated by the fact that different individuals and companies follow different e-mail etiquette. E-mails and web-conferencing are wonderful tools for connecting with others, but without awareness they also have the potential to damage relationships.
The increase in the use of smartphones means that it has become commonplace to generate or respond to e-mails when we are on the move or our attention is elsewhere. However, multi-tasking is not always in our best interest. When we are reading e-mails on a small screen it is harder to take in fully the content, particularly if it is complex, therefore there is a danger that we might miss something crucial.
Tapping out an e-mail on a phone’s small keyboard is not particularly easy and so we are more likely to keep exchanges short, which might be interpreted as brusque or even rude. The speed with which we are able to e-mail means we are more likely to react rather than respond properly, and when we communicate from a place of reaction we are not in control.
So how can we tread our way through this potential minefield without damaging professional relationships and ensure that this useful tool of global communication allows us to collaborate successfully? Practicing mindfulness can provide us with some helpful tools:
Get in the habit of pausing before replying. Ask yourself: “Is now really the best time to do it?” E-mailing on the move is useful for quick replies or confirmations, but compose the more complex and sensitive e-mails when you are in a place of calm and you can give them the time and consideration that the topic and the receiver deserve. The short-term gain of a quick response may turn out to have hidden problems if the topic would have benefited from more reflection.
By regularly tuning into the body, we can pick up cues from our posture and any physical sensations we notice. These can give us important feedback about how we react to someone or certain information. Is the body tense? Where are your shoulders?
What thought tone is coloring your thinking? If you are typing, how are you striking the keys—gently or with force? This body awareness is like an alarm bell warning us to wake up and be alert. If you feel the body moving into a place of righteous indignation, irritation, or anger, wake up! If you are pounding out an e-mail response, send it to yourself or save it as a draft. When you come back and read it without the filter of emotion, you may be glad you have done so.
Think about how you are communicating with others. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would feel if you received the particular e-mail you are composing. Are your words really conveying what you are trying to say or is it open to interpretation? Think about the recipient of your e-mail and, if you have an understanding of the type of e-mail they sent you, consider mirroring it—if they are chatty and asking about your weekend, respond in a similar vein.
If you are aware that you are being reactive, pause and acknowledge it. Pay attention to what you are noticing in your thoughts, emotions, and body and then take your attention to your breath or the feet on the floor. It may be helpful to remove yourself from your workstation and go for a walk to the kitchen or bathroom or have a chat with a colleague. Create some space to allow the body’s natural calming response to activate. You can then respond from a different place when you are ready.
We often talk about how we catch a certain “vibe” from someone. Some people make us feel good yet others don’t. This is more than a hunch or intuition, as Daniel Goleman describes in What Makes a Leader. He explains that the reason for this lies in the emotional center of the brain, the limbic system. The open-loop nature of this system means that how we connect with others determines our mood.
Goleman describes research where the physiology of two people in conversation is compared in a laboratory and, despite such things as heart rate and blood pressure being different at the start, within 15 minutes of conversation, the two physiological profiles become very similar. We are even affected by nonverbal expressions—the person with the strongest expression will affect the rest of the group. Goleman quotes a study by Bartel and Saavedra who found that in 70 work teams across a wide range of industries, people in meetings ended up sharing moods (both good and bad) within two hours.
When we regularly pay attention to our experience, we see how quickly moods come and We notice that certain moods create specific physical sensations in the body and we can tune in to our own signals and pick up early warning signs of unhelpful mood states.
Be aware that your mood is influenced by others (and vice versa). Be alert to being dragged down by the negativity of those around you. If you become used to tuning into the body through mindfulness practice, you will notice this happening and nip it in the bud through focusing on the breath, for example. What shadow does your mood cast on your colleagues? With practices such as Random Acts of Kindness we can actively create positive mood states that can be picked up by others.
This blog has been extracted from Mindfulness @ Work by Anna Black.