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Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace

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Practicing Mindfulness in the Workplace – Why It’s So Important

It’s one of those early Spring days where, after a stretch of dreary, cold weather, the sun is finally out. You step outside, turn your face to the big orange ball in the sky, and breath in deeply. For a minute, all you notice is the sensation of heat radiating on your face, the smell of the fresh, crisp air, and the sound of birds singing. You’re simply in the moment. If you have ever done this before, you were practicing mindfulness and may not have even realized it.

Mindfulness is

  • "…a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgement," according to Mayo Clinic.
  • "…present moment awareness," as explained by Michelle Palladini
  • "…when you come in tune with your thoughts and feelings in relationship to your five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste," is how Victoria Durfee explains mindfulness to her students.
  • "…'an awareness that arises when paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally,' is the definition given to mindfulness practice by Jon Kabat-Zinn," explains Todd Snyder.

"Ok, ok, I get it," you’re probably thinking, "but what does this have to do with the workplace and who are these people you quoted?"

First, the individuals quoted above (and below) are:

  • Michelle Palladini is a sergeant for the Norfolk Police department in Norfolk, Massachusetts. She practices and teaches mindfulness, has a blog encouraging mindfulness, and developed an afterschool program, L.E.A.P. for middle school students.
  • Victoria Durfee is a business teacher at Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School in Franklin, Massachusetts, who teaches mindfulness in her Student Success classes.
  • Todd Snyder is a horticultural therapist in Wisconsin, who has studied mindfulness and incorporates it into his sessions. He is also a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts and registered as a horticultural therapist nationally through the American Horticultural Therapy Association.

According to Mayo Clinic, "Meditation has been studied in many clinical trials. The overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions, including stress, anxiety…high blood pressure." In addition, meditation helps you better balance and accept your experience, thoughts and emotions, as well as "improve attention, decrease job burnout, (and) improve sleep."

If you’re feeling burnt out from your job, having trouble sleeping, lacking attention at work or home, or stressed with your job search mindfulness can help you get your life back in balance.

What  Those Who Practice and Teach Mindfulness Are Saying

To help us better understand what mindfulness is and how it can benefit employees and employers, I asked Michelle, Victoria, and Todd seven questions regarding mindfulness. The following are their answers.

Q1: Why do you think practicing mindfulness is so important?

Michelle: "We are a society that rushes from one place to another, with little time to decompress. We’ve lost the art of simple living and the joy of doing ‘nothing.’ In our culture, ‘doing nothing’ equates to laziness and will not get you ahead! This is a terrible philosophy, and one that is more harmful to us than the promise of success."

Victoria: "Mindfulness helps us reset for well-being. Your body gives you signals on how it’s feeling, such as being stressed, anxious, or exhilarated. Today there is so much chaos, distraction, and noise in our fast-paced modern life that it’s important to listen to your body and help it get back to balance, clearing your mind and resetting. Practicing mindfulness allows you to do this."

Todd: "Mindfulness is not something you ‘do,’ but is rather an awareness, which allows you to make more effective choices because you are aware. This awareness is always there, but we don’t always tap into it. When you’re being mindful it allows you to make choices, rather than just reacting."

Q2: Why did you start practicing mindfulness?

Michelle: "Stress reduction! I learned the benefits of breathing techniques to help center myself during difficult moments."

Victoria: "When I started teaching mindfulness as part of my curriculum, I began practicing it myself. Quickly, I began to understand the importance of it. I read my body’s signals all the time now. I only wished I had known about it when I was a teenager."

Todd: "I learned about the concept of mindfulness while working at a psychiatric hospital. I explored it more and recognized how it could make an impact and be beneficial in my everyday life and interactions."

Q3: How do you incorporate mindfulness into your personal life and workplace?

Michelle: "Simple. You can take the breath anywhere! I utilize breathing exercises often while at work, and I try hard to be present for my coworkers, family and friends. Much of my mindfulness practice has to do with putting the phone down, and/or not defaulting to the cell phone when I have a free moment. Instead, I take a second to breathe, to look around, to reflect/pray, to find something beautiful in my surroundings."

Victoria: "I practice it regularly and often! I pay attention to what’s going on right here and right now. In everyday life it’s important to be part of the moment, realizing what I am doing. When walking in the woods I pay attention and focus on my five senses. I count them on my fingers and name them. What am I smelling? Hearing? Seeing? Tasting? Feeling? Naming is important; it lets you truly identify the feeling and be in the present."

Todd: "When I’m accessing mindfulness, I’m more aware of what is impacting me in the moment. Is it my own stuff that’s keeping me from being focused? For example, if I’m in a bad mood, tired, stressed, or even super excited, is it distracting me from the moment, from paying attention?  By being mindful I’m able to bring my attention to the person I’m interacting with, notice if I’m drifting away, then bring myself back to the focus."

Q4: How do you see mindfulness fitting into the workplace?

Michelle: "When our minds aren’t cluttered, we perform better. Multitasking used to be a top job skill for the ol’ resume, but we’re now finding that being able to focus on a singular task is more productive. Productivity increases as our stress level decreases. Mindfulness helps us show up authentically, connecting better with others, because we aren’t so 'stuck in our head.'"

Victoria: "It’s important to use mindfulness throughout the day. When you’re stressed, think of your peaceful place. Be in the moment – take in all of your surroundings for a minute, five minutes, or however much time you have. This allows you to be balanced and know what you need to pay attention to."

Todd: "While working on a task mindfulness can assist you with greater focus and concentration. When in a group setting, it’s important to recognize what’s driving your input – is it only your own needs? By being aware of your own preferences you are able to recognize when you are overly attached to your idea and less open to other ideas that may be equally as good. By identifying this, you can change your focus and listen to what others are saying with an open mind."

Q5: What benefits have you seen for yourself and others who practice mindfulness?

Michelle: "Stress reduction for sure…better sleep…healthier habits…more present with my family and friends…increased compassion and empathy."

Victoria: "My students have been very open and embracing of the idea."

Todd: "Accessing mindful awareness requires practice and is similar to strengthening any muscle in the body. Regular practice returns the most benefits in the long run. In the case of mindfulness, it allows you to not only be aware of the moment, but to also accept that moment as it is, even if you don’t like it. Which then allows you to make more effective choices.

An example is if you have a loss (whether it’s death, divorce, or even job), one of the biggest struggles is accepting it. But the only way for someone to go through the mourning process, is by accepting it."

Q6: What tips would you give someone looking to start practicing mindfulness?

Michelle: "Make it your own! There is a tidal wave of information that’s come in about mindfulness in the last 5 years. Start small…start by just paying attention to what’s going on around you. Stop trying to fill the time and space with more work, more scrolling, more mindless tv…

None of these things are inherently 'bad,' but just simply notice when you’re defaulting to these things instead of being present. Notice when your mind is wandering when someone is speaking to you.

Take an actual lunch break and bring your meal outdoors (and don’t use your phone!) There’s so many easy practices that are ‘mindful’ that don’t require learning some fancy technique or going to a meditation studio!"

Victoria: "Use mindfulness in your everyday activities. When cooking dinner, pay attention to the sound of the knife slicing through the tomato, the smell of garlic, the sizzling of the ingredients cooking in the pan. When petting your cat or dog, feel the softness of the fur, hear the purring or playful sounds.

When you’re sitting, feel the chair, how your feet feel on the ground, how your back feels, the softness of the cushion. Really focus on all five senses and recognize all in the moment. Name them. This gets you balance and resets you. It will help you become your best self in school, work, and at home."

Todd: "Start with any simple thing that you tend to do regularly. For example, brushing your teeth. Practice focusing on what it is like to engage in it. When you find yourself being pulled away, recognize it, and bring yourself back.

You can learn more about what your mind tends to do by noticing where it wanders. Then use this information throughout your day. Does it take you to the past? Does it take you to a potential future? Becoming more familiar with your mind’s tendencies, via mindfulness, may allow you to live more in tune with your values in your daily activities and interactions.

An example of this is the way you interact with a coworker when you are really tired and stressed. You realize your reactions are more based on how you are feeling (due to being stressed and tired) rather than on what is actually being presented. Engaging in mindfulness allows you to recognize your reactions and adjust them accordingly.

Remember, since mindfulness allows for choosing rather than reacting, it allows you to be more present to and get more out of what you are doing. It also allows you to understand your reactions, choose your responses, and live your life more in line with your values and who you want to be."

Q7: Any other tips, suggestions, or words of advice regarding mindfulness?

Michelle: "There are a few publications that I’d recommend: Mindful Magazine (great for personal practice) and Mindful Leader (excellent for the workplace)."

Victoria: "Remember, it’s like regular exercise. The more you do it, the better shape you get in. With mindfulness it’s preparing your body – both internally and externally – for life."

Todd: "Don’t expect to clear your mind of everything. That won’t happen. Mindfulness may allow you to have a clearer mind, and perhaps even longer stretches of a clear mind, but the real value is that it allows you to notice when the distractions come up and readily bring your mind back to focus.

You will get hooked by thoughts or worries (often about the past or future), simply notice them, then return to the now and your intended focus. Judgments will show up. Recognize them, then (again) bring yourself back to your intended focus. The whole point is to bring yourself back. The more you practice, the more natural it will become."

Food for Mindfulness Thought:

Viktor Frankl states, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

Why not choose mindfulness practice as part of your response? You may find you are able to better maintain your energy, decrease your stress level and be more engaged with your coworkers and teammates.

Mindfulness-Food-For-Thought

Next Steps in Your Mindfulness Journey:

As you’ve been reading the benefits of practicing mindfulness, were you thinking, "Yep, I could definitely benefit from a little mindfulness. I wonder what exactly I need to do?"

Stay tuned for our next blog post, where tips on practicing mindfulness will be shared. While you’re waiting, here’s a sneak-peek of the next blog’s content:

Box Breathing (aka Square Breathing): is a mindfulness technique that helps you reduce stress and bring calm when you’re feeling anxious or stressed. It is used by athletes, Navy SEALS, police officers, nurses, and yours truly. Click here to learn how to do this simple practice, as well as the benefits of box breathing.

Now go have a wonderful day – and don’t forget to be present!  (Stop for one minute, name what you are sensing, and be more engaged…)

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