Guest Blog: The Purest version of your attention … Mindfulness
I didn’t hear the term ‘mindfulness’ until September 2003. I was returning to work after a four year career break following the birth of my son, who has cerebral palsy.
My son’s disability was the pathway to securing my new position as an associate director on the board of an NHS Mental Health and Children’s Trust. As is usual with NHS appointments, there was an extensive induction program to work through. I soon realised that this was no run-of-the-mill induction. The third day was dedicated to my well-being as an employee, and included a meeting with the hospital chaplain, a one-to-one with the HR Director and a workshop introducing me to mindfulness. Being totally honest, I did wonder what I’d let myself in for!
Some 15 years later I now realise and accept that the three hour workshop on mindfulness was one of the most impactful and significant learnings in my life.
What is mindfulness?
People have been practising mindfulness for thousands of years either as part of their religion, tradition or in the field of positive psychology. With roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, mindfulness is arguably powerful medicine for your brain.
Simply put, mindfulness means having an awareness of life in the present, the here and now, without judgement. A set of tools and strategies that focus your attention on enhancing your ability to be fully present and knowing what is going on inside and outside yourself moment by moment. This then gives choice to how you react, respond and moderate your behaviour in any situation — de-cluttering your mind and allowing you to get critical thoughts about the past and future into perspective.
Mindfulness gives us the ability to train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that these thoughts are mental events that do not have control over us. It has been prescribed by the NHS for support with depression since 2004 and is recommended as a proactive measure to enhance positive mental health.
So why is this relevant to you?
As modern working practices become increasingly digitised, technology enables you to be constantly connected in your personal and professional lives. And with increased competition in business your clients are now making bigger demands and have greater expectations from you than ever before. It doesn’t stop there, it is becoming more crucial that you possess excellent business development skills to capitalise on business opportunities and that you expand your soft skills to enhance your personal impact, gravitas and presence.
You now have to move your attention between tasks almost immediately, cognitively at each shift your brain needs to adjust and re-organise. Without mindset strategies (whether conscious or unconscious) you may be at risk of overload, overwhelm or burnout.
Work-related stress has a significant impact on personal and organisational performance. The UK government’s Health and Safety Executive reports that the total number of UK working days lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety was 15.4 million in 2017/2018 – some 595,000 people affected.
According to the statistics, the main work factors cited as causing work related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support. The Professional occupations category has statistically significantly higher rate of work-related stress, depression or anxiety than the rate for all occupations.
The benefits of ‘mindful working’
Many businesses in the UK already successfully run and implement wellbeing programmes based on aspects of mindfulness.
Some professional services firms extend this service to their clients to help them take care of their mental health during difficult and often very stressful circumstances. A great client-focused business differentiator.
Learned through a range of awareness exercises and simple meditations, employees of all experience levels and positions are likely to benefit from implementing some of the strategies.
It’s been the subject of empirical investigation since 1980 and the numbers of journal publications have increased year on year with over 700 scientific papers being published in 2017 alone.
Evidence is most convincing for its use in effectively reducing stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Other published and well documented benefits claim corporate mindfulness:
- Is a proactive approach to positive mental health
- Enables emotional regulation resulting in better moods and the ability to cope in stressful situations
- Enhances focus and concentration, cognitive flexibility, working memory and executive functioning
- Improves leadership and collaboration and has a positive effect on relationships
- Provides more innovative ways to assist and support clients and develop stronger bonds
- Increases psychological flexibility when handling conflict, challenging situations and uncertainty
- Positively impacts on performance, career satisfaction and fulfilment
- Reduces bias and judgement and increases compassion
- Strengthens executive presence and gravitas
Mindfulness in practice
Mindfulness at work doesn’t necessarily mean finding half an hour each day to meditate with Tibetan bells as we can often be led to believe. Simple steps can be taken.
Breathing is something that we all do yet we don’t often focus our attention on or have an awareness of it moment by moment. When you regularly practice observing your breath you may realise how unfocused your mind can become. If you notice your mind has wandered make a conscious choice to bring your attention back to your breath.
This can be further incorporated by building awareness breaks into your day on an hourly basis. For one minute each hour, take a mindful pause and focus your attention back on your breathing. This will assist in regulating your emotions and will improve your focus, concentration and attention to detail when you return to the task in hand.
Taking a mindful walk during the day and dedicating this time to being aware of the sensations created by the world around you and eating your lunch mindfully are both easy to achieve even during a busy schedule. Paying full attention to the experience and noticing and appreciating how walking and eating affects your mood and emotions is the objective. This will help you to become more present during your interactions, bring clarity to your decision making and strengthen the relationships you engender.
Implementing a 2-minute mindful pause (with all gadgets switched off) at the start of each internal meeting will focus all attendees on the meeting ahead. This will reduce ‘distractedness’ and improve engagement and access to critical thinking during meetings.
These are just a few of the many simple and easy to learn strategies you can implement to make mindfulness a daily habit. There are many more!
Will it work for you?
I recommend that you find out more and give it a try. You will determine its effectiveness based upon your own subjective experience. I did just that in 2003 and I’ve consciously practiced and benefited from it every day since.
Donna Whitbrook is a very proud mum, experienced consultant, coach, international speaker and best selling author. She works with businesses that have a head for business and heart for people — their clients and their employees.
Donna supports the team at DDC with their business growth strategy and in maintaining healthy mindsets in their employees. She helps them create and drive a positive culture that encourages well-being initiatives such as mindfulness.
LinkedIn: Donna Whitbrook