I took part in a short mindfulness course recently and, having gone in a bit curious and a touch uncertain, I now understand the main principle of being present, aware and in the moment rather than worrying about what has gone or what might happen. I’ve started incorporating some easy mindfulness exercises into my day which I thought I would share.
How can we build mindfulness into our working day?
Think about your drive to work this morning, or if you work from home think about your morning routine. Do you come the same way each day or eat the same thing for breakfast? Do you notice what’s going on around you? Do you wonder sometimes if the lights you just went through were actually on green? Do you think about each tooth as you brush?
Chances are you don’t really think about these actions much. They are almost automatic. We do these things so often they are in our muscle memory and often we can carry out these tasks while thinking about something entirely unconnected. Training our brain to stick to one task, one thought, isn’t easy though. We all have busy lives where we often have to multi-task and juggle. Mindfulness takes practise but it can help with stress, anxiety, productivity and creativity.
Learn how to breathe
Take the time to concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes. Try this at various times during the day – before you start work, before a particularly vital meeting perhaps. Set a notification alarm on your phone to remind you.
Sit on a chair with your back straight, your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. Close your eyes if you want to and start to become aware of your body and how it feels against the chair and the floor, whether you are warm or cold, let your body become heavy.
Breathe in through your nose for a count of 3 then out through your mouth for 3. On each inhalation imagine the breath flooding into your lungs and then, on breathing out, consciously follow the path of the breath around your body. Imagine it flooding down to the tips of the toes and fingers. If your mind starts to wander just acknowledge the thought and gently bring it back to your breathing.
We have long been told that the ability to multi-task is the key to productivity. However with so many external distractions now in our high-tech lives actually this often isn’t the case.
Being mindful about a task means to take away distractions and concentrate the mind on the job in hand. If you’re working on a computer close down the windows you don’t need and put your phone on silent. Log off from emails and social media – don’t just close them down as you will still get notifications popping up on your screen. Set a timer and work on the task for the time you have allowed yourself. If your mind wanders gently bring it back the task. It may not be practical to do this all of the time at work but try where possible to complete one task before starting another.
How often do you ask a colleague or the postman how they are or if they had a good weekend? Now how often do you really listen to what they say?
When you have a conversation make a point of doing it mindfully. Look at the person you are talking to, watch their mouth form the words, listen to each sentence they say. Keep your mind actively engaged on the conversation, think about what they are saying, not just the words but their voice, tone and body language. Ask questions and give the other person your undivided attention for those few minutes.
Take a lunchtime walk if you can. Being outdoors, taking the time to practise your breathing again, and walking mindfully will help with that afternoon slump time.
When you walk use your senses to look around you. This sounds easy but often we look without really noticing. Concentrate on the weather, the temperature, what’s around you. Are there any noises? Can you hear birds, how many different songs? Or the traffic, is it just cars you can hear or is there a lorry or an ambulance? Does the grass make a noise as you walk on it? Are the trees moving or can you smell someone’s lunch? How does your body feel? Are your legs tired or are you feeling energetic? Can you feel the cold in your nose as you breath?
Try not to think about work, what has happened so far that day or what you have left to do. If your mind wanders acknowledge that you will think about work again when you get back to your desk. Bring your mind back to the present.
In the workplace this can mean accepting mistakes you may make. Own up, even if you are only accountable to yourself, and accept it. If you can change something or learn from the mistake do so. If you can’t action the error just take some time to acknowledge it and how you are feeling and then let it go.
Also acknowledge when you have something tricky coming up and you need a little extra time. Plan your time in your diary – not just a meeting, set aside the time to write and go over your notes, to travel without rushing, to take a few minutes beforehand to breath mindfully and to settle your mind. Ask for help if you need it and also take any compliments mindfully too.
As I said at the beginning mindfulness takes practise and there are many routes you can take to learn more including apps, books and courses.
Throughout your day remember the principle of mindfulness is about immersing yourself in the present moment –
“ If you worry too much about what might be, and wonder too long about what might have been, you will ignore and completely miss what is.” (1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently, Marc & Angel Chernoff)