If there were one thing you could do to increase your effectiveness at work, what would it be? Greater focus? Getting more done? Less stress? Better ideas? Whatever it is, there’s only one place to start. And that’s with your mind and specifically, your thoughts — mindfulness.
“Mind your thoughts as they become words; mind your words as they become actions; mind your actions as they become habits; and mind your habits as they shape your life,” goes the ancient saying. Makes sense, right? What you think directly influences everything you do.
So the next question is, “How much are you in control of your thoughts?” To answer, set a timer for 45 seconds and try focusing on one thought. If you are normal, you will likely find this challenging. Sometimes our mind has a… mind of its own.
In fact, researchers looking into the nature of our attention have concluded that on average, our mind is wandering 46.9% of the time. That means almost half of our waking hours, we are not present in what we’re doing. But that is only half the challenge.
Most work environments are tough places for a wandering mind. There are pressure, complexity, information overload, and many distractions. In the face of these realities, it’s hard to get things done.
But there is hope—and it comes from the field of neuroscience. It turns out that the brain is incredibly plastic and is constantly wiring and rewiring based on our thoughts and experiences. That means if you want to become more focused, more effective, less stressed, more creative or anything else, you have the potential. The key is training your mind, and the tool is mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an active intervention within our neural network, allowing us to change the way we relate to our thoughts, and enabling us to better manage our attention. Mindfulness training is like going to the gym for the mind, with the objective of enhancing focus, clarity and calm. Greater focus enables us to be here now, present with the task at hand or the people we’re with. Greater clarity helps us do more of the right things, as opposed to just doing lots of things. And more calm allows us to survive and even thrive in the midst of a complex, dynamic, fast-paced environment.
Research has identified numerous and wide-ranging benefits of mindfulness. Instead of just reading the list, ask yourself what being more mindful could mean for you. To test it out, make a commitment to do the following three things for the next two weeks:
- Start a daily mindfulness practice of at least 10 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Make it a habit just like brushing your teeth. Find a specific time (early morning works well for many people) and a space where you won’t be interrupted. Set a timer or download an app. If you want to try ours, search for The Potential Project in iTunes or Google Play.
- Set intentions each day for how you want to be. What does “being your best self” mean for you, and what intentions will you set for yourself toward realizing that objective? Being intentional about how you want to manage your attention is a good way to overcome habitual ways of thinking and behaving.
- Integrate mindful moments throughout your day to ensure you don’t get caught up in old patterns that don’t serve your intentions. You can do this by setting a timer for every hour, reminding you to practice one minute of mindfulness training. Alternatively, do it every time you transition from one activity to another. Consider these moments as “The Power of the Pause,” where you can get one second ahead of your autopilot reactions.
Based on our experience working with thousands of people around the globe, mindfulness is a tool that can help us realize more of our potential. And it could help move you closer towards that “one thing” you identified that would help you enhance your effectiveness at work and ultimately, in all areas of your life.
Mindfulness is part of what makes a good leader a complete, authentic and fully present leader. Learn how to unleash your best self with AMA's leadership resources.