Editor’s note: In honor of National Meditation Month in May, we’ll be taking time to connect with ourselves and a host of experts who’ll be sharing the benefits of mindfulness. From dealing with stress to realizing more of our potential, mindfulness has a host of benefits. Check back throughout the month for more practical tips and techniques to help you be more mindful at work.
As interest in mindfulness grows, it’s easy to forget the essence of this simple, humble practice. Many supporters and critics are concerned that the benefits of mindfulness are being oversold or distorted.With chronic stress the “new normal,” it’s understandable that many organizations and employees are hungry for help. But even the best mindfulness programs alone cannot counteract relentless cultural forces that keep people tethered to work 24/7.
As the Eastern origins of mindfulness, primarily focused on acceptance of “being,” are melding with Western ideas of developing more efficiency in “doing,” confusion is inevitable.
Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of the renowned Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has provided us with an elegant description of the concept:
“Mindfulness is paying focused attention, on purpose, without judgement, to the experience of the present moment.”
According to Kabat-Zinn, being mindful is the “confluence of intention, attention and present time experience.”
Mindfulness Has No Goal
In a goal-oriented culture, that’s a pretty radical idea.
While evidence of the benefits of practicing mindfulness continues to mount, the act of being mindful–whether in some form of meditation or in focused attention–isn’t a task.
Think of mindfulness as a way of being in the world–differently. The important question is: what do you want the quality of your attention to be? In contrast, what is it now?
Making a consistent effort to be more mindful in every part of your experience–especially if you combine it with a meditation practice–will eventually result in shifting your neural patterns. Acts of regular mindfulness retrain the brain to respond to stimulus differently, thereby building greater cognitive flexibility.
One of the most profound changes you can experience as a result of being more mindful is in building greater emotional awareness. We strengthen our resiliency when we become less emotionally reactive–internally and externally.
Since we are constantly being emotionally triggered, usually by external events that are outside of our control, we pay a high cost in expending unnecessary mental and physical energy.
The Mind Is Not an App
No mindfulness practice is a quick-fix. As much as we would like to believe that we can “design” the mind to produce more of what we want and less of what we don’t want, it takes sustained commitment to establish new mental, emotional and behavioral habits.
Communicating with others can offer endless opportunities to practice mindfulness. Becoming more mindful of our daily communication with coworkers, family and friends requires us to slow down and pay closer attention to our behavior. It also helps us to focus more on the experience of others.
The foundations of mindfulness practice–patience and self-discipline–are the skills we hone when we make a commitment to be more mindfully aware in our interpersonal relations.
While there is no roadmap to developing more mindful communication, a few guidelines can be helpful:
- Start every day with what the Buddhists call “Beginner’s Mind”: a commitment to open our hearts and minds to see more clearly into our experience and that of others.
- Become more deeply aware of your physiological states. Your breathing is an important tool in maintaining a mindful state and regulating your emotions.
- Notice, but soften, the judgments of self and others that often block understanding.
- Stay mindful of the ways you distract yourself from being fully present to others. Often, emotional discomfort plays a major role here. While seated meditation shows us the mind’s endless chatter, interactions with others reveal the ways we react and the feelings generated from communication.
- Gently notice how much of your communication is “transactional.” Getting things done can be habit forming. Just as mindfulness is not a task, neither are interpersonal interactions.
Mindful communication will reshape our field of awareness and is enriched with every interaction. As mindfulness teacher Sylvia Boorstein reminds us, “Mindfulness doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. What it changes is the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is. It teaches the heart to be more accommodating; not by beating it into submission, but by making it clear that accommodation is a gratifying choice.”
Practicing mindfulness with your colleagues on a daily basis will transform your relationships at work. Become an effective communicator with AMA's seminars and resources.