Stop and smell the roses – an iconic phrase that invites us to slow down a bit in life. Maybe not literally to smell roses. But, to appreciate what’s working for us, manage our negative emotions, spend time learning about ourselves, focus on our breathing, and clear our minds. This is also part of what is called mindfulness.
The need for mindfulness in the workplace has been growing steadily. Our minds are busier than ever. We are constantly multi-tasking, which has been found to increase production of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as the fight-or-flight hormone, adrenaline. This overstimulates our brain, causing scrambled thinking. In such a scenario, a practice of mindfulness is known to be the clinching factor for better performance and more meaningful peer engagement. A thriving example of this can be seen at Aetna, where mindfulness program participants gained 62 minutes of productivity a week, which is an estimated $3,000-per-employee increase in productivity for the company each year. Isn’t that astounding?
We invite you to create the same experience for yourself. In a simple and achievable manner, without having to turn your life upside down. Here are some ideas:
- When your colleague makes a snide remark, you’re asked to work late nights indefinitely, or aren’t appreciated for what you do, it’s bound to bring up feelings of resentment, anger or hurt. You get into a fight-or-flight mode to deal with such situations, wanting to respond immediately. And we all know how that goes. This is where mindfulness comes in. Choose a mental cue that helps you calm down. Whether it’s a phrase like ‘This too shall pass’, or the image of your pet dog welcoming you, shifting your focus from a charged emotional state, to something you find peaceful or joyful, reduces production of stress hormones, and helps you think straight.
- Watch your language, and replace charged or chaotic words with more neutral ones. Words/phrases like ‘busy’, ‘slammed with work’, ‘stupid’, ‘stressed’, or ‘cannot’, signal the brain that something unpleasant is happening. Hence, the brain shuts down higher mental processes, causing stress. It is a vicious loop after that. Instead, words like ‘occupied’ or ‘stretched’, have a calmer impact.
- A major contributor to productivity, is focus. In today’s day and age where we are constantly bombarded with stimuli, focusing with ease is somewhat challenging. A quick mindful approach to tuning out of the distraction, is to bring your attention to a place on your body. The point where your fingers touch the laptop/desk, your feet on the ground, your back against the chair – anything involving your body that you can consciously notice, will help dial down the noise, and refocus. Judson Brewer, a behavioral researcher at Yale, calls this technique ‘pure, fascinated attention’.
All these practices involve a degree of noticing ourselves in any given moment. That is what mindfulness is about – being present or aware. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, ‘Only this actual moment is life.’ So why not live it mindfully?