Mindfulness has been getting a lot of people’s attention lately.
That’s good, because mindfulness is about paying attention. It’s the intentional practice of living in the present, aware of what is happening around you and inside you.
Focusing on being alert sounds easy—like drinking a cup of coffee—but it’s not. Studies show people spend almost half their time doing one thing while thinking about something else. Typically we obsess about events long past or problems that have not happened yet.
The past and future are just thoughts, but thoughts are our main cause of stress. Researchers say we release the highest level of stress hormones after waking; having rested, our brains re-engage by doing what they are wired to do—anticipating what might hurt us.
It’s exhausting when body and mind are in different places. The goal of mindfulness is to help them act as a team rather than as competitors.
Mindfulness for work
Mindfulness is especially helpful in today’s workplace, which some call the “attention economy.” To make sense of an increasing flood of information, awareness and focus are critical skills in making informed decisions.
Here are four FISH! Philosophy tips to bring more mindful moments to your work day:
1. Be There: Find short opportunities
Meditation trains your brain to be more mindful. Find a comfortable position, close your eyes and just observe your breath, a word or a body sensation. When your mind wanders, as it will, gently bring it back without judging yourself.
If you can find 10 minutes to meditate when you arrive at work or over lunch, great. But if that isn’t possible, you can still find short opportunities to clear your mind. Set your phone alarm (vibrate so you don’t disturb others) to go off hourly, reminding you to pay attention to your breathing for a minute or two. Do the same before meetings.
You can be mindful as you eat, wash your hands, open a door or take a walk, focusing on the sensations of each activity. It’s all good Be There practice.
2. Choose Your Attitude: Be aware when it counts
You may be aware of the personality traits and tendencies that drive your emotional reactions. This may help you understand why you act as you do in some situations. The problem comes if you only use this knowledge to look back (often with regret).
Mindfulness hones your ability to be aware when it matters most—in the present. When you are mindful, you observe what is happening and how you feel about it. You don’t judge the situation or your reaction. You just do your best to watch it.
With practice you become aware that your mind loves to judge. You see how your “stories” and perceptions are just thoughts. You hear what people are saying and truly Choose Your Attitude, rather than being controlled by immediate impressions.
3. Play: Be open to possibilities
The beauty of mindfulness is that by accepting each moment as it is, you are better prepared to influence your future.
If you are open to it, you can learn from every situation. Say you receive negative feedback. You can let your reaction overwhelm you and be angry or depressed. Or you can step back and ask yourself if those are your only choices. In this mindset, you are better equipped to find something in the criticism you can use to improve.
Life is not always happy or fair. But every present moment, even painful ones, offers the chance to grow. You can embrace new possibilities without limiting yourself to old reactions. That’s the heart of Play.
4. Make Their Day: Engage without attacking
We all have ingrained, unconscious ways of dealing with difficult people. We may try to avoid them whenever possible. We may give in. Or we may attack. None of these options is healthy—physically or emotionally.
Mindfulness teacher John Kabat-Zinn suggests another approach inspired by the martial art of aikido. In aikido, when someone attacks, you step into them and slightly to their side, staying balanced as you take hold of their arm. You deflect their energy without being pushed over.
In the same way, Kabat-Zinn says, you can engage in a conflict without attacking or giving in. Avoid “You” statements that label them, as in “You are . . .” Use “I” statements, such as “When I hear that, I feel . . .” You are simply sharing your position without degrading theirs. They may follow your lead and share how they feel. Now you have an opening for respectful communication and understanding.
One person who is mindful can shift a conflict. You may even heal the relationship. That will Make Their Day—and yours.