5 common misconceptions about mindfulness and how it can help you be more productive
Mindfulness has moved from a hippy-dippy notion of the 60’s to a recommended business tool for stress reduction, focus, reduced anxiety, and better workplace performance. Along with yoga and intermittent fasting, everything old is new again as we take wisdom from ancient cultures and apply them to our modern lifestyles.
1 Mindfulness is only cultivated through meditation
While it's true that meditation is a well-known method for developing mindfulness, it's not the only path.
Mindfulness is essentially the practice of being fully present and engaged in the activity at hand.
This means it can be cultivated during any activity that enables you to focus on the present moment. This can be as simple as mindfully savouring a meal, paying attention to the sensation of your feet hitting the ground when you walk, or even observing your breath.
2 Mindfulness is solely a form of relaxation or stress relief
Mindfulness does have a calming effect and can help manage stress, but these are by products rather than its direct purpose. The primary aim of mindfulness is to develop a heightened sense of awareness and acceptance of the present moment, in all its pleasantries and difficulties.
By practicing mindfulness, we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment, which has been shown to lead to greater emotional resilience, better decision-making skills, and improved overall well-being.
3 It requires a large amount of time and a quiet, secluded environment
Mindfulness is not dependent on the length of practice or the environment.
It is about making the most of the present moment. Thus, it can be practiced anywhere, at any time, and for any duration. It can be as simple as paying attention to the sensations of your breath for a few moments, noticing the feel of water on your hands while washing dishes, or being aware of the surroundings during a commute.
4 Mindfulness means being calm and stress-free all the time.
Contrary to this notion, mindfulness is about accepting your current state of mind, whether that involves calm or chaos. It teaches us to be aware of our feelings, thoughts, and sensations in the present moment without reacting to them impulsively.
Mindfulness helps us to learn to manage stress, not by eliminating it but by responding to it more effectively.
5 Mindfulness is just Buddhism in disguise.
While the roots of mindfulness can be traced back to Buddhist teachings, it has been adapted into a secular practice that is applicable to anyone, irrespective of religious or philosophical beliefs. The widespread acceptance of mindfulness in modern psychology is attributed to its demonstrated benefits on mental health and well-being, independent of its religious origins. Recent research on mindful leadership also emphasises its potential role in enhancing leadership skills by promoting self-awareness, empathy, and effective decision-making.
Why not bring mindfulness to the workplace?
While often associated with personal well-being, mindfulness can also have positive effects in a professional setting. Recent studies have shown that practicing mindfulness at work can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved communication and collaboration, and reduced burnout and absenteeism. Our workplaces are often a source of stress and anxiety. High-pressure environments, tight deadlines, and interpersonal conflicts can lead to mental health issues among employees, impacting their productivity and overall well-being.
The practice of mindfulness and meditation has been around for thousands of years but has gained interest in the business world primarily because we now have the ability to do the one thing that was never possible before—see how these practices change the wiring and the makeup of our brains.”
According to the World Health Organisation, depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity (Mental Health in the Workplace).
The practice of mindfulness can be a potent tool in combating workplace stress, promoting mental well-being, and boosting productivity. By encouraging a state of active and open attention to the present, mindfulness enables individuals to deal with stressors more effectively, fostering resilience and promoting a greater sense of calm. Moreover, mindfulness can enhance concentration and decision-making skills, leading to improved productivity and efficiency in the workplace.
Mindfulness has helped me a lot professionally. Working in a fast-paced tech startup, It got pretty overwhelming at times -there is a constant barrage of emails, messages, and impromptu meetings.
By incorporating mindfulness practices into my daily routine, I noticed really useful changes. I started my day with a 10-minute mindful breathing exercise, and practiced moment-to-moment awareness during work.
This helped me stay focused on the task at hand, rather than getting caught up in multitasking. It also made me more patient and understanding in my interactions with team members.
Over time, I noticed that I was better able to handle stress and maintain a balanced perspective, even when facing tight deadlines or unexpected challenges. (Shane, Project Manager)
Mindfulness can support change initiatives as well. The Garrison group work with companies to facilitate change and believe merging mindfulness practices with change management techniques is a potent combination.
This makes perfect sense when you think about it as mindfulness offers a safe space for individuals to examine their reactions to transformations, typically a process they would prefer to do privately rather than openly discuss their discomfort or ambivalence towards a change.
Mindfulness as a practice fosters a heightened sense of self-awareness concerning one's emotions, responses, and actions. In our busy lives, we often switch to survival and automatic mode, neglecting quiet introspection about how we deal with challenging changes.
This lack of awareness can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and resentment, impacting not only our own experience but also how others perceive us in a professional setting.
What is most potent about mindfulness is that it empowers individuals to choose their reactions to events. The ability to control our emotional reactions creates a powerful sense of personal autonomy. Questions like these become essential tools in responding to the change event or any event.
- "How am I reacting?"
- "Is this the person I want to be?"
- "Can I influence this change?" and
- "What type of experience/response would I prefer to have?"
Wendy Quann of the Garrison Institute describe a mindfulness meditation that most participants find empowering.
…(it) gently, yet powerfully, guides the listener through consciously raising their self-awareness of their reactions, emotions, and behaviours pertaining to their chosen difficult change. Then, it guides them by identifying how they would rather react to the change and sets positive intentions. It also explains that although we don’t always have control over a change, we always have control over how we choose to react to a change, so choose your reaction. It invites them to reframe negative views to positive views and asks them to identify what they will learn from this change. “
In truth this technique can be applied to any work situation, whether you are leading a change initiative, a redundancy programme or a board meeting.
Here are some simple steps you can try for yourself today:
- Mindful breathing: A simple and effective technique involving focused attention on breathing in and out, which can help quiet the mind and bring relaxation.
- Body scan: This mindfulness exercise promotes awareness of different body parts, helping to release tension, improve posture, and reduce discomfort from prolonged sitting.
- Mindful eating: This practice involves paying close attention to the sensory experience of eating. It can foster gratitude for food and lead to healthier eating habits as well as simply helping us practice the art of being in the moment.
- Gratitude practice: A tool for fostering positivity and support in the workplace. This can be done by writing down things you're grateful for each day or expressing appreciation to a colleague.
- Mindful reflection: An end-of-day practice of reflecting on accomplishments and challenges to improve self-awareness and decision-making skills. This helps promote mindfulness and intentionality in work.
Stay tuned for part two of our series to learn about mindfulness for leaders.
Note: All content included here is based on general knowledge about mindfulness and should not be considered as professional advice or treatment. If you are experiencing any mental health concerns, please seek professional help.