There is so much buzz lately around mindfulness and its use in the workplace. It seems like every day, publications like Harvard Business Review are posting articles and research on mindfulness practice and leadership. But the question I receive most as I talk about Connected EC's coaching program is, “Exactly what is mindfulness and how does it impact my job performance?” Several months back, I began to work with Connected EC’s mindfulness coach and co-creator of our Mindful Leadership program, Chad Herst. He took me on quite the journey and helped me understand the relationship between meditation and mindfulness. What I’ve come to understand is that meditation is the act of quieting your mind (and can be done in a number of ways) so that you can connect with the present moment in both mind and body.
It is a way to help condition your brain so that in everyday life, you can be more present, focused and connected to each moment as it occurs. The opposite of this is being lost in a train of thought or story having little to no awareness of what is currently happening in the moment. Think of meditation like going to the gym.
You go to the gym so that you can perform physically and in a healthy way in life. You meditate so that you can show up in life in a mindful way: curious, focused and present. Instead of being lost in the stories your mind is following, you actually start to notice what is happening right in this moment. I’ve noticed three ways in which mindful practices have helped me specifically at work.
1. Stress Management
Many people—myself included at one time—think that meditation is a relaxation technique, something that is designed to bring you into a Zen moment where no bad feelings exist. People even think they are “bad” at meditation if they can’t completely squash every thought that comes into their head. Having no thoughts at all is unrealistic and is not the point of meditation.
What I’ve learned, instead, is meditation helps me lean into difficult feelings and emotions. Rather than stuffing them down for them only to show up in a more intense and nonproductive way, I can feel in my body where the stress may be held. I can then experience the stress’s intensity and fluid nature and can create an awareness that it’s happening.
As this New York Times article on stress management states, “Resilience is largely about body awareness and not rational thinking.” By fully experiencing even difficult emotions within my body, I have noticed that they typically don’t last as long and I am able to manage them in a healthy way. Some may refer to this as increased emotional intelligence.
Like most professionals, I have a number of transitions throughout my day: meetings, lunch breaks, dinner with friends and time with family. I have learned to give myself the time and space to transition by letting go of things that have occurred and clear my mind for the moments that are coming.
A great example of a big transition is when I leave work and come home to my family. How often are we bringing the stresses of the day to our interactions with those we love the most? I’ve noticed that the simple act of taking a few deep breaths during these transitions can bring me to the present moment and help me be more present not only at work but especially with my kids.
Have you ever been asked a question by an individual, and halfway through your response, you see their eyes glaze over? It’s a pretty frustrating experience and it has the potential to diminish your trust and connection with them. What happens to your credibility when you’re the one with the glazed eyes?
Since I have begun meditating, I’ve noticed that the constant inner dialogue in my head has significantly diminished. That inner yammering can make it challenging to focus on others for more than a few moments. The more I meditate, the more connected I feel with others.
We can miss amazing opportunities to go deeper in conversation if we aren’t truly present in that moment instead of thinking about what we are having for dinner or that awful conversation we had earlier. Others will feel your presence and will feel trusting enough to open up with you.
Establishing a meditation practice has taken commitment and some dedication. Though I’m far from perfect in living a mindful life, it has truly changed all areas of my life from my connection to family to my work performance. If I can help you learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.