What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Practising mindfulness is not about avoiding all of the many thoughts (positive and negative) that are buzzing through our minds every day. It’s about becoming more aware and accepting of them and focusing on those that will be most helpful to us in achieving our goals. Mindfulness is essentially about focusing our attention on what is happening without judgement and with full acceptance. When we do that, there is no resistance and we can focus on what really matters.
The benefits of becoming more mindful
Becoming more mindful in our everyday lives has many benefits. It can lower anxiety, depression, worry and stress, and can increase our overall wellbeing and social connectedness. Practising mindfulness can help us become more energised, productive and focused in all areas of our lives.
It can also help us at work by strengthening our capacity to observe, concentrate, focus, notice and pay attention to thoughts, feelings and sensations without having to react to those which aren’t helpful to us.
For example, if you’re feeling particularly frustrated by a situation at work, and as a result experience negative feelings, by practising mindfulness we can train ourselves to acknowledge and accept these feelings, move on and focus on more helpful thoughts.
Mindfulness also helps us to become more and more self-aware, which is an increasingly important trait to help us succeed in the world of work. As quoted in the Harvard Business Review: “Leadership’s first commandment – know thyself”. So, if you’re a leader, or want to become one, I would encourage you to start to commit to incorporating mindfulness practice into your everyday life – if you do, over time, you will see your levels of self-awareness improve.
Incorporating mindfulness into every day
We live in a busy, noisy and sometimes unforgiving world. We are bombarded every day at work, and in our personal lives, with hundreds of emails, phone calls, inputs, ideas, thoughts, anxieties and situations that distract us from focusing on what we should be focusing on.
So, how can we start to incorporate mindfulness practice into our day-to-day lives? Understandably, when many people hear the word ‘mindfulness’ they instantly think of the practice of meditation.
Whilst incredibly effective, it can be particularly difficult during a busy day at work, to pause and step back from what we are doing. And, if we do, many of us prefer to be distracted, to be externally entertained and let time pass by scrolling through our social media feeds or responding to countless WhatsApp messages. That’s easier. Yet what we may fail to appreciate is that our mind and the thoughts that reside in it determines how we feel, how we relate to our colleagues and how we perform at work.
Even though mindfulness meditation has immense benefits, if you don’t feel it’s right for you, you can still become more mindful in your day-to-day life – you don’t need to sit and meditate to start leading your life mindfully.
Let’s look at one ‘mindfulness on the go’ technique, I call the ‘Radio Technique’, which I recommend you try to incorporate into your life whenever you have short moments of downtime (away from a screen) for example, on your commute, when you’re walking the dog or brushing your teeth.
The Radio Technique
How often is the radio on in the car, but you are not aware of what is being said? Inside our minds, we have the equivalent of a radio that is playing in the background non-stop. This ‘inner radio’ has many channels, which are all competing for our attention, even if most of the time we are not aware of them.
When we listen to the radio in the car or at home, we are able to listen to one channel at a time, but when listening to our ‘inner radio’, there are many times when more than one station seems to be playing at the same time. I’m sure you can all identify with this.
The radio technique will help you become more mindful, as it encourages you to try to tune into your ‘inner radio’. When you do, you may hear many different stations:
- Negative “news”, thoughts or feelings that are being broadcasted again and again, for example, “I’m not going to get this job”, “I can’t cope with my workload” or “I’m not good enough”
- A conversation between two parts of yourself as if in an inner dialogue. For example, if you had a bad encounter with a colleague you may hear: “I don’t understand why she reacted negatively”, “maybe she misinterpreted me”, “yes, that may be it!, next time I need to …”
- Pleasant music or positive news, for example, “The team meeting today was a success” or “I’m really proud of the work I did today”
- The narration of a story that makes you feel happy or sad, for example, “At this company, everyone is stressed out” or “There’s no point applying for that job, I wouldn’t even be considered”
- A “weather forecast” (e.g., it is grey and miserable right now and will stay like that for weeks). For example, “I feel very tired and low … and I am going to feel like this for a long time”
So, next time you are getting ready for work and have a few solitary moments, try tuning into your ‘inner radio’. How many channels are playing? What type of news can you hear? Try to listen to what your inner radio is broadcasting and accept and acknowledge all the stations.
Next, you can go beyond pure mindfulness and decide which of your inner stations will be most useful for you in the day ahead. For example, if you’re about to attend a job interview, try to tune out that narrative playing in your head that’s telling you that you’re not going to get the job – this is a useless thought and will only provoke more negative thoughts and feelings. Instead, tune into a station which talks to you about your strengths and achievements – this station will be far more helpful and motivating for you when you walk into the interview room.
Becoming more mindful takes practice
Incorporating mindfulness into the way you live your life, both inside and outside of work will take practice. But, the more you do it, the better you will get at it and the more it will feel like routine. And, over time, you’ll become more and more self-aware, and will be far better at understanding your triggers – which can only be a good thing.
I want to reassure you that your journey to becoming more mindful doesn’t have to feel daunting or confusing. Start by using the above radio technique to help you understand how to focus your thoughts, and concentrate on those which will be most beneficial to you, and fit this practice into your day whenever it feels right. There are also many other sources of support available – here are just a few that you might find useful:
Listen to my TEDx talk: “Using Mindfulness to Move Forward”
Try using Headspace – an app that you can download which offers to teach life-changing skills of meditation and mindfulness in just a few minutes a day
Jon Kabat-Zinn – Mindfulness for Beginners Audiobook – offers five guided meditations for beginners from Dr Kabat-Zinn, a scientist, author and teacher recognized as a pioneer in bringing mindfulness meditation into the mainstream of medicine and society.
Dr Inmaculada Adarves-Yorno is a mindfulness researcher, practitioner and trainer. She is also a TEDx speaker who talks about “Using Mindfulness to Move Forward”. As an academic and practitioner Inma has specialized in what is ‘underneath the surface’. She has worked as a CEO advisor, Human Resources manager, coach and leadership developer. For over ten years she has been working with a range of managers and leaders and has witnessed the contradictions between their inner and outer lives. One of her latest work revolves around both developing the next generation of authentic leaders (change agents) and understanding their tensions and paradoxes. She has found that Mindfulness is paramount to deal with daily tensions and it’s the perfect way to “come back to ourselves”. In her latest project, she is using mindfulness and mindful leaders’ identity to transform the Kenyan Prison Services from the inside out. Currently, she is based at the Exeter Centre for Leadership, University of Exeter Business School.