Mindfulness: it's a pretty straightforward word. It suggests that the mind is paying full attention to what's happening, to what you're doing, and to the space you're moving through. But so often, the mind takes flight — and pretty soon, you're thinking about past events or fretting about the future. Not only can this be a source of great anxiety, it can also halt your productivity.
Yet no matter how far you drift from the present, mindfulness can bring you back. Here are three ways to help you be mindful at work.
1. Mindful Immersion
Silly mistakes become all too common when you're not mindful: your mind wanders during a meeting, someone asks for your opinion, and you’re not sure what to say. Or, you get into the car to go shopping, but head to your office instead.
Our lives are busy, and we've stopped living fully through our senses. Think about it for a moment. Have you ever failed to notice something right in front of you (for example, a colleague looking unwell) because you're not giving your full attention (looking without seeing)? Have you ever eaten on the go, using food merely as a functional means to an end (eating without tasting)? We’ve all been there!
What can you do about it? When you feel your mind wandering — thinking about the past or pondering the future — bring yourself back with mindful immersion. Instead of simply going through the motions, engage with the task at hand and truly experience every part of it. This can help you regroup and be present in the moment.
2. Mindful Breathing
Have you ever felt yourself heading down an undesirable path — toward anger, resentment, or conflict? Mindful breathing can help you slam on the brakes and change course. Your breath acts as an 'anchor' that you can focus on whenever you’re struggling with negative thoughts. Pausing to take a few mindful breaths gives you a single short task, clears your mind, and allows you to reboot.
Ideally, you should practice mindful breathing for five to ten minutes daily for at least a week. Here’s how:
- Close your eyes (this usually makes it easier to keep your focus)
- Take an exaggerated breath to start
- Inhale deeply through your nose (count to three)
- Hold your breath (count to two)
- Exhale through your mouth (count to four)
Continue with this breathing pattern — as you work through a cycle (inhale, hold, exhale), you will likely feel more relaxed. Try to extend the length of the cycle by counting to five as you inhale through your nose, counting to three as you hold your breath, and counting to five as you exhale through your mouth. And build from there — the optimum cycle is 7/7/7 (21 seconds total).
You may get sidetracked easily, particularly in the beginning. But don't be hard on yourself; just notice when you are distracted and gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
3. Mindful Thoughts
When you’re faced with a new situation at work — a meeting, a presentation, or your first day in a new job — ask yourself the following questions before your mind veers off course and creates unnecessary anxiety:
- What is good about this situation?
- What do I appreciate at this moment?
- How can I make a positive impact on myself and others right now?
Mindfulness can help you point your mind in the direction you want it to go — it’s about picking your thoughts deliberately, which can lead to less stress and anxiety and greater focus. Not to mention, it’s linked to improved health overall. And it isn't too complicated — you just need to remember to do it!