Mindfulness for busy people
Imagine there was a pill you could take to give you more energy, enhance your confidence and wellbeing, increase your overall effectiveness and reduce your levels of stress. It is free, has very few known side-effects, and seems to work for most people who take it.
Would you take it?
Of course you would. Everyone would.
These are some of the known outcomes of mindfulness training.
Everyone seems to be talking about mindfulness right now. So many of us are discovering how we can use it to improve our lives. Whether it’s being more efficient at work or being more connected with family and friends, mindfulness training helps us to live happier and more fulfilled lives.
Through mindfulness training we can learn ways of being more in touch with what is inside us and around us. We learn to live more in the present and come away from the tendency to ruminate over the past or get lost in dreams, pleasant or anxious, of futures that exist only in our imaginations.
People have practiced mindfulness for thousands of years. It has stood the test of time and is becoming increasingly popular in the contemporary world because it works. It’s not a fad or a trend that will die out because its popularity is built on life-changing results. That means it is an approach that will thrive and continue to develop, just as it has for thousands of years.
So, you may be asking ‘OK, how can I get this? How can I be more mindful?’
Let’s first explore exactly what mindfulness is.
What is mindfulness and how can it help you
We’re all so busy these days. It seems that there’s always something which needs to be done. We have never ending to-do lists and sometimes it can feel like we’re going through life on autopilot. Mindfulness is about turning off that autopilot more of the time and taking hold of the steering wheel of your attention
When you’re more mindful you’re more aware – of yourself, of others and of the whole world around you in this moment. This is about allowing yourself the luxury to simply be present, right here in this moment. Giving it your full attention. It’s about being impartially aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations – and your environment, right now.
When you become mindful you open yourself up to new ideas, new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling. That can lead to more creativity. It can help you discover a deeper sense of purpose.
Here are some of the known benefits mindfulness training can bring:
- Improved attention and focus on tasks
- Enhanced self-awareness and increased awareness of others
- Enhanced ability to deal with stress
- Better ability to manage moods and emotions
- Increased cognitive capacity
- Greater sense of purpose
- Improved creativity
- Increased ability to relax
- Increased energy
- Higher self-confidence
Mindfulness is not necessarily about changing what you’re doing. Instead, it’s often about changing how you’re doing it. What’s more, it is open to everyone, anyone can practice mindfulness.
There's a considerable body of research that speaks of the effectiveness of mindfulness in a wide variety of contexts. One key place which it is being adopted is in the workplace.
Mindfulness at Work
Work is a major part of our lives, often we spend more time with our colleagues, than we do our spouses. Stress from work can spill out into our personal life, affecting our relationships with friends and family.
Imagine seeing friends or family after a long and hard day at work. You might usually spend an hour discussing how stressful and tough your day has been. Instead you’re now able to give your full attention to them and enjoy their company. You’re fully present in that moment rather than half thinking about your work day. When we’re more mindful we’re better able to separate our work and home life. That means that we’re better at figuratively taking off our work hat and putting on our home-life hat when we come in the door.
At work we’re constantly judged on how we perform our assigned tasks, how effectively we undertake our jobs and how well we assist others at their jobs. Mindfulness training enables us to be more effective at work. It helps to increase attention and energy. It increases our cognitive abilities and our capacity to collaborate and connect with others.
There are signs that mindfulness practice can increase memory capacity. This is essential for making good decisions at work, and in your personal life. The more information you can remember, the better your decision will be. When you’re more mindful, you’re better able to thoughtfully respond to situations, rather than mindlessly reacting to things.
Along with colleagues at Ashridge Executive Education, we conducted a study in 2016 into the effectiveness of mindfulness training on a group of busy executives. We found some very interesting results on the lasting benefits of the training for participants. Broadly, participants in the study experienced a significant improvement in three key areas: their personal resilience, their ability to collaborate with others, and their ability to stay agile in complex conditions.
Let’s go through those three in more detail:
Our participants found that they had a greater ability to deal with stressful situations both at home and at work. They reported an increased capacity for self- awareness and self-management, they were better able to regulate their emotions and reframe stressful or difficult situations. They also subsequently reported enhanced sleep, reduced stress levels and improved work-life balance as a consequence of improved resilience.
There was an increased ability to empathise with other people, a key skill when working closely with others. They found that they had a deeper appreciation for others’ state and position.
Agility in Complexity
It was found that participants had a greater ability to lead in conditions of complexity. They could more easily focus on and make better decisions on complex tasks, remaining calm under pressure.
Whether you’re thinking about how you can lead your team better or how you can more effectively complete your tasks, we’re sure that the skills listed above are highly relevant useful in your own workplace. Mindfulness can help people to become more effective at their jobs, whilst reducing stress.
Mindfulness training has the potential to transform how you approach your work and gain a better work-life balance.
How do I actually practise mindfulness?
There are two aspects to mindfulness practice. Formal, structured mindfulness meditation practice and informal practice – which is simply about becoming more present in each moment, relaxing into what’s here right now.
Our own study tells us that when people practice formal, structured mindfulness meditation for ten minutes or more each day they begin to experience some of the benefits we’ve listed above. The more they practice, the more they benefit.
That helps with the informal practice as well. When you regularly work with your mind and your attention in a more ‘structured’ way in meditation, you become better able to do that outside of the meditation. And when you practice ‘informally’, outside of the meditation, bringing your attention more often to whatever is actually going on right now – not drifting off into futures or pasts, not lost in thinking and dreaming, then you’re better able to do that in your meditations as well.
So you can practice mindfulness every waking minute of every day, by simply opening up to what is going on in you and around you. But that is often hard to do on its own. Our minds easily return our habitual thought patterns and mindful awareness is slowly pushed aside. We need ways of training our minds to be more aware. This is where mindfulness meditation practise comes in.
In our experience, it’s really valuable to have some guidance around this process. It’s not simply a matter of being told how to do this and then just being left to get on with it. Experienced teachers who can take an informed, structured approach to the learning, make a real difference. And, after all, it’s only 10 minutes per day that you need to find.
I don’t have 10 minutes per day!
As Tony Robbins says “if you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life”.
Everybody can free-up 10 minutes per day, that’s the same amount of time as it takes for you to check Facebook or to catch up on the latest news. But unlike those two actions, this has the power to change your life.
In our study, being ‘too busy’ was cited as one of the most common challenges to meditation. It was also found that participants were ‘beating oneself up’ for not doing it, this caused stress and anxiety, which is ironic given that a key mindfulness benefit is to reduce stress and anxiety. If you find that you’re beating yourself up for not meditating, relax! Accept that you sometimes miss a few sessions. That’s OK. Just pick it up again. Even if you miss months of sessions, you never blow it. The practices are always there, waiting for you to get back to them. Just find 10 minutes you can carve out and begin again.
You’re not the only person who benefits from your meditation practice. So maybe try asking your partner or spouse to help you carve time out. Having someone else encourage you can really give you that extra motivation you need. Also, if you’re feeling resistance towards meditating, talking to someone else can really help you get to the source of the resistance.
In the same way, a buddy or two at work who is also interested in establishing the habit of meditating regularly can really help. Check-in with each other from time to time. Share experiences, encourage each other.
Whilst finding time can be difficult, that pays for itself as you become more efficient. When we’re unmindful, going through our lives and our workdays on auto pilot, we just react to what is in front of us or on our to do list. Whereas when we’re living mindfully, we are able to thoughtfully and consciously take action. That can save wasted time and effort.
It’s likely that the 10 minutes you spend practicing meditation will be made up as you live more mindfully afterwards.
Mindfulness has the power to change your life, it can change how you view your actions and the actions of other people, helping you to live a happier and more content life. Key to its success is its simplicity, mindfulness is just about being present in this moment.
It’s understandable if you’re sceptical about mindfulness, the media has a tendency to over-hype this sort of thing, but mindfulness is nothing new, it has been practiced for thousands of years across the world. Only now are some of us waking up to the potential of living mindfully. Try it for yourself and make up your own mind.
Whether you’re interested in mindful leadership or using mindfulness to complete tasks more effectively, work is one area where mindfulness can have a really big impact. Often the source of life’s biggest stress and frustration, work can dictate how we live our lives. It’s time to take back control and stop letting work stress take over your life. Working more mindfully can help us to be more resilient, collaborate better and be more agile when undertaking complex tasks.
If you’re interested in mindfulness for just yourself, then take a look at our publications page to see our books which can help you, but if you’re considering how it can help your organisation, then find out about the mindfulness taster sessions we offer to organisations – they’re a good place to start.