Practicing mindfulness at work has become a popular trend, gaining traction in both traditional offices and home offices. Discover some of its incredible benefits, such as what it can do besides relieving physical pain and clearing mental chaos.
Mindfulness teaches you “the principle that you are not your experiences.” — Fadel Zeidan, PhD
In a world still recovering from a pandemic, we’re all stressed like never before. Research suggests we are happiest when we are optimally busy, but we’re currently facing a tide of “busyness” that is pushing more of us to languish.
Today, our overloaded minds seek a solution that won’t need us to change our jobs or our lives. We desire a system that will keep us from burning out at work while still letting us accomplish productive and positive tasks.
That’s where mindfulness at work comes in, letting you tap into your focused, creative, and productive mode.
Being more mindful at work helps you attain a mental state that reduces toxic arguments, invites creative feedback, drives innovation, and boosts performance.
If you’re new here, download this highly popular, beginner-level guide: 7-Steps To Start A Mindfulness Practice.
What is mindfulness and why is it important?
Mindfulness is the mental process of purposefully focusing one’s attention on the present moment and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgment. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness.”
Meditation is not, as many think, controlling the mind or clearing out the thoughts. Rather, it is about watching the emotions and thoughts arise and examining them with curiosity. We can learn the underlying reasons by observing how the thoughts arrive and how we react to them instinctively.
Mindfulness is important today because it is a low-cost way to improve your mental health, keep stress from crippling your everyday functioning, and even stop the recurrence of depression.
Mindfulness at work can solve the current crisis of over-stressed and chaotic minds. It can reduce anxiety, overthinking, and chronic pain. Researchers found it helped people with ADHD and autism to focus faster and better on their tasks.
Mindfulness can help you feel better about your work output and let go of the pressure of perfectionism. A mindful mind allows you to control your haphazard thoughts and avoid unnecessary reactions.
Practicing mindfulness at work doesn’t mean you always have to sit down to meditate, and there are ways to increase your mindfulness ability without meditating, like mindful writing.
13 Practical Benefits of Mindfulness At Work
A July 2022 study published in the journal PAIN found that mindfulness meditation significantly reduced pain responses both behaviorally (the way you react to pain) and neurally (the actual feeling of pain).
The researchers proposed that pain signals still move from the body to the brain, but the meditators did not feel as much ownership over those pain sensations, resulting in less pain suffering.
Mindfulness helps you take away that edginess of your mind. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation reduces stress, anger outbursts, and overthinking. Mindfulness also increases self-awareness, fulfillment, and happiness.
Mindfulness at work can prevent burnout at work. Burnouts can make you feel pessimistic about your future career and unkind toward yourself. People spend months battling burnout, when preventing it with mindfulness would have been far better.
Studies show people who practice mindfulness for a long time can have the following 13 benefits:
- Decreases anxiety, stress (general and workplace stress), and pain perception.
- Improves the overall quality of life and helps build a stronger ability to cope with day-to-day stresses. Increases flexibility and adaptability to new situations and challenges.
- Improves physical health: lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, lowers the risk of heart disease, slows down aging (some anecdotal evidence says it might increase lifespan)
- Improves mental health: depression, anxiety, PTSD, BPD, and substance abuse.
- Improves relationships, better communication, deeper connections, and more fulfilling and enriched bonds.
- Improves mental abilities: concentration, abstract thinking, memory, and creativity. Sharper and more intuitive problem-solving ability. Boosts inventiveness and lateral thinking (which means coming at a problem from different directions).
- Faster acquisition of new knowledge and skills, as well as the ability to unlearn unhelpful attitudes.
- Boosts happiness, tranquility, and life satisfaction. A more upbeat and positive mindset.
- More empathy, forgiveness, and compassion for oneself and one’s coworkers. Better capacity to give and receive unbiased feedback.
- A better capacity to judge when to let go and when to display grit. Recognize when to take short or long intermittent breaks from your work. Mindfulness helps you let go of your multitasking (which is actually an unproductive habit). Research shows performing more than one complex task at the same time takes a toll on productivity.
11. Mindfulness Increases Our Curiosity In The Workplace
Curiosity is the mother of innovation and adaptive iteration.
Curiosity is the innate desire to find out something previously unknown and gain new knowledge. A curious person looks around and tries to find out novel things they have not experienced before. Their questions are intent and honest and are to themselves as well as others.
Curiosity opens us to the various experiences of obstacles in our way and lets us explore our failures as well as our successes.
Bringing a sense of curiosity to the mindfulness practice helps elevate the experience. Curiosity keeps us open to learning more from our mindfulness meditation experience. It helps us pay close attention to understanding the workings of the breath.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of sitting with all the thoughts that come up, pleasant or unpleasant, and noticing them for what they are with a sense of wonder.
Curiosity allows us to learn something deeper, even when thoughts take us to an unpleasant experience from our past, instead of avoiding them or getting up from meditation.
Curiosity can be a driving force to maintain regularity in our mindfulness meditation practice. On the days we do not feel motivated to sit down to meditate, curiosity can prod us to explore what is it that is making us avoid it.
In the end, being curious while in mindfulness can help us learn more about ourselves, and cultivate the habit of observing our feelings and waiting before reacting to situations.
12. Mindfulness Increases Our Non-Judgmental Attitude Toward Coworkers
When we learn to focus our attention on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting our current feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, it can help us see things in a non-threatening way. It reduces our jumpiness to judge others.
Judging is our tendency to classify an event, a person, or an experience as good, bad, or neutral. Our minds are judging things, so we might survive — by bonding close to the good things, turning away from the bad things, and ignoring the neutral things. This is an automatic process.
In mindfulness meditation, we train our minds to stop judging the thoughts and emotions that arise. We call it non-judgment. With non-judgment, we relax our minds.
When we say mindfulness is about a non-judgmental awareness, it does not mean our mindfulness will stop us from making judgments anymore. Non-judgement does not aim to banish all judgments from our minds. We always fail at it because it is the nature of the mind to judge automatically.
What non-judgment means is we become aware of how critical, fussy, and fault-finding we are about most things. While we cannot pull the plug on them, once we get to know them, we could stop judging those self-righteous thoughts.
Non-judgement is about changing our attitude toward our judgments. Once we accept that judgments are mere thoughts, we can treat them as temporary visitors in our minds. We no more need to store them or get influenced by them.
While judgments make things easy for us, we could be exhausting our brains trying to judge constantly. More so because most of the situations in the modern world do not threaten our lives.
We live in far safer environs than our hunter-gatherer ancestors. So, we do not need to judge everything for survival value.
When we reign in the judging process, we set free a big chunk of our mind that used to work at filtering and sorting every experience.
A mind made to feel relaxed thus opens up to accept the present experiences as they are. We wake up to the reality that we do not need to sift or control the present moment. We can accept it fully as it is, and just be.
13. Mindfulness Allows Us To Let Go of Difficult Emotions
We might think of letting as the opposite of clinging to or grasping on to something. We often get fixated on an opinion, a concept, a relationship. Letting go means we can stay distant and impassive from holding on to the things we want in our lives.
It is also about not trying to push away the things we do not want. Since unpleasant experiences are unavoidable in life, letting go is permitting them to be whatever they are, with no attempt to pit against them.
All mindfulness activities must involve letting go. According to Michael Fox:
Letting go is what we do when a function, service, or activity previously performed is discontinued, when ongoing work is modiﬁed …, or when we lose tangible resources, such as colleagues.
The South-Indian Monkey-Trap
Jon Kabat-Zinn often recounts a story about how people in southern India used to trap the monkeys in old times. They made a small hole in a hollowed-out coconut, put a banana inside, and tie the coconut to the tree’s base.
The monkeys come down from the trees and put their hands through the hole to grab the banana. But the hole is of such size that a monkey’s hand can go in or out, but it cannot get out when it forms a fist grabbing the banana. The monkeys do not let go of the banana and get trapped.
Similarly, when one gets caught up in their attachments and desires things the exact way they want them, it is a painful trap. Letting things be and letting go of the hankerings is the acceptance that becomes the door to freedom.
Letting go is recognizing the thoughts, especially the judgmental thoughts that arise in our minds, and let them pass without denouncing them or clinging to them.
Letting go is about letting things be. It means allowing thoughts, ideas, and people to be as they are without trying to get too caught up in making or expecting them to be a certain way that suits us. When we let go, we do not strive to shape things to fit our vision.
We can learn the art of letting go from the process of our breathing. Each breath we take, however long we keep holding it in, we have to let it go, or else there can never be another breath.
Brain And Mind In Mindfulness
There is scientific proof of the effects of mindfulness practice. No less than 21 brain-scan studies over a decade reveal long years of mindfulness practice reshape parts of our brain—especially these three areas:
- Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPFC)
- Right Anterior Insula (RAI)
- Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC)
Studies show long-term stress shrinks the hippocampus (the memory center of the brain). While mindfulness training increases gray matter density in the same area. So, mindfulness can help us remember things better.
Come to think of it, the positive changes in mindfulness happen right at our brain level, which is remarkable.
Mindfulness also helps you with pulling in your attention from all over the place and turning it into a laser-sharp focus for as long as you want. With regular mindfulness practice, you can hold your attention steady on the task at hand, despite all the noise in your environment.
Also, after a distraction, concentrating back on whatever you were doing takes only a few seconds now.
Jon Kabat-Zinn And Mindfulness
The concept of mindfulness has been around for centuries but has recently exploded in mainstream culture in the West. This revolution was driven by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Kabat-Zinn is a molecular biologist who completed his Ph.D. at MIT in 1971 but then went on to study Buddhist and Zen mindfulness meditation techniques.
Adapting his learning to Western medicine, Kabat-Zinn developed the mindfulness-based stress-reduction program (MBSR) and founded the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Clinic.
What are the common benefits of mindfulness?
The known benefits of mindfulness are more happiness, low stress and distractibility, increased open-mindedness and tolerance, better emotional intelligence, psychological flexibility, equanimity, self-control, and clarity. It also helps the ability to interact with others with more acceptance and compassion. Mindfulness meditation is also a highly effective pain therapy.
What are the 3 qualities of mindfulness?
The 3 qualities of mindfulness are awareness, non-judgmental attitude, and acceptance. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance. It’s an open state of awareness that accepts things as they are, without judging them as good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, being mindful allows you to savor the present moment and awaken to new experiences.
When practiced at work, mindfulness increases our awareness of our thoughts and feelings in the current moment and allows us to manage others without judging them.
The goal of mindfulness practice is to create more balance in our lives by bringing our attention back to what’s happening right now instead of worrying about what might happen next or dwelling on the past.
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Must read: A precise and brief guide to the R.A.I.N. Method of Mindfulness Meditation.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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