Leadership and personal development speaker, Royston Guest, explains four ways to be mindful at work
Mindfulness. It's a pretty straightforward word. It suggests that the mind is fully attending to what's happening, to what you're doing, to the space you're moving through. That might seem obvious, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter in hand. Your mind takes flight, and pretty soon, you're engrossed in thoughts about something that happened previously or fretting about the future. And this can be a source of great anxiety.
Yet no matter how far you drift from the present, mindfulness can snap you back to where you are and what you're doing and feeling.
Here are four ways to help you to be mindful at work.
Silly mistakes become part of every day when you're not mindful. You've probably slipped into autopilot when you're doing something simple you've done a hundred times before.
You may have been in a meeting when your mind has wandered off, and you're quickly brought back to the moment when someone asks for your opinion. Or have you got into the car to drive to the shops, but ended up heading in the opposite direction, to your office instead? If you have, you may have laughed it off as another case of autopilot, but it was a lack of mindfulness.
In the general busyness in which we lead our lives, we've stopped living fully through our senses. Think about it for a moment. How many times have you missed a colleague looking unwell because you're not truly paying attention (looking without seeing)? Have you eaten on the go, using food merely as a functional means to an end (eating without tasting)?
Mindfulness immersion intends to cultivate contentment and to be truly present in the moment with whatever it is you are doing. And when you feel your mind slipping into thinking about the past or pondering on something in the future, bring it back to the present.
If you feel yourself heading down a pathway you don't want to go (to a place of anger, resentment or conflict), through conscious awareness you can slam on the brakes and almost immediately channel yourself down a more productive pathway as you apply mindful breathing.
Research has shown that practising mindful breathing can help you become more aware of what you are feeling and thinking in the 'present', in a non-judgemental way. Mindfulness is linked to improved health, lower anxiety and stronger resilience against stress. Studies have also shown that people who participated in a 15-minute mindful breathing exercise recorded less negative emotions when shown a series of negative images, compared with those who didn't engage in mindful breathing. This suggests that focused breathing can enhance your ability to modulate your emotions.
Mindful breathing offers you an 'anchor' - your breath - on which you can focus whenever you feel you are struggling with negative thoughts. Pausing and taking a few mindful breaths focuses you on a single short task to clear your mind, allowing you to refocus, make better decisions and 'reboot'.
Have you ever said to someone just at the point they are about to explode: 'Just breathe.' Well, that was you sharing the mindful breathing technique in its simplest form.
Mindful breathing should ideally be practised for five to ten minutes daily for at least a week. You can have your eyes open or closed, but it's usually easier to keep your focus if you close your eyes. Begin by taking an exaggerated breath-particularly if you are trying to stay calm in a difficult situation - then take a deep inhale through your nose (on a count of 3), hold your breath (on a count of 2) and finally take a long exhale through your mouth (on a count of 4).
Continue with this breathing pattern, focusing on the rise and fall of your chest and the sensation of the breath through your nostril. As you work through a cycle (inhale, hold, exhale), you will become more relaxed. Try to extend the length of the cycle by inhaling through your nose on a count of 5, holding your breath on a count of 3 and exhaling through your mouth on a count of 5. The optimum cycle to work towards is 7/7/7 - a 21-second cycle.
You may find, particularly in the beginning, that your mind becomes side-tracked by various thoughts. Don't be harsh on yourself; just notice when you are distracted and gently bring your attention back to your breath. You will soon find yourself gaining control of your emotions and remaining calm.
When you enter a new situation at work - a meeting, a presentation, your first day in a new job, ask yourself the following questions:
Mindfulness is about picking your thoughts and focal points deliberately and pointing your mind in the direction you want it to go. It isn't complicated... you just need to remember to do it.
Royston Guest, CEO, Pathways Global Limited and Founder of the Business Growth Pathway, a digital platform that delivers dynamic, data-led mentor style growth insights. Royston has a career spanning over two decades across a multitude of sectors, enterprises, and governments in 27 countries. He is also author of two books, RISE and Built to Grow.