I know people don’t really believe me when I say that you can blend mindfulness seamlessly into your work day. The thing I hear most often from the people I coach is there is not enough time for mindfulness. The managers I work with are genuinely concerned about how much their team has on and they feel they cannot add one more thing to the to do list. However, they now are aware of all the benefits of mindfulness so they are torn. They know that individually people will flourish. It will support relationships in the workplace. They also know when you have these factors in a workplace teams really sing. They hit the high notes of innovation and creativity. But then there are the time pressures – what to do? Well this of course is the beauty of mindfulness it actually is not about taking anything else on or at least it does not need to be.
It is not like when you commit to a new fitness program and perhaps join a gym. Firstly, you need to ask do you have the gear to go to the gym, enough lululemon? Then there is the consideration around the time to get to and from the gym and then of course the time at the gym. Mindfulness need not be like this, it does not need to take this much time. You can of course take time out to do a sitting practice but there are lots of ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day so that you and your team are getting the benefits without adding additional tasks to the to do list. What it means is that you can do your everyday activities you just do them in a way that allows you to reap the rewards of recharging, settling that stress induced cortisol, refocusing and paying attention.
Let’s look at three things we do everyday at work and explore how we can make these “mindful practices” and in doing so perhaps consider the difference this might make?
· Mindful listening
· Mindful walking
· Mindful eating
I love introducing mindful listening to organisations. I feel that coaching on mindful listening is the one tool that has the potential to have the greatest impact. The pace of our life certainly does not encourage good listening. To add to that we also have the distractions, the “beeps” and “pings” and other noises that take us off our path of really being available when someone talks to us. How do we get this important skill back? It takes practice just like any other skill. Mindful listening.
A great practice for teams that they use at Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute is to get into pairs and to let each person talk for five minutes and get their partner just to listen. No questions, no “that happened to me”, just listening. It is great to hear people recount their experiences after this exercise:
“It was so hard not to ask questions”,
“I can’t believe how much I remembered”,
“I think I understood them better.”
People often also reflect on the fact that as well-meaning as their questions might be they recognise that they often derail what might have been important for the other person to tell them. Maybe in leaving us the person did not have a chance to get that “something off their chest.”
After the exercise I often ask the groups I work with to practice “stealth” mindful listening. To pick a day and really focus on listening. You might ask some questions so your cover won’t be blown but you will be really conscious of not interrupting, really listening and not thinking about what you will be saying next. Again, the feedback is consistently amazing about how much more people felt they heard when they spent a day practicing this, not just with their work colleagues but maybe, and more importantly, with their families. With our long term relationships we can really get stuck in the pattern of being the talker or the listener, and the value of taking a chance to walk on the other side may provide opportunities in itself.
Perhaps you can help your team to gain the skill to listen mindfully. Really set them on our path where they can be asking one another “do you hear what I hear?”
Now let’s consider mindful walking? I think most people can see that walking is a fundamental part of their work day. Maybe though they don’t know how to transfer their everyday walk into one that is mindful. The first place to start is not to be looking at your phone when you are walking!! But there also a are number of ways we can make this everyday work activity more mindful these include:
· Really grounding into our feet; feeling your left foot touch the ground and then your right and then left and right as each foot hits the ground
· We can focus on the breath. This may involve counting our breaths, we can take this opportunity to make sure we are really breathing deeply into our belly and not just breathing into our chest because we know that this will elicit the parasympathetic nervous system and a relaxation response. Imagine actually encouraging relaxation when heading from meeting to meeting rather than getting into your head about what you have not done or should have done or what could happen and instead eliciting a stress response. Which one do you think will hold you in a better position for engaging in that meeting?
· We can use open awareness perhaps by really just looking out and noting what is around us or perhaps by setting ourselves a goal to notice five blue things, counting the number of signs we see or how many people walk past us wearing red. I am always interested to do this exercise in places that are very familiar. I have worked in the same building for 14 years and lived in the same house for 11 year (with a chocolate labrador which ensures I do walk regularly) and I am always surprised by the things I notice when I am really focused on what is “out there” and not the chatter in my head!
So, what can mindful walking achieve? Opportunity to reset between meetings; tick. Opportunity to regroup after a nasty email; tick. Opportunity to make that tedious walk between two buildings that you do at least four times a day an opportunity to recharge; tick. All the benefits and no extra time taken; tick!
Last but not least my very favourite mindful eating. Again, hopefully something that is already part of your work day. How many times have you finished eating something and realized that you can’t remember actually tasting it? We often eat our lunch or have a coffee whilst reading emails. I am certainly not suggesting a that you or your team have time for a long lunch but what I am suggesting is to encourage people to focus on the first three bites or the first three sips of tea. Just note the taste, the texture and the smell? Because with the five to ten seconds this takes, we can come into the present and out of our past or future focused minds we have the chance to reset. Perhaps you can actually eat all of your lunch like this? Perhaps you can have two “mindful coffees” during the day. I always acknowledge to the people I coach that is it difficult to incorporate a new habit but not so difficult to team a new habit up with an existing one like your morning cup of tea or lunch, using this everyday activity as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. I know a team that has a mindful lunch once a week. Perhaps you could start your day by having a mindful breakfast. Maybe try it out with the family to start everyone’s day in a positive way. I always enjoy trying out mindfulness eating with groups. We usually have a variety of things to eat and there is always lots of chatter:
”I did not realise my eating was so noisy, “
”I really hadn’t noticed how sweet that is, “
”Wow, I could not believe the texture ”.
“I can’t believe how quickly I usually eat without noticing anything”
This is a great intro exercise to try out with a team but what I love the most is once you know what to do it take no extra time. Though something to keep in mind is if it is a particularly tough day maybe try out the mindfulness practice of one of my past clients. She has a piece of chocolate mudcake and tastes every single bite!
So there is it is mindful listening, mindful walking and mindful eating. Everyday activities that we can make mindful! Where do you your think your team could start?