Mindfulness is everywhere these days. At least many more people talk about it then when I started researching and teaching mindfulness five years ago. But how can you really make it happen at work?
Mindfulness is about generating space.
At work, many of us have no space to think, to breathe, and to work out what's genuinely important when we're juggling 10 or more "top priorities".
How can you have 10 top priorities simultaneously anyway?
A priority by definition is something that takes precedence over everything else.
Most of us don't even manage to eke out the necessary mental space to become aware that constantly multitasking and striving to tackle many priorities simultaneously is not only paradoxical, but also stressful. And it makes us less effective.
My work with senior leaders and executive clients around the globe has led me to come up with a number of practical methods that help individuals and teams in busy workplaces be well, and do well, especially during high stress and amidst constant demands on their attention.
Fortunately, mindfulness is a skill that can be practiced, rather a personality trait or mindset that only few people possess. And it doesn't necessarily involve meditation either, despite the current surge of interest in mindfulness meditation - labelled by some as "meditation madness".
Here's an exercise that will bring mindful space to your personal work life.
It's based on the insight that that for every goal we prioritise, there are at least two forces pulling at us, often simultaneously.
- Thoughts: The "inner logic" or rationale why this should be a priority, and
- Feelings: The "inner gut"; what this priority means for us emotionally, intuitively.
Often, we're not even aware of these two forces as we go through our work day. But we ignore this push-pull at our own peril.
Let me invite you to work with me now and create mindful space around one of your work priorities.
- Make sure you won't be interrupted for 5 minutes.
- Get ready to write (on your smart device or using pen and paper if you remember what these are).
- Find a way to get a little more alert and relaxed. Pull your shoulders back; sit up a bit, do what you need to become more present here and now. Fully present, with your mind and body.
- Write down an important priority or goal that's on your mind right now.
- Now first look at what you've written, and focus exclusively on the thoughts that come up: What are the reasons for reaching this goal really about? Why is this logical, what makes sense here? Write down a few words about this now.
- Then focus your attention exclusively on the emotions you feel about this goal: What comes up for you now? How does this priority make you feel, how excited are you about this, how energised? Write down a few words about this now.
- Finally, look at all you've written down. Check if the thoughts and feelings you wrote down were aligned. See where there is a conflict (if any) between what your "inner gut" is telling you and what your "inner rationale" for this priority is about.
Why did I ask you to do this? Because according to solid scientific evidence by goal attainment scholar Ken Sheldon and his colleagues, whenever our rational, consciously articulated logic, and our emotional, sometimes less conscious associations with particular goals and priorities are not aligned, we're unlikely to achieve them all over time.
Here's what this means for the important priority you've been grappling with.
- If your "inner logic" needs a boost (or your emotional gut is not convinced), then see if you can bring this priority somewhat more in line with your overall purpose or identity at work. Most of the time, goals that are at least in some way to do with personal learning, growth, or life satisfaction are more sustained in the long run than those that stay at the literal or specific target-setting level. See if you can reframe your goal to reflect this.
- If your "inner gut" speaks (or indeed screams) about avoidance, dread, or procrastination, then work out what you could add or change slightly about the goal to avoid dreading - or avoiding - it. What short-term, feel-good rewards for working on this could you add, to ensure you stay on course?
- Finally, if this exercise has changed what you can now see about this priority or goal and what is truly important to you right here and right now, then make a conscious decision to make your next move in line with that clarified awareness.
This is how you set genuinely smart goals, goals that reflect your actual reality, and the space you need to truly attain them.This is what mindfulness at work is all about.
Dr Jutta Tobias researches and consults on personal development, mindfulness, and leadership in collaboration with executives and in blue-chip companies across Europe, North America and the Middle East. Jutta has created a variety of online materials on workplace mindfulness, including a free course on Mindfulness at Work in 7 Steps. Her work has been published widely, and she was recently featured in the Swiss TV documentary Die neue Achtsamkeit - Mindfulness erobert die Businesswelt. She consults with The Mindful Business.