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Mindfulness for the Modern Professional

Why mindfulness for the modern professional?

Mindfulness is something we all need to develop in order to make the world a better place. Inside of work, outside of work, with our family and friends—everywhere.

Our professional lives just happen to be where we spend an extraordinary amount of time. If we aren’t mindful at work, we most likely won’t be mindful anywhere else.

To say change is the only constant is an understatement when talking about the state of most workplaces in the digital age.

This constant change is stressful for even the best of us. Keeping up with the onslaught of new information is all but impossible.

As much as we would like to just eliminate the stress, we know the futileness of such an effort.

We can relieve stress with mindfulness, but mindfulness has many other benefits when it comes to the work you do.

These benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Deepening relationships with coworkers
  • Increasing focus and productivity

In this article, we’ll explore some mindfulness exercises that will bring out these benefits and more.

Why Mindfulness?

Why mindfulness?  Picture of a question marks coming from a head symbolizing the questioning of mindfulness.

A study was done by LinkedIn to determine the top three challenges faced by most working professionals.

The results showed that work/life balance, coworker relationships, and managing workloads were the top three.

Mindfulness can help with all of these for the same reason it can help with almost anything else.

We are completely in the moment when we are being mindful. Observing exactly what is happening in our minds and bodies — in addition to what is happening with others.

This awareness gives us the opportunity to respond instead of react. We are more in control more often.

When you practice mindfulness, you gather courage and confidence, build stronger connection and influence with others, and confront change with strength and grace.

Work/Life Balance

Having a problem with work/life balance usually means too much work and not enough life. At least it feels that way.

People don’t know how to turn it off whenever “life” outside of work is supposed to be happening.

It becomes a situation where even when the work stops physically, the mind stays there. Friends and family don’t get to experience you fully and vice versa because your mind is still at work.

This is where mindfulness comes in.

One of the most basic mindfulness meditation practices is to focus on your breath. When you notice that you’ve been distracted you just return to the breath. You “begin again”— over and over again.

The same can be done when you’re with friends or family. Simply noticing when your mind gets distracted and bring it back to the present moment. Back to whatever is happening now.

It’s when we don’t notice that we lose large chunks of time pondering what happened at work and what will happen next.

When we become mindful, we realize that it’s not because of the work that we don’t experience balance—it’s because we stay focused on the work even when we shouldn’t be.

Coworker Relationships

If you haven’t already, you will experience working with someone that has a different style than you.

Their style could be very different and this can cause difficulty or even conflict.

Mindfulness can be your secret weapon. Not a weapon in the sense that it’s something you use against your coworkers.

It works as a secret weapon because you try to figure out what is going on in the situation. As opposed to solely focusing on how the situation is making you feel.

You seek to understand what the other person’s point of view is before explaining your point of view.

Mindfulness gives you the ability to be patient. When it’s time for you to respond your response is well thought out and well intentioned with everyone’s interest in mind—and with full understanding of the situation and all points of view.

Managing Workloads

Working without mindfulness can pile on unnecessary stress.

When we aren’t mindful, everything seems like an emergency. Most things aren’t emergencies. In fact, most things can wait. Some of those things that seem like emergencies don’t even need to be done at all.

We are blind to this when we aren’t mindful. We just plug away trying to put out every fire, respond to every email, and somehow get it all done.

Work long enough and you’ll realize that you can never get it all done.

Knowing this, you must develop mindfulness to consistently determine the most important things that need to be done.

Is this really something that is helping to achieve my goals or the goals of my organization? That’s the kind of question you will ask yourself when you’re mindful.

We all have a lot of work to do, but we have to realize what should and shouldn’t be done—and have the courage to cut the waste.

Practicing Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness on the beach

In order to be more mindful at work or any area of life, you must practice mindfulness.

Being mindful doesn’t come naturally, and the modern world is making it more difficult by the day. That’s why you have to be intentional about it and practice.

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to mean a formal sitting meditation. That’s great, but the cool thing is you can practice anywhere at anytime.

In order to make that practice effective, you must keep three things in mind:

  1. Awareness
  2. Being Patient
  3. Consistency

Awareness

In the beginning you must choose to be mindful. There is very little chance it will happen spontaneously. Even if it does you won’t recognize it as being mindful.

That’s why awareness is key if you want to be mindful.

Awareness covers a wide range of phenomena when it comes to what you can be aware of. It can be your breath, sounds, thoughts, taste, smells, etc. The list is vast.

The point is to decide to become aware of something and put your full attention on it. What works best for me is contact points. Specifically, where my body is contacting the seat, bed, ground, etc.

For you it might be your breath, sounds, or anything else. See what feels most natural to you and start with that. We call this the object of attention.

Make a conscious effort to focus on that object of attention. Whenever you discover that you’ve become distracted, bring your attention and focus back to it.

You will lose focus over and over again, but the point is to keep coming back to your object of attention.

It’s annoying because it seems like it isn’t working, but every time you catch yourself and return to being mindful you’re building your capacity to be more mindful.

Like many other things, you can’t tell that it’s working. You have no idea it’s building your capacity—it just feels irritating.

This is why the second principle of effective mindfulness practice—being patient—must be followed.

Being Patient

Without patience you’ll surely quit before seeing any benefits.

It’s difficult to be patient in this new age on-demand society that we live in, but we have to do it.

In the modern world we can gain access to things much faster than in the past. There are few things we actually have to wait for anymore.

We want an answer, we Google the question. A good movie or show comes to mind, we search for it and press play immediately. We need a ride, we pull up the Uber or Lyft app on our phone.

There are many other examples, but you get the point. We have to put in very little effort to get most of our needs met.

When we have to put in effort, it seems like a waste of time if our desires aren’t met quickly.

However, this kind of thinking will leave you shortchanged—in being mindful and life in general.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step, but it doesn’t end there. You still have to travel the path to reach the destination.

Being patient doesn’t excuse you from putting in the work. If you practice sporadically and not very often, patience does you no good.

In this instance you’ll feel like nothing is happening and you’ll be right. That’s why you also need to remember the third principle of effective mindfulness practice, and that is consistency.

Consistency

You don’t have to practice mindfulness for an hour a day everyday to see the benefits.

In fact, a Wharton study found that just seven to eight minutes per day was enough to produce benefits. Particularly with colleagues becoming more helpful at work.

Another study a few years ago also showed that just three 25-minute training sessions was enough for participants to start seeing benefits.

As I said before, if you practice sporadically and not very often, you’re unlikely to see any benefits.

Likewise, if you start off practicing frequently then quit, you’ll quickly lose the benefits that you did gain. If you begin again, you’ll be starting from scratch.

You don’t have to practice all the time, but it should be at regular intervals without exception.

More frequency will cause you to see benefits faster, but won’t ensure the benefits remain. By being consistent, you can ensure whatever benefits you do gain don’t go away.

Remember, frequency can affect how fast you see benefits but consistency is what causes those new assets to compound over time.

Consistency, on top of awareness and patience will help you create new neural pathways to experience life with much greater richness.

Calm Workplace Stress

Sometimes workplace stress can make it feel like the weight of the world is right on top of your head.  Mindfulness helps calm this feeling.

If I said you could be a modern professional and not experience stress, you’d probably tell me I’m crazy—and you would be right.

Stress is common for everyone and just a fact of life in the workplace.

The interesting thing is that stress—mental or emotional strain or tension—is not usually caused by external events. Rather, it is usually a result of our perception about an event.

It is a physiological response to a perceived threat or attack that is detrimental to survival.

When we have to meet with the boss or give an important presentation, our bodies can activate the fight or flight response whether we want it to or not.

There is no real threat to physical safety but our bodies behave that way anyway. It’s just how we were built to survive.

Practicing mindfulness can have a meaningful impact on this.

The prefrontal cortex—the rational thinking portion of the brain—increases in size with mindfulness. The amygdala—responsible for emotional regulation—shrinks in size as we practice mindfulness.

What this means is that in times of stressful situations, we can think rationally instead of reacting emotionally.

If you’ve ever snapped at a coworker or froze during a presentation, you know just how helpful this would be.

There is always a space between any stimulus and and how we respond to that stimulus. Within that space is the power to choose our response.

Mindfulness expands that space allowing us to respond with intention rather than react impulsively.

Mindfulness Improves Focus

Mindfulness improves focus.  Woman using hands to focus on an object.

If you think about a time you were successful at work—where you accomplished something great—chances are it happened when you were able to focus.

When we’re able to focus effectively, we can be more creative, work longer, and get into that elusive flow state.

The more frequently we practice mindfulness, the easier it will become to get into that state.

As I mentioned before, mindfulness is largely about selecting an object of attention—such as the breath— and focusing on it.

When you catch your attention wavering, you consciously redirect it to the object of attention.

This practice helps in your professional life because you need to focus to get things done.

If you need to focus on creating a presentation, you’ll be better able to notice when you’ve been distracted by email or something else.

Without mindfulness, It’s all too easy to let a quick distraction become an hour long one. And these days, there is no shortage of all kinds of distractions.

Additionally, most professionals have to solve problems on a daily basis. Mindfulness can help avoid the trap of attacking a problem the same way over and over again.

As Albert Einstein said:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Mindfulness helps us to focus and see precisely where the problem is, or if there even is a problem in the first place.

With this focus and clarity, we can come up with better solutions to come to a resolution.

Mindfulness Enhances Self-Awareness

reflection and self awareness

If we’re being honest, most of us would say that we know ourselves very well. But do we? Do we really know and understand our deepest thoughts and beliefs that guide our behavior?

If mindfulness isn’t part of the equation then probably not.

This is because our deepest thoughts and beliefs are just that—deep. They aren’t right at the surface in plain view.

Mindfulness causes us to look at our thoughts—without judgement if possible—and see what’s really there.

It may take time, but eventually we uncover mindsets and beliefs that we didn’t know we had. This uncovering is the first step in self-awareness.

Many of the beliefs we have were given to us at a young age before we had any choice in the matter. Given to us from parents, our immediate social circle and other aspects of our environment.

We continued to gain all sorts of beliefs as we grew up. Some we were conscious of, others we aren’t.

When you have tens of thousands of thoughts every single day for years, it really adds up. All of that compounds to form who you are today.

It would be impossible for anyone to retain and understand all of this information. Mindfulness opens the door.

With the door open we can see how we are contributing to the less than satisfactory situations—at work and elsewhere. We don’t assume all problems have external origins.

Mindfulness and Finding Meaning at Work

Finding meaning at work

Let’s face it, we can’t all be in jobs and careers that we love doing 100% of the time.

Even for those of us who are passionate about what we do for a living, there are always rough days. Days where we just don’t enjoy work—for a variety of reasons.

With mindfulness, you can always connect what you’re doing to some kind of meaning and purpose.

You have to first determine what that meaning and purpose is, but once you do, mindfulness allows you to remember it when things get difficult.

The meaning or purpose doesn’t have to be directly related to what you’re doing. Oftentimes, it isn’t related at all and you have to go a few levels deep to make the connections.

For example:

I don’t feel like writing right now. At all. The words just aren’t flowing the way I want them to.

What’s getting me through is my meaning and purpose. Sure, I want to get this article done but that’s just scratching the surface. Wanting to get it done isn’t a strong enough meaning or purpose to get me to push through.

So I must go another level deep and ask myself why I want to get it done.

I want to get it done so that I can share it with the world. And I would like to share it with the world because it might help someone else.

If I can possibly help even one person learn something that can improve their life, that brings me joy. I don’t know if this will help anyone, but I know for a fact that it won’t—it can’t—if I don’t put it out there.

That’s what keeps me going.

I also know that to get better at writing I have to write more. That purpose is unrelated to the first but still a driving force. You can have multiple sources of meaning and purpose as long as they are meaningful to you personally.

If you’re not being mindful and connecting with meaning or purpose, it’s too easy to let the discomfort win.

The discomfort of being bored, tired, anxious, or any other emotion that draws you away from the work that needs to be done.

It’s quite simple: Determine your meaning and/or purpose -> Connect it to your work -> Increase productivity and effectiveness.

Manage Your Inner Critic With Mindfulness

Manage your inner critic with mindfulness

Everyone has an inner critic. This inner critic is always hanging around, ready to give its opinion. The inner critic wants to help but often stops us in our tracks.

It may tell us we’re not worthy, prevent us from taking risks, recognizing our essential goodness, or take away our freedom to pursue what excites us.

The inner critic wants to protect us from harm but it oversteps most of the time into areas where it isn’t helpful.

Rather than bolster—it impedes our joy, peace, and confidence.

When we aren’t mindful, we take everything the inner critic says as reality. The inner critic gets to be right because we don’t see it as an inner critic. We see it as who we are.

The inner critic says “You don’t deserve this.” — You think “I don’t deserve this.”

With mindfulness, we can notice when the inner critic starts to chime in. We can look at it without judgement and let the thought pass.

There’s no need to fight it and in a sense we can befriend it.

In other words, we accept the inner critic as part of us while not totally believing what it has to say.

Mindfulness Can Help Grow Self-Confidence

Mindfulness can help grow self-confidence

Self-confidence is a must at work and in life in general. It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, in the corporate world, or a freelance consultant.

It takes courage to build self-confidence. You can’t transform overnight, but all the effort to become more confident is worth it.

Self-confidence is exactly what it sounds like. It is confidence in ourselves—trusting our abilities and judgements.

Increasing self-confidence gives us greater ability to voice what matters, take risks, be resilient in failure, and make progress toward our goals.

This isn’t the kind of confidence that requires constant validation. Nor is it the kind of hubris that makes us believe we are superior to others.

True self-confidence is about being grounded in who we are. Recognizing strengths and weaknesses—and being okay with both.

Being mindful can help you be more confident in each moment. This is especially helpful in moments where you need to project confidence such as a presentation or meeting with an important client.

Besides mindfulness helping you to be prepared by focusing, it can help you recognize feeling of insecurity and anxiety as they arise.

With this recognition, you can take action before the feelings paralyze you. You can learn mind-body techniques to relax or learn about mindful power posing.

The point is, when you become more mindful you can quickly recognize when you’re feeling less than confident—and have tools on hand in the moment.

Develop More Joy With Mindfulness

Develop more joy with mindfulness

Developing more joy doesn’t just have an impact on you, it can effect everyone around you because emotions are contagious.

Most workplaces are stressful and could use an injection of joy. Why not be the person to do the injecting?

If you exude positive emotions like joy and others experience joy just by being around you, that’s a good thing.

Not only will you be more popular, it will help you foster an environment where creativity and wellbeing thrive.

It can be hard to cultivate joy without making a conscious effort to do so. This is because our brains have a negativity bias. We are wired to be constantly scanning for threats. It’s how our ancestors survived but most of our modern threats are only perceived threats.

With mindfulness, you can practice the feeling of joy repeatedly. All it takes is to be present and appreciate small moments.

Make sure you take time to disconnect, even if only briefly. No news, no social media, no Google searching, nothing. Just be present and appreciate how lucky you are to be here.

Once you try you’ll realize that it isn’t difficult.

When you can be mindful and intentionally feel joy over and over again, it changes your brain. New neural pathways are created and existing pathways are updated.

It becomes easier to overcome the brain’s natural negativity bias and find joy in more moments, without even trying.

Wrap Up

Mindfulness is an incredible tool for work. It is an incredible tool for life.

Thoughts are dictators of the mind. Go here, go there, do this, do that. If we don’t become aware of what thoughts we’re having, we will always act them out.

We’ve seen too many times the results of our actions (or inaction) that produce undesirable results.

Mindfulness has all of the benefits above and then some.

Regarding our professional lives, better productivity and focus are enough on their own to pick up a mindfulness practice.  With the speed of change and technological advancements, being effective is more important than ever.

No one has time to waste on unimportant activities or things that don’t provide value.  Mindfulness can bring awareness to each moment that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Productivity and focus are only scratching the surface though.  

It can bring clarity to what is really going on inside you.  What you see might not be pleasant but at least you’ll see it.  Only then will you have the ability to change it.

Another truth regarding mindfulness is the ability to help with interpersonal relationships.  Regardless of what you do for a living, your greatest success will be found with the ability to work with and through others—not alone.

When you develop mindfulness, it gives you the patience to really try to understand all points of view.  When you can do this you’ll often be the only person in the room with that ability.

It is an invaluable skill to understand what everyone wants then be able to articulate it in a way that all parties win.

Additionally, you’ll be able to find meaning in your work more often, deal with stress effectively, and cultivate more joy.

When you pick up a mindfulness habit, your entire life will improve—not just your professional life.

Just remember, start with awareness, practice, and be consistent. The changes will come.

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