What is mindfulness really and what is it for? Can it be applied to the workplace or is it a technique for yoga spaces and/or spiritual practices? Can it help us “downshift” without losing focus and results at work?
In this article we want to share with you learnings and reflections regarding: What works, what doesn’t work, and how can we capitalize on the benefits of this great tool in our work environment?
Let’s start at the beginning: What is mindfulness and how does it really work?
Do you remember when you were nervous and your grandmother told you: “Slow down. Take 5 deep breaths and think better what you are going to do/say”. Well, our grandmother was not so far from mindfulness.
The fundamental concept is simple: Mindfulness is a mental exercise practice through which we voluntarily bring our attention to a supporting object, for example, breathing, body register, a sound, an image, etc., in order to avoid mental distraction and focus our attention on the present moment.
How and why does it work?
By repeating over and over again the instruction to avoid mental distraction and return to the “support”, what we are doing is cutting off the train of ideas, thoughts and mental conversations. This has a positive effect on a psychological level and another on a neurological level. On the one hand, it increases our focus, our clarity and sense of personal confidence: we feel that we govern our mind better. On the other hand, during practice, we strengthen the neural connections responsible for attention, we generate greater vasodilation, the heart beats slower and this calms the nervous system, which is experienced as relief, relaxation and calm.
What is not mindfulness and what doesn’t work?
It is not mindfulness to want to stop thoughts or put the mind in white, nor is it a relaxation technique. That is, it is not a “mental spa”.
On the contrary, many times, the practice of sitting with ourselves without doing anything else but paying attention to our breathing can be boring, uncomfortable, challenging and hard. For those of you who have not yet tried it, I recommend it, and you will see what we mean.
We believe that the biggest challenge of this practice is not to start doing it with false promises, expectations or incorrect beliefs about its functioning and results. Because, as is to be expected, if we start this way, we will quickly become disappointed and give up the practice.
How to get the most out of this practice in the workplace?
When we want to bring the benefits of mindfulness to work, it is important to know that this practice does not work under the format “Problem – Solution”. It is not a “mindfulness pill” that we can take when we are stressed, anxious, tired and unmotivated. It just doesn’t work that way.
Focus, clarity, mental calmness or enthusiasm will be the by-products of the hours of practice we have accumulated and not necessarily from a direct, isolated experience during the moment of practice. Therefore, the suggestion is to approach this practice as a daily tool of our work. Just as we have a computer, a cell phone, a desk and a chair to work with, we should make this practice another tool to face our work tasks.
As human beings, we usually go through our lives looking for something that gives us security and controls the uncertainty that surrounds us, but along the way we suffer disappointments, instabilities and losses. The practice of mindfulness is a philosophy of life that allows us to live in fullness, regardless of the external or internal circumstances that surround us. It invites us to become aware that we are alive, and of our present: of our here and now.
If we open ourselves to new experiences, without prejudice and with total acceptance, we can put our absolute attention on each of them, so we can enjoy them to the fullest. This practice invites us to put the focus on all the incredible things that surround us, understanding that life constantly gives us moments that never come back.
Just as we learn a new language or a musical instrument (repetition after repetition, sooner or later our brain incorporates what we practice), in the same way with the repetition of the practice of mindfulness we achieve the results and benefits we seek:
– Increased power of concentration, focus, clarity, attention and mental calmness.
– Feeling of relief and tranquility.
– Reduces stress and anxiety, while strengthening the immune system.
– Reduces emotional reactivity and allows greater control of emotions.
– Strengthens self-esteem and positive attitude.
– Develops emotional intelligence
Mindfulness invites us to stop wanting to reach only our goals, but rather to enjoy the whole journey. It is one of the pillars to enjoy a balanced life, along with healthy eating and sports. It helps us to connect with ourselves so that we can connect with the world. But where do we start to make mindfulness a habit? First of all, we need to keep in mind that patience and practice are two key tools for this. Let’s also remember that any radical transformation starts with a much smaller change. So, we invite you to put any of these options (or, better yet, all of them!) into practice.
Some ways to introduce the practice of mindfulness in our daily lives:
– If you are going to start, know that it is a long-term process. Don’t look for immediate results (if they appear, all the very best! But don’t look for them).
– Remember what the goal of the practice is and what is your genuine intention in doing it.
– Frequency beats intensity. It is better to practice every day for 3 minutes a day than once a week for half an hour. As in any other practice, repetition makes mastery.
– Apply mindfulness to our daily activities.
– Listen fully to others with empathy and genuine interest.
– Pause to breathe at some point during the day.
Through these options, we invite you to embrace the present and begin to enjoy more of the here and now. Applying mindfulness to our lives on a daily basis helps us to achieve personal and professional goals, living them fully and consciously throughout the journey until we reach them.
Fer Niizawa | Global Chief of Public Affairs, Communications & Growth Officer at PDA
Nicolás Iglesias | Psychotherapist