Daily grind getting you down? Whether you’re facing an impossible work deadline, a difficult coworker, or simply feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks, practicing mindfulness can help you better handle one of life’s major stressors — work.
Mindfulness is the ability to intentionally pay attention to the present moment without judgment (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair). In other words, it is the ability to be in control of our own minds instead of our minds being in control of us. Some experts refer to it as “training for advanced living.”
We sat down with Laurence Magro, a therapist specializing in mindfulness-based interventions, and Tara Healey, a pioneer in the field of mindfulness at work, to discuss how simple mindfulness practices can assist us in becoming more confident, creative, and focused on the job.
LIFENOTES Say I work for a company that doesn’t have a mindfulness program — or even believe in it. How can I practice mindfulness at work without any support?
TARA You can practice mindfulness at work and no one needs to know! Informal practices involve bringing full attention to what you are doing — and noticing how you are relating to whatever is happening. This is especially useful during difficult conversations with a coworker or boss. For instance, take a moment to be fully aware that you have been provoked in some way and notice the experience physically (and stay aware of thoughts) — this enables a pause between impulse and action. It can enable you to respond and engage in a way that aligns with your deepest values for who you want to be on a day-to-day basis. You can grow to become less reactive and more responsive, as well as more aligned with your own values.
You can also take a brief moment before work starts, either in the car or on public transportation, to do a more formal meditation practice. This can help with mindfulness throughout the day.
LIFENOTES How might I convince my boss that teaching us how to use mindfulness at work is of benefit to the company as well as to the employees?
TARA Share the research. Study after study shows that practicing mindfulness on the job can help employees become more confident, creative, innovative, and focused.
Have your boss check out a 2016 Journal of Management study, “Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review.” After poring over 4,000 research studies, the authors concluded that time spent practicing mindfulness led to happier, less stressed, more productive workers.
LIFENOTES Could you list some of the major US companies that have mindfulness-at-work programs? Are there any that would surprise people?
LAURENCE Sure — there are many, and a few of them would surprise you. The list includes: McKinsey & Company, World Bank, General Mills, BOSE, MIT, Harvard, Boeing, Volvo, Apple, Google, Yahoo, Nike, HBO — even the US Army has joined the mindfulness movement.
The extent of the trainings can vary a great deal, from short intro presentations to training extending over a period of six to eight weeks. More and more companies are now creating dedicated spaces for meditation practice.
LIFENOTES For a daily dose of Zen, you can turn your iPhone into a pocket mindfulness coach by downloading specialized apps. With so many apps to choose from, which ones do you recommend?
LAURENCE People usually benefit most from starting a mindfulness practice with a dedicated teacher in a group format and using the apps to maintain and/or strengthen their practice. We recommend two apps:
10% Happier, developed by Dan Harris, author of the New York Times best seller 10% Happier, provides guided audio meditations and a coach to help you through the course.
Headspace, created by Andy Puddicombe, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk, starts you off with a free online meditation program that takes just 10 minutes a day. Perfect for a busy beginner.
LIFENOTES Finally, if mindfulness can help us become better employees, can it also make us better leaders?
LAURENCE The skills one hones through mindfulness practice are skills essential to being an effective leader. Listening, self-awareness, and the ability to self-regulate all contribute to savvy and skillful leadership.
A recent study, by the business consultant and mindfulness teacher Michael Chaskalson, reported that mindfulness training produced improvement in three capacities that are key for successful leaders in the twenty-first century: resilience, the capacity for collaboration, and the ability to lead under complex conditions.
Most importantly, though, the continued development of such capacities depends on developing a regular mindfulness practice.
Laurence Magro, MS, MBA, was certified in MBSR at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in mindfulness-based therapies and integrative approaches. She is also the founder and director of Mindful Living NY, which offers counseling, training, and consulting to individuals, groups, and professional organizations. For the last 15 years she has served as a practicing psychotherapist and mindfulness trainer with a personal yoga and meditation practice. She draws on Eastern contemplative traditions and recent Western advances in mind-body research to inspire and empower people to help themselves.
Tara Healey, MEd, is the founder and director of Mind the Moment, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s mindfulness program. This comprehensive suite of mindfulness courses has been conducted at more than 200 organizations throughout the United States and in a wide variety of industries, reaching more than 10,000 people. With over 20 years of experience in organizational development, Tara is a longtime practitioner of mindfulness meditation and an advocate for the personal and professional benefits associated with its practice. She has spoken about mindfulness at numerous events domestic and abroad, and has contributed articles to Mindful Magazine and the Harvard Business Review blog.