10 Ways to Be More Mindful At Work

Mindfulness may seem like a great idea, but how do you become more mindful in the context of a busy work day? You may have emails, phone calls, meetings, and presentations to deal with. In the middle of all that, how can you apply the principles of mindfulness so that you feel more alive and present, as well as being productive? Here are a few popular and radical ways to be mindful at work.

1. Be Consciously Present

Mindfulness is, above all, about being aware and awake rather than operating unconsciously. When you’re consciously present at work, you’re aware of two aspects of your moment-to-moment experience—what’s going on around you and what’s going on within you. To be mindful at work means to be consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, as well as managing your mental and emotional state. Each time your mind wanders to things like Helen’s new role or Michael’s argument with the boss, just acknowledge the thoughts and bring your attention back to the task in hand. This scenario sounds simple, but many aspects of your experience can get in the way.

Here are some ideas to help you stop being mindless and unconscious at work and more mindful and consciously present:

– Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can.

– Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.

2. Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work

Mindful exercises train your brain to be more mindful. The more mindful exercises you do, the easier your brain finds it to drop into a mindful state, thus optimizing your brain function. In the busy workplace, finding time for a 30-minute mindful exercise can be difficult. So does that mean you can’t be mindful at all at work? Nope. Mindful exercises can be as short as you wish. Even one minute of consciously connecting with one of your senses can be classified as a mindful exercise. You don’t need to close your eyes. You don’t even need to be sitting down. Be creative about finding slots in the day to practice mindfulness exercises.

At times of excessive pressure at work, practicing a short mindfulness exercise can be a saviour. The process helps to rebalance your nervous system, toning down the fight-or-flight response and engaging the wise part of your brain, so that you make reasoned decisions rather than automatically react to situations.

3. Be a Single-Tasker

Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process. Most people know multitasking is ineffective nowadays.

If multi-tasking is so inefficient, why do people still do it? The reason was uncovered in a study by Zheng Wang at Ohio State University. She tracked students and found that when they multi-tasked, it made them feel more productive, even though in reality they were being unproductive. Other studies found that the more you multitask, the more addicted you get to it.

Here are a few ways to kick the multi-tasking habit and become a mindfulness superhero:

– Keep a time journal of what you achieve in a block of time.

– Work out when you’re single-tasking and when you’re multi-tasking.

– Note down what you achieved in that time block and how mindful you were.

4. Use Mindful Reminders

The word “mindful” means to remember. Most people who’ve read about or undertaken training in mindfulness appreciate the benefits of mindful living. Unfortunately, they keep forgetting to be mindful! The reason you forget to be mindful is because your brain’s normal (default) mode is to be habitually lost in your own thoughts—running a sort of internal narrative.

When you’re going about your usual daily activities, your brain switches you into this low energy state, which is unmindful, almost dreamy. Doing some things automatically, without thinking, is fine but research undertaken at Harvard University showed that 47% of a person’s day can be spent lost in thoughts. The same research found that day dreaming can have a negative impact on well-being. Being on auto-pilot means that you’re not fully present and awake to the opportunities and choices around you. You can’t be creative, plan something new or respond appropriately if you’re operating mechanically.

By using some form of reminder, you can be mindful again. The reminder shakes you out of auto-pilot mode. To develop the habit of returning to the present moment, try the following:

– Setting an alarm on the phone – even a vibrating alarm that doesn’t disturb others can work well.

So, every time your phone rings, you take a mindful breath. Every time you hear the ping of a text message, you pause to be mindful of your surroundings rather than immediately reacting by checking the message. All these things are opportunities to come back into the present moment, to see yourself and your surroundings afresh.

5. Slow Down To Speed Up

Mindfulness at work does seem counter-intuitive. You’re considering the fact that, by stopping or slowing down, you can become more efficient, productive, happy, resilient and healthy at work. You may not think that slowing down and being conscious can have such an effect.

Clearly, rest can increase efficiency. If you do manage to get about seven hours of sleep and achieve a certain amount of work, imagine what would happen if you also did a few mini-mindfulness exercises during the day? Your brain would become even more efficient, focused, effective at communicating with others, and better at learning new skills.

Being in a panicky rush leads to bad decisions and is a misuse of energy. Instead, pause, focus on listening, stroll rather than run, and generally take your time when at work. Effective leaders, workers, and entrepreneurs slow down and reflect to make the best decisions and actions—they slow down to speed up. That’s a mindful way of working.

6. Make Stress Your Friend

Recent research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, asked 30,000 people the same question: “Does the perception that stress affects health matter?” The results were astonishing.

The researchers found that people experiencing high levels of stress but who believed that stress was good for them had among the lowest mortality rates. Whereas highly stressed people who believed that stress was bad for their health had the highest chance of dying. Your beliefs about stress clearly affect how they impact on your health and well-being. Another study even found that the blood vessels constricted (as is seen in those with heart disease) in people who believed that stress was bad for them, but stayed open and healthy in those who believed that stress was good for them.

So if you want to make stress your friend, you need to change the way you think about it and, in turn, your body’s response to it.

Mindfulness can help you achieve this change in perception. The next time you’re facing a challenge at work, notice how your heart rate speeds up and your breathing accelerates. Observe these responses and then switch your attitude—respond to your stress creatively rather than negatively. Be grateful that the stress response is energizing you. Note that your body is preparing you for your upcoming challenge and that a faster heart rate is sending more oxygen around your body. Be grateful that the process is sharpening your senses and boosting your immune system. By viewing the stress response from this perspective, you see your upcoming problem as a positive challenge and recognize your body preparing to meet it. This small change in attitude can literally add years to your life and improve your productivity and achievements in the workplace.

7. Feel Gratitude

Humans have a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.

Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Gratitude makes being at both work and home more positive experiences.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a job you don’t enjoy, the first step is to practice gratitude. What’s going well in your job? Maybe you’re grateful for the money? Even though it may be less than you’d like, you probably prefer it to having no salary at all. You may not like your manager, but maybe you’re friends with a couple of colleagues? You hate the office politics, but they give you insight into what you don’t like in a job, so in the future you know what to look for. After practicing gratitude, you can then consider whether you want to continue in that role or need to find another job.

8. Cultivate Humility

Humility comes from the Latin “humilis“, meaning grounded. Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility may seem counter to our culture of glorifying those who make the most noise about themselves, grabbing our attention. But actually, humility is attractive—no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

In Jim Collin’s hugely popular book Good to Great, he identified leaders who turned good companies into great ones. He found that the companies exhibiting the greatest long-term success (at least 15 years of exceptional growth) had leaders demonstrating all the skills of your standard leader but with one extra quality—personal humility. They were willing to work hard, but not for themselves—or the company. If things went wrong, they didn’t seek to blame other to protect themselves. And if things went well, they immediately looked outside of themselves to congratulate others. They didn’t have an inflated ego that needed protecting all the time.

Humility is often confused with meekness or timidity but they’re not the same. Humility does not mean seeing yourself as inferior; rather, it means being aware of your natural dependence on and equity with those around you.

How is humility linked to mindfulness? Mindfulness is about accepting yourself just as you are, and being open to listening to and learning from others. Mindfulness is also synonymous with gratitude—you appreciate how others have helped you. And someone who is grateful for the contribution of others is naturally humble.

To develop a little more humility, try mindful exercises. Mindfulness reduces activity in the part of the brain that generates the story of your self—sometimes called the narrative self. Giving too much attention to you and your own story is unhealthy. Mindfulness practice helps you to be more connected with your senses—the present self. Your attention widens and you can see how much others contribute to your everyday successes.

9. Accept What You Can’t Change

Acceptance lies at the heart of mindfulness. To be mindful means to accept this present moment just as it is. And it means to accept yourself, just as you are now. It doesn’t mean resignation or giving up. But it does mean acknowledging the truth of how things are at this time before trying to change anything.

Here’s a workplace example. If you went $30,000 over budget, that’s a fact. It’s already happened. As soon as you accept that, you can move forward and try to deal with the situation. Lack of acceptance can lead to denial of the fact (maybe causing you to go even more over budget) or avoidance (you keep skipping meetings with your boss) or aggression (you vent your anger at your team unnecessarily, adversely affecting relationships and motivation). Instead, you can accept the situation, talk to the necessary people, learn from your mistakes, and move on. Acceptance actually leads to change.

When you accept yourself, you cut down on energy-draining self-criticism. You’re then much better able to enjoy your successes and smile at your shortcomings.

Personal acceptance is even more powerful. Self-acceptance is embracing all facets of yourself—your weaknesses, shortcomings, aspects you don’t like and those you admire. When you accept yourself, you cut down on energy-draining self-criticism. You’re then much better able to enjoy your successes and smile at your shortcomings. Through self-acceptance, you can create a clarity of mind that allows you to work on those aspects of yourself you wish to improve. The starting point of self-improvement and personal development is self-acceptance.

10. Adopt a Growth Mindset

According to Carol Dweck and her team at Stanford University researcher, people essentially adhere to one of two mindsets—a growth or a fixed mindset.

People with a fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities, such as their intelligence and talents, are fixed traits. Instead of developing their intelligence and talents, they spend their time hoping their traits will lead to success. They don’t seek to develop themselves, because they think that talent alone leads to success. They turn out to be wrong—brain science has proved otherwise.

People with a growth mindset believe that they can improve their intelligence and talents with effort. By applying themselves, they think that they can get better. They see brains and talent as just the starting point, and build on them with hard work and determination. Brain scans have actually revealed that effort does lead to growth in intelligence and enhancement of initial talent over time. People with this mindset have a love of learning and demonstrate greater resilience. Success at work depends on having a growth mindset.

Mindfulness is about adopting a growth mindset. Mindfulness is about giving attention to the present moment and not judging your innate talent or intelligence, but being open to new possibilities. When you adopt a growth mindset at work, you don’t mind getting negative feedback as you view it as a chance to discover something new. You don’t mind taking on new responsibilities because you’re curious about how you’ll cope. You expect and move towards challenges, seeing them as opportunities for inner growth. That’s the essence of mindfulness at work—believing that you can improve and grow with experience, moving towards challenges, living in the moment, and discovering new things about yourself and others.

4 Steps for Adopting a Growth Mindset

Use the following four steps to develop a growth mindset, based on research by Dweck and colleagues:

1. Listen to the voice of a fixed mindset in your head. This is about being mindful of your own thoughts when faced with a challenge. Notice if the thoughts are telling you that you don’t have the talent, the intelligence or if you find yourself reacting with anxiety or anger when someone offers feedback to you.

2. Notice that you have a choice. You can accept those fixed mindset thoughts or question them. Take a few moments to practice a mindful pause.

3. Question the fixed mindset attitudes. When your fixed mindset says “What if I fail? I’ll be a failure,” you can ask yourself “Is that true? Most successful people fail. That’s how they learn.” Or if fixed mindset says “What if I can’t do this project? I don’t have the skills,” reply with “Can I be absolutely sure I don’t have the skills? In truth, I can only know if I try. And if I don’t have the skills, doing this will help me to learn them.”

4. Take action on the growth mindset.

This will make you enjoy the challenges in the workplace, seeing them as opportunity to grow rather than avoid. Use the above system if you mind starts leaning towards the fixed mindset.

Over time, you’ll find yourself habitually of a growth rather than fixed mindset, leading to greater success and personal mastery that before.

Self Learning Leadership

This April I was invited to be in the panel of INSEE Vietnam, a member of Siam City Cement (SCCC). Every year the company organizes a day of strategic communication workshop for Executive Directors and their direct report. Congratulations INSEE on such an impactful program and commitment to build a strong workplace culture in Vietnam!

Together with Mr. Philippe Richart, General Director of INSEE Vietnam, Mr. Berend van Wel, Managing Director of Friesland Campina Vietnam, we were directed to answer very interesting questions by Ms Ninh Tran, INSEE’s HR Director, on the topic of “Self Learning Leadership”.

Our session started with, surprisingly enough, a short 10 minute sharing session by the company’s Marketing Manager. He’s recently discovered Mindfulness practice and with his personal experience, he gave the audience a short introduction to what it is, how it works, and how easy it is to practice. We all then enjoyed a few minutes of being silent and watching our breath. It couldn’t have been more intriguing for me professionally to share my thoughts afterwards.

Here are some questions and answers from the panel which I recalled. Would love to hear from your thoughts on this topic too!

Question 1: Why do we need self-learning?

Remember that period of time in your life when you were a child. Learning is natural as you were very curious about anything. You were not afraid to fail, so learning became a part of your way to grow. And you could learn through anything. In fact, learning outside a classroom is even better.

According to a research by Mindful Leadership Institute, only 2% of the respondents who are managers and leaders of companies reported to invest time and effort in improving themselves. What happens to the 98% of us who are running businesses and teams? Are we too busy to learn or improve ourselves? I shared with the group that I always take the chance when working with people to tell them that we are unique human beings, that every of us needs to grow and realize our full potential. So self-learning not only keeps us on the open, curious and growing side of life, but also, and honestly, it will keep us always young and enthusiastic!

As leaders of their organizations, my panelists shared about the constant changes in the economy and within any organization. When change takes place, it will require an up-skilling investment in the people. At INSEE, for example, the organization have been going through a 3-year period of restructuring after changing the brand and merging into SCCC. During that period, they decided early on to invest in building a strong management team and organization culture, which INSEE people in Vietnam now can see the benefits. So self learning, continuous learning is very essential.

Question 2: What are some effective ways of self-learning?

Mr. Berend provoked the audience by saying, “Self-learning is not about ourselves.” So we can remove the “self” or “ego” and become more open, more authentic to ourselves, giving space for others to also grow, and have fun during the process. While learning has to come from our specific development needs, there are some effective ways that our panelists shared to the group. Mr. Berend said that from time to time he would do something new. By taking the chance of doing something he doesn’t know how to, he discovers that he can do quite OK and it seems to also increases other skills he isn’t used to or aware of. As to Mr. Richart, he shared that as the organization becomes bigger, a General Director plays a generalist role. So he has to learn from all his colleagues who are the expert in their field. And it’s also one of the really great way to strengthen your relationship with your team. For me, it has always been a question of listening to my heart, what do I feel most important about right now, and what needs to be done. Similar to Mr. Berend, I can just jump into a new topic and learn from the beginning, with the same enthusiasm and curiosity.

Question 3: How to sustain our self learning, especially inside our organization?

To address the myth that as we get older, our ability to learn something new will decrease, I shared that our brain actually continues to grow and wire throughout our life. So learning is not impaired by age. It is only impaired by our inability to focus or lack of interest and motivation. For me, the secret of sustaining self learning happens after I discovered the purpose of my life and the motivation behind my work. Whenever I turn into the area of work that I’m passionate about, there are so many things I can learn and grow, so self learning never stops. For Mr. Richard, being part of a professional network is his way to keep himself updated with new trends, new developments, and thus, there are always new things to explore. For Mr. Berend, as long as he keeps reminding himself that he’s not completely good at everything, he will be open to learning opportunities that happen every day at work and even at home.

Finally we also addressed how self learning could be installed inside an organization. Above all, we agreed that self learning shouldn’t be forced to everyone, and should be aligned with the team or organization’s direction. It is a choice and an invitation, and in order for it to happen, some conditions, such as free/flexible timing, openness for ideas and feedbacks, practical guidance, room for application afterwards etc. should be in place.

So how about you, your leaders and your organization? Do you promote self-learning leadership for your talents? And do you co-create a continuous learning workplace?