The Power of Mindfulness at Work

By Natanya Rutstein

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A recent article in the New York Times, “The Latest in Military Strategy: Mindfulness” reports on how mindfulness techniques are is being rolled out in the US military, British Royal Navy and New Zealand Defence Force as a means of helping soldiers to increase their focus and reduce distraction. This approach is based on research which shows that troops who underwent training in mindfulness breathing and focus techniques “were better able to discern key information under chaotic circumstances and experienced increases in working memory function. The soldiers also reported making fewer cognitive errors than service members who did not use mindfulness.”

Mindfulness can be defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally” – Jon Kabat-Zinn. The introduction of mindfulness practices is becoming increasingly popular in organisations as a means of reducing stress and anxiety, improving focus and stimulating creativity by clearing out the mind and making room for new ideas. Companies such as Google have even gone so far as to provide relaxation rooms for employees to meditate in.

In today’s fast paced world of work, we are constantly bombarded by a whole host of communication technologies coupled with the pressure of meeting deadlines, attending meetings etc. All of these distractions and demands elevate our stress levels and cloud our judgement and thinking. Through the practice of mindfulness, we can teach ourselves to slow down, listen more intently to what is actually being said, increase our situational awareness and focus on what is really important. We are then able to respond more effectively and make better decisions. By focussing on the present -moment, we are empowered to for instance disconnect from past and future events such as the failed meeting of the previous day or worrying about whether tomorrow’s meeting will be successful.

Although meditation is the tool which we most commonly associate with practising mindfulness, there are numerous other ways to do so without having to sit crossed legged on the floor, hands on knees, eyes closed and bringing awareness to your breathing. Research has shown that simple everyday chores such as washing the dishes or even hanging up the laundry can be the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness during the course of your day. Both Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have revealed that they make a point of doing the dishes every night. For some practical hints on incorporating mindfulness into your working day take a look at 14 Realistic Ways You Can Start Being More Mindful at Work and 33 Ways to Encourage Mindfulness at Work.

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