2015 Wellbeing November Mindfulness
Mindfulness means balancing the intense pace of life with being fully present in the moment. Today technology presents many opportunities for multitasking, which allows people to be physically present in a meeting, for example, but mentally lost in email.
The focus on mindfulness in business has grown exponentially as organizations recognize that rapid changes in technology, the marketplace and the global playing field have caused volatility, uncertainty, chaos and ambiguity. These realities create stressful conditions for people in organizations and call for a new style of leadership.
Mihaly Czsikzsentmihalyi, noted psychologist and author of the seminal book “Flow,” relates the notion of flow with his study of happiness and creativity. It’s the antithesis to multitasking and a direct result of mindfulness—i.e., being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in what you’re doing.
“Mindfulness is a fusion of the mind and body when you lose the notion of time,” says de Benoist. “And it’s not just something you can achieve alone. People can work together in mindfulness, too, performing like a jazz group, all mindful in the moment of now.”
Can Mindful Employees Make Happier Customer?
Companies from Adobe to Ford to Target to Google are now offering mindfulness programs to their employees. But not every company is ready to commit so much money and time to a practice that some see as hippie or religious.
A recent study, however, might give employers a good reason to embrace meditation: Canadian researchers found that when call center employees participated in a brief mindfulness program, their client satisfaction increased.
Every workday for five weeks, 43 full-time call center employees in Canada listened to 10 minutes of guided meditation before work and five minutes after lunch on their computers. Compared with typical programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which requires eight weeks of classroom instruction and nearly an hour per day of meditation practice, this one was particularly short and accessible.
The meditations involved observing the body or simply sitting and breathing, and employees even received a little “Do not disturb” sign to put on their desk. They started by learning basic mindfulness, or moment-to-moment awareness of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. They were taught to cultivate calm and acceptance in the face of turbulent emotions, including their insecurities and anxieties on the job. Once during the program, they attended an hour-long training with the Buddhist nun who was the voice behind the meditation recordings.
Consistent with many earlier studies, employees became more mindful and less distressed over the course of the program: their stress, anxiety, depression, negative emotion, and fatigue all dropped. Those changes were linked, so the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the decrease in distress—particularly for employees who started out less mindful.
As part of the study, the researchers also asked clients of the call center workers—colleagues who dealt with them regularly on the phone—to fill out surveys rating their satisfaction with the service they were receiving. Over the five weeks, satisfaction went up slightly—enough for the company to take notice.
The thankless job of call center work involves hours upon hours of dealing with disgruntled or dissatisfied customers, and it can be difficult to remain calm and patient—not to mention friendly and chirpy. It makes sense that mindful agents would be more aware of their internal reactions, respond more deliberately, and offer superior service.
“Client satisfaction within the call center had been stagnant for many years, and they had made various attempts to increase it without success. For these managers, the extent of change in client satisfaction was thus important, meaningful, and useful,” the authors explain.
Why might mindful employees be better at customer service? The thankless job of call center work involves hours upon hours of dealing with disgruntled or dissatisfied customers, and it can be difficult to remain calm and patient—not to mention friendly and chirpy. It makes sense that mindful agents would be more aware of their internal reactions, respond more deliberately, and offer superior service.
This is the first study linking a mindfulness program to client satisfaction, and it joins a growing body of findings on how mindfulness affects productivity. Researchers have found that some types of meditation can promote creativity, as well as better memory, more concentration, and less unproductive multitasking. Training can also improve decision-making, and mindful salespeople are rated as more knowledgeable by customers. Aetna, another company that offers meditation classes, estimates that each employee who participates gains an hour of productivity per week.
These findings could help overcome the reservations that some executives have about mindfulness, according to one HR director quoted in the study: “Many managers are still uncomfortable with the idea of gathering their employees in a room and having them relax by meditating while seated on a cushion with their legs crossed in the lotus position.”
But what if sitting in the lotus position could boost customer satisfaction, which has a direct link to the bottom line? And what if it only took 15 minutes per day? It might be time to order some meditation cushions.
Putting Mindfulness to Work
Office politics. Dictatorial bosses. Coworkers’ emotions bouncing up and down and sideways. Hi-tech tools that keep changing and updating. An uncertain economy and a volatile job market. Escalating levels of expectation. Loss of direction. Too much to do. Too little time. Not enough sleep.
Whether you work in a traditional or progressive environment, on your own or in a sea of cubicles, work life is full of challenges. Most of us are beholden to the income we receive from our jobs, and beyond that, we get up and go to work because we have a real desire to contribute to the greater good. Turning away from work is not an option for most of us, so we buck up and throw ourselves into the challenges of the workplace. Some of us are doing well, successful and satisfied. But too many of us are not happy at work. We’re stressed out and quite possibly confused. We may appear to be effective, but gnawing issues like those above can make work secretly (or not so secretly) a drag. That’s not great for us and it’s not great for the people we’re working with. So where do we begin if we want to improve our work life for ourselves and those around us? I suggest starting with the mind. Ask yourself: what is the quality of my mind at work? What’s happening in my mind as the hours at work go by day in and day out? Is my mind working at its utmost?
The mind contains untold resources and possibilities—for creativity, kindness, compassion, insight, and wisdom. It’s a storehouse of tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a nattering annoyance, an untamed animal, or a millstone that drags us down. Sometimes we would like to just shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment’s peace. Yet our mind is the one thing we can’t shut off. So why not make the most of it instead? Why not put it to good use? Through mindfulness, we can train our minds to work better.
By training us to pay attention moment by moment to where we are and what we’re doing, mindfulness can help us choose how we will behave, nudging (or jolting) us out of autopilot mode. Here are a few suggestions for how to bring mindfulness into our workplace. This won’t just give us some relief from stress; it can actually change, even transform, how we work.
Check Your Lenses
Do we see what is really there, or is what we experience filtered through our own thoughts and preconceptions? Maybe we should check how we’re seeing before we try to change what we’re seeing. First, we need to make sure our lens is clear.
Much of the suffering and discomfort we experience at work—and elsewhere—stems from our deeply held views, opinions, and ideas that become lenses through which we perceive the events of our lives. No doubt the machinery of perception each of us has developed has served us well for the most part, guiding and supporting us at critical junctures. But the burden of adhering to set patterns of perceiving while we grapple with the drama and minutiae of everyday life can be limiting and, frankly, an invitation to misery.
When we’re convinced things ought to be a certain way and they’re not, we suffer. When someone refuses to act in the way we think they should, we suffer. When we don’t get what we want, when we want it—or when we get what we don’t want, anytime—you guessed it: we suffer. The workplace, such a microcosm of life in its entirety, is rife with opportunities to march straight into suffering. What we need to explore is whether our distress really derives from the workplace itself or instead from how we apply our default ways of perceiving to the challenges we face at work.
The mind will try to force any situation it meets into its favorite ways of perceiving and will react with distress when it meets resistance. Many years ago I had a coworker who consistently got me riled up. She had a way of doing things that just got under my skin. I would think to myself, “If she would only act this way instead of that way, we would all be happier and more productive.” This was pretty much a daily, and sometimes hourly, occurrence.
Of course, what I was really feeling was that if she acted differently, I would be happier and more productive. I was seeking the comfort of the familiar and the expected and yearned for my coworker to act in a way that precisely supported my needs. However, as soon as I realized that I was caught up in a particular way of perceiving, I found I could alter my perception and apply real choice to how I felt about her. And when choice entered the equation, I quickly realized I no longer needed my colleague to change—because I had.
It can be difficult enough to be open-minded toward others, but it is even more difficult to be open-minded toward oneself. It takes real training. To discover the ways of perceiving you’re apt to blindly apply, experiment with keeping yourself curious, attentive, and receptive.
Whenever you detect yourself falling into an old, familiar pattern, stop and examine what is actually going on. Notice the physical sensations in your body; notice the emotions that have bloomed; notice what stories your mind is generating that make your body tense and inflame your emotions. But it’s important not to disparage yourself for falling into an old and unhelpful pattern. Recognize the potentially explosive negative charge generated by your body, thoughts, and emotions. Accept that it has arisen, then make the decision to be in control of it instead of being controlled by it.
Put Some Space Between You and Your Reactions
Inflexible patterns of perceiving inevitably prove too small, too confining, for all that our minds need to encompass and accomplish. Inflexible patterns of reacting squeeze the life out of us. Each of us has our own pet scenarios that chafe against our expectations. When they pop up, they threaten to stir up jealousy, anger, defensiveness, mindless striving, and a stew of other possibilities. We may end up saying or doing something hurtful, something we’ll regret later and may have to apologize for. We leapt before we looked.
Conversely, when we stop to examine how we typically respond to situations, we create space for more creative and flexible responses. Ultimately, as we build the habit of mindfully examining our responses in the moment, mindful awareness becomes our new default mode.
Let’s take an example that hopefully is not too familiar. You’ve been working tirelessly with a coworker on a project, but when it comes time to receive accolades for the project’s success, your partner manages to take all the credit. You’re now entering that decisive moment when you have the chance to become master of your reactions. Or, to put it another way, to meet your experience.
Becoming aware of the impact the slight has had on you is the first step. Separate yourself from yourself just enough to allow you to examine, free from rote reactions, how your body, emotions, and thoughts are combining to gear up for a response.
By decoupling what’s happening from your reaction to what’s happening, odds are you will prevent yourself from simply being carried along by the experience and instead will prove yourself capable of getting ahead of it.
In examining your thoughts, you’ll probably see a story forming, something along the lines of how you heroically brought the project to completion, only to have it stolen away at the last minute. Once you can see this narrative open out before you like a book—once you have become the reader of the story instead of its protagonist—you have put yourself in position to let it evaporate. You may notice how the pounding heart, sweaty palms, and tightened shoulders you just experienced slip away along with the storyline you just let go of. You gently shift to a state that is more relaxed and, as a result, more confident. States of being, which can seem so permanent and monumental, are not in fact static. They shift moment to moment, and they can change in response to our awareness of them. It’s amazing how easily a grimace can morph into a smile.
There’s no need to assume that mindful self-examination means you have to allow your coworker to take credit where credit isn’t due. Rather, its goal is to allow you to respond in a new way that frees you from old, ingrained, automatic patterns.
Pay Attention to the Small Stuff
Consciously, confidently meeting experiences, instead of being carried away by them, is a practice you can apply in all situations. It is helpful not just in emotionally charged events like the one above, but also in situations that may seem insignificant, but which could become more significant if left unexamined.
Let’s say you’ve taken the attitude that the tasks assigned to you are unimportant or undervalued. Ask yourself if you feel that way because it is true. Or do you feel that way because you’re so used to telling yourself it’s true that you can’t think of it in any other way?
Think even smaller. Imagine something as routine as the way you hoist the phone to your ear when it rings. By really examining this action—seemingly so inconsequential, so unworthy of examination—you feel like it’s something you’re doing for the very first time. You may detect anxiety traveling down your arm and tension as you pick up the phone. Experiencing everyday actions up close in this way is not about being self-conscious. It’s about bringing choice, attention, and awareness back into things that you’ve allowed to become automatic. By opening up to the tiniest habit, you make it possible to crack open the larger habits, which seem more resistant to change. You can look at every action and interaction freshly.
The more you understand your own mind, the more you can understand the minds of others. If you come to understand your own body language, you can read the body language of others better. Mindfulness doesn’t give you a crystal ball, but it tends to increase your empathy, your ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes with greater understanding. It enhances your connection with other people and supports you as you build relationships. No action, reaction, interaction, or relationship ever feels uninteresting or unworkable if a curious mind is brought to bear on it. You can actually transform that feeling of, “Oh man, here comes John, my supervisor—I bet he wants me to change my work, again” into “Here comes John again. How can I see and hear him, without judgment, as though we were interacting for the very first time—just dealing with what comes up in the moment?”
Make a Habit of It
For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness and informal practices that extend mindfulness into everyday life. Formal practice involves learning a basic mindfulness meditation such as following the breath and practicing it on a regular, preferably daily, schedule. Informal practice, no less important, can literally take place any second of the day. It involves nothing more than focusing the mind on whatever is happening in the present moment, outside of the shopworn patterns we have built up over a lifetime.
Mindfulness interrupts the conditioned responses that prevent us from exploring new avenues of thought, choking our creative potential. Each time we stand up against a habit—whether it’s checking our smartphone during a conversation or reacting defensively to a coworker’s passing remark—we weaken the grip of our conditioning. We lay down new tracks in the brain and fashion new synaptic connections. We become less likely in the future to default to patterns that can trap us into being satisfied with ineffective and outmoded strategies. We take steps to improve not only how we are at work but the work environment itself.
In this way, mindfulness is not just personal. It has a contagious quality that will change the culture in an organization—not necessarily in big, sweeping ways but gradually, incrementally.
December 12th Poinsettia Day The day celebrating the beautiful plant we’ve come to associate with Christmas. December 12th is Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, physician and Minister to Mexico who in 1828 sent cuttings of the plant he’d discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia Pulcherrima
In July of 2002, the House of Representatives created Poinsettia Day, passing a Resolution to honor Paul Ecke Jr. who is considered the father of the poinsettia industry. It was Paul Ecke’s discovery of a technique which causes seedlings to branch that allowed the Poinsettia industry to flourish. It may come as a surprise to hear that every year, Poinsettias contribute upwards of $250,000,000 to the U.S. economy-at the wholesale level! Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada. The Ecke’s technique remained a secret until the 1990s when a university researcher discovered and published the formula. Both Paul Ecke Sr. and Paul Ecke Jr. worked tirelessly to promote the plant and its association with Christmas. Today their ranch, situated in Encinitas, California is run by Paul Ecke lll.
In Mexico the plant is called La Flor de la Nochebuena or, Flower of the Holy Night and is displayed in celebration of the December 12th, Dia de la Virgen. Use of the plant to celebrate Christmas in Mexico dates back to the 17th century. The flower connects to the legend of a young girl, distraught about not having anything with which to honor the Baby Jesus in a Christmas Procession. An angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Later the weeds she gathers by the roadside to place around the manger miraculously transform into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia. But Mexico’s relationship to the plant goes back even further. The Aztecs called the plant Cuitlaxochitl meaning “star flower” and used it to produce a red dye. The sap was also used to control fevers. Montezuma, last of the Aztec king had Poinsettias delivered to him in by caravan to what is now Mexico City.
December 20th Go Caroling Day Though declining in popularity, carol singing is still an important part of our cultural and social psyche. We expect carol singers to come knocking on our doors, or to go out carol singing ourselves. Buck the declining trend and organize a carol singing trip with your friends and family on Go Caroling Day.
December 31st Make Up Your Mind Day This one is aimed at those who may be just a little (or a lot) indecisive. So to all you undecided people out there: no matter whether you have a habit annoying your friends by struggling to pick a dish at a restaurant, or trying to decide if you’re really, really ready for that career change, this is the one day when the choice has to be made. No excuses, no procrastination, no ands, ifs or buts—this day is your chance to stop putting things off for fear of responsibility and get things done. And what a better day to do this than New Year’s Eve, when you’re standing on the brink of a whole New Year and perhaps wondering what you could do to make it your own? While it may seem a little scary at first, especially to those unaccustomed to being decisive, the ultimate goal is to take control of you life by making a decision and sticking with it. It’s celebrated by being brave and taking chances, and by learning something new about yourself along the way.
How to Celebrate Make Up Your Mind Day The best way to celebrate this holiday is to make a firm decision to make firm decisions from now forward. That may sound silly, but the fact is that habits are extremely powerful, so once you do start making decisions you don’t go back on, the resulting feelings of both pride and determination will make you much more likely to continue making such decisions. And where should you start? The truth is that you and only you know the answer to that question. December 31st is the perfect day to take some time to think about your life thus far, how satisfied you are with it, what you would change, and most importantly, what decisions you would have to make and stick to in order for those changes to happen. Every big move in life is made up of a series of much smaller decisions, and you will have t make each and every one of them to achieve your goal.
Is your ambition to change your job to something more senior and respected? Make the decision to sign up for a foreign language class, some post-graduate studies, an internet course, or whatever it is you need to gain the experience and qualifications you need to be a good candidate for the job you want. Then, once you have acted on this decision and made it a reality, it will b time to make another, and so on and so forth until it comes time to make the decision to quit your current job.
And if you realize the things that take up your time to decide about are small and arbitrary, like what to order at a restaurant, work out a method to decide on such things swiftly. Even something seemingly silly, like rolling some dice and choosing, say, dish number 7, because you happened to roll a seven, will help you practice sticking to what you choose.
However you decide to celebrate Make Up Your Mind Day, make your decision, and every decision you make from today onward, count. That in itself is a decision you will not regret.
App: Mindfulness Daily
Book: Buddha In Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Simple Guide To Sitting Quietly
Aromatherapy: Rosemary oil can be used to promote clarity and focus
Steelcase Statistic: 40% of our productivity is lost due to cognitive overload