Is it possible to synchronise the world of work – all cut-throat competition, profit margins, productivity and cold, hard cash – and the higher principles of mindfulness?
You might imagine that combining the two might make for an almighty clash. In fact, mindfulness is one of the hottest ideas in business right now.
At the recent World Economic Forum a panel featuring Jon Kabat-Zinn (who virtually invented the modern idea of mindfulness), Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post and a board member of Goldman Sachs was a sell-out.
Not only did it attract 200 of the most powerful business people and political leaders in the world talking about how mindfulness can build leaders, decrease stress and help productivity; it also involved periods in which they closed their eyes and sat in silence, meditating.
Mindfulness meditation changes your brain making it easier to focus, shrinks your amygdala making over-reaction much less likely, and can even help you lose weight.
David Gelles’s account of that event was the most-read Davos-related piece on the New York Times website. A long-time meditator and a mergers and aquisitions journalist for the paper, he is the perfect man to unpick what sitting in the present, non-judgmentally pushing away intrusive thoughts, can bring to the world of work, which is what he’s done with Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out.
If you want to see how big business is falling for a secular version of a 2,500 year old philosophy, there are many great stories of Silicon Valley meditation pods, meditative meetings at Eileen Fisher, and the health insurance giant whose boss turned his 44,000 employees onto mindfulness because it had helped so much with his recovery from a gruesome skiing accident. There is also the most up to date research into how mindfulness meditation changes your brain making it easier to focus, shrinks your amygdala making over-reaction much less likely, and can even help you lose weight.
These would all be useful for you to share with your boss or HR department in the hope that they might join in the mindfulness revolution. But, if they are a little slow on the uptake, here are six things you personally can do to practice mindfulness at work:
1) Meditate before you have something important to do
Even 10 minutes of sitting and breathing mindfully will bring you clarity and focus.
2) Speak slowly
Take your time and pause before you respond to comments you don’t like. Mindfulness can help you inject some sensitivity into difficult situations
3) Eat lunch mindfully
If you must eat your lunch at your desk, don’t surf the net, play games, or even read a magazine while you are having lunch. Eat mindfully, chewing properly, letting yourself experience the sensations.
4) Avoid multi-tasking
It's not a virtue. It’s much better to focus on one thing at a time; you will finish it sooner and better. Don’t let yourself be distracted by emails, phone calls or Facebook notifications.
5) Let compassion bloom
When people start to practice meditation, they start to see themselves and others differently. They realise how much time they have devoted to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Understanding this often makes them feel compassion for themselves, realising that they are only as frail as everyone else.
This can extend into compassion for others, which has become a major part of the push for mindfulness in corporate America. At Google, for example, the top level of leadership in the company is based on developing compassion. As Chade-Meng Tan who founded the highly-rated two-month Search Inside Yourself leadership programme says “When you are loved, people work harder for you". So take a compassionate view of your colleagues. You don’t have to love every single one of them, but being mindful means compassion is part of your practice.
6) Turn everything off occasionally
When you’re at work, it may seem as if every email must be opened, every box ticked. But mindfulness will help sort what actually needs to be done from the time-wasting protocols of work life. What you want is a balance that leaves you with the energy and determination to do your work well, to make a living and to feel satisfied with “a job well done".