10 Weeks of Mindfulness at Work

Welcome to week six of “10 Weeks of Mindfulness at Work” where you’ll discover simple tips and techniques to enrich your day with mindfulness. I hope you find inspiration from this series!

– Not Knowing is Most Intimate

One of the concepts in mindfulness is that “not knowing is most intimate”. What this means is that no matter what happens in life, the intent with mindfulness is to see clearly what’s happening in the present moment and not add more content to it with predictions about what’s next. After all, what’s next is unknown. 

Now, this doesn’t mean not to plan for the future; however, it does mean not to live into an imagined outcome about a future that hasn’t yet unfolded. As Mark Twain famously said, “I’m an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.”

– People Like Predictability

“Not knowing” seems like an easy enough concept, but it can be challenging to practice. As I wrote in last week’s post, people often fill in gaps of unknown information with stories; it gives them a sense of control and predictability in their lives.

Consider someone who just had a medical diagnostic test. The entire week before getting the test results back, they’re sure they have the disease they were being tested for. They find it impossible to concentrate at work, since they keep planning for a future with this medical condition. Maybe they have the condition; maybe they don’t – but before they get their results, they simply don’t know.

So, if you find you’re stressed about what’s next, notice if you’re making predictions about the future and remind yourself you don’t know. Will the diagnostic test come back positive? Remind yourself, “I don’t know and it’s ok not to know.” Will I be able to juggle work responsibilities and medical appointments? Remind yourself, “I don’t know and it’s ok not to know.”

Any time you want to make a prediction about what’s next, simply remind yourself that the future is unknown. Rather than fill in gaps of unknown information with predictions about what next, simply repeat the refrain, “I don’t know and it’s ok not to know.”

Because the reality is that we simply don’t know what the next month will bring, or even the next hour or the next minute.

Reflection: Have you ever reacted to an imagined future outcome that never actually happened?

WEEK SIX PRACTICE SUGGESTION: Notice if you’re making a prediction about a future outcome. Instead, can you embrace the unknown?

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Managing Social Media Distractions

Do social media distractions affect your productivity?

Social media use can drain your productive time — and it can be addictive. Every time you check social media, it reinforces the neural pathways in the brain that crave this distraction. As a result, checking your device for the latest post can become a habitual behavior. If you’d like to break the habit of social media distractions, here are some tips to get you started.

First, realize that urges are part of the human experience. Everyone has STUFF — the Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations and Feelings that cycle in the mind. But just because you experience an urge, doesn’t mean that you have to immediately answer its call. This is where awareness comes in.

Often people act upon their STUFF unconsciously. So, the second step in breaking this habit is to notice your urge to check social media. Perhaps you could keep a tally in the notes section of your phone, indicating each time you check social media. Or perhaps you could stand up when checking social media, if you’re typically sitting down. Most importantly, try to do something different, so your habitual behavior isn’t automatic.

Next, add space between your urge and your response. Let’s say you check social media every half hour. Try to gradually increase the times you check your device, until you’re checking on a manageable schedule — such as the morning before work, lunchtime and the evening after work.

And finally, notice your experience. Rather than forcefully pushing the urge away, become aware of what it’s like to take charge of your urges. Are you experiencing agitation in your mind? Tightness in your body? Again, awareness is key. As the old saying goes, “If you can name it, you can tame it.”

If you like this post, please consider sharing it — as long as sharing isn’t a social media distraction that affects your productivity!

Reducing Stress at Work—Part II

If you want to reduce your stress at work, consider whether your judgments are causing you additional stress. While judgments serve the purpose of helping us navigate our way in the world, they can also be a root cause of tension and anxiety. If you can, try tuning into your thoughts about your job and the people you work with. Perhaps your thoughts are along the lines of “He is too demanding,” or “They are not doing their task right,” or “She is so difficult!” Often the judgment itself creates tension. Bringing the light of awareness to the judgment can lessen its power, just like pulling aside the curtain in The Wizard of Oz and lessened the power of the Wizard. Notice what happens to your stress level if you simply note the situation around you while releasing your judgment about the situation. See if you can shift your judgmental thoughts to more neutral thoughts, such as “He is asking me to do a lot of work,” or “They are doing their task on a different timetable than mine,” or “She has a lot of requests of me.” Judgments often have an emotional charge to them which can cause stress. By releasing the judgment and the associated emotional charge, you are on the way to reducing your stress at work.

To help develop the ability to release judgments, consider taking up the practice of meditation. You don’t have to spend big blocks of time meditating; even a few minutes a day can begin to make a difference in your life. Can you interrupt your work flow and pause to focus on your breath? Just notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breath out, or notice your chest rising and falling with each breath. Practicing meditation can be very simple, no special equipment is needed, and best of all, it is free!

Reducing Stress at Work—Part I

Raise your hand if you have stress at work. My guess is that if I posed that question to a room filled with people who work, many hands would be raised.

If you’re wondering what contributes to on-the-job stress, here’s one explanation: You may have heard the expression you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. I’ll extend that to you generally can’t choose your coworkers, either. It’s likely that those you work with may have very different work styles, values, and priorities than yours. This diversity can make for a wonderful mix of creativity and productivity, but it can also be a source of stress in the workplace.

Consider that you may have a certain view of how things “should” be. Then your boss approaches you with expectations that you find unrealistic. Stress ensues. Or maybe you’re depending on work product from one department so you can complete your tasks. The work isn’t coming to you within the timeframe you expect. Stress ensues. Or perhaps you have a difficult client that is not behaving in a way that you find reasonable. Stress ensues. None of these situations are unfolding in the way you think they “should.”

When one’s view of the way things “should” be meets the reality of the way things really are, stress is often a common side effect. One of the first steps in reducing stress is to accept the way things are. Instead of thinking, “It shouldn’t be this way,” try thinking “This is how it is. Now, how will I respond?” While you may not be able to change your boss’s expectations, your coworker’s habits, or your client’s behavior, perhaps you can change your internal response to those circumstances.

Accepting the way things are can go a long way to reducing stress. This doesn’t mean you should give up your personal power, and it doesn’t mean that you have to like the way things are, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t ask for what you need. But it does mean that if you accept that fact that you can’t always change external events, and you can only change your internal response to those events, this acceptance alone can go a long way to reducing stress at work.

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