By David Gelles
The New York Times
From Our NYT Files: How to Be More Mindful at Work
The Present Moment
Mindfulness — paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental way — is a simple practice available to all. Research has shown it is also a reliable method for reducing stress, including at work. Put most simply, meditation is a way to train the mind. Most of the time, our minds are wandering — we’re thinking about the future, dwelling on the past, worrying, fantasizing, fretting or daydreaming. Meditation brings us back to the present moment, and gives us the tools we need to be less stressed, calmer and kinder to ourselves and others. “I think of mindfulness as the ability not to be yanked around by your own emotions,” says Dan Harris, the author of “10 Percent Happier.” “That can have a big impact on how you are in the workplace.” There are many ways to cultivate mindfulness at work, from walking during the day to taking purposeful pauses when eating. One of the most reliable ways is simple meditation.
Work is Stressful, Find Focus
It can be especially helpful to bring a mindful disposition to your job, which can be the source of significant stress. And workplace stress is becoming only more consuming, with email, intra-office chat tools and social media constantly competing for our attention, and often bleeding into the hours that historically gave you a break. “We are encouraged in the workplace to be attached to an array of technology wizardry 24-7,” says Janice Marturano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership. “The information we’re being bombarded with can be anxiety producing and it can create a sense of disconnection that can overwhelm us in our personal and professional lives.” One way mindfulness can help is simply by allowing us to improve our focus. When we constantly flit from one task to another, the quality of our work can suffer. By practicing mindfulness — simply coming back to the present moment over and over again — we can train ourselves to become more focused. “This is attention training,” says Mr. Harris. “And the neuroscience shows that this daily exercise can boost the areas of the brain that have to do with attention regulation. Multitasking is a pernicious myth that is preventing us from getting our work done.”
The goal of mindfulness isn’t to stop thinking, or to empty the mind. Rather, the point is to pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts and emotions in order to see them more clearly, without making so many assumptions, or making up stories. Though mindfulness meditation was inspired by Buddhist practices, today it is available as a wholly secular practice that emphasizes stress reduction, the cultivation of focus and the development of tranquility. And today, there’s a large and growing body of research identifying the measurable effects of mindfulness on the body and brain. Mindfulness meditation isn’t the only way to meditate. Transcendental Meditation, which aims to promote a state of relaxed awareness through the recitation of a mantra, is also popular these days. But mindfulness is taking hold in the business world, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.