Are Work and Mindfulness mutually exclusive, or can they be complimentary?
Well, as I seem to spend most of my life at work I thought it would be worth some thought. Here’s what I see as the top three challenges and top three benefits.
Top 3 Challenges
Doing v Being
Work is all about ‘doing’ and the purpose of mindfulness is to bring us back to ‘being’. In fact ‘being’ in mindfulness is often defined as ‘non-doing’! What this means is that while we are constantly ‘doing’ we are often oblivious to what is happening both around us and within us. The purpose of ‘non-doing’ is to stop our incessant thoughts and actions and bring ourselves back to a state of centered awareness. Somehow I can’t see ‘non-doing’ becoming the next big thing in management thinking.
Mindfulness is based on a number of core principles, one of which is non striving. Human behaviour is seen as having two main drivers, attraction and aversion. We are either always chasing after something or doing our best to avoid it. Mindfulness seeks to bring us to a peaceful state of mind where we are not constantly running in one direction or the other. Work on the other hand is obsessed with striving; setting schedules, milestones and goals. A policy of non striving? Most unlikely!
Mindfulness is a focused state of mind that requires regular and frequent meditation practice to develop. In many regards meditation is simply sitting. However, it requires keeping the mind focused on an object of attention, usually the breath, to develop focus and concentration. There might be a lot of sitting at work, and quite a lot of vacant staring into space, but regularly scheduled periods of meditation? I don’t think so!
Top 3 Advantages
Stress is endemic in the work place and manifests in many forms, its harmful to our physical and mental health as well as our relationships. in 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program to chronically ill patients who were not responding well to traditional treatments. 35 years later Mindfulness has entered the mainstream of health care, education, and public consciousness. For most of us work is stressful and by developing mindfulness through regular meditation we can make work less stressful and more fulfilling.
Interruptions are endemic in the workplace and distraction has grown to epidemic proportions. Many of us are simply inbox slaves who fight from 8 to 6 to stem a constant flood of emails. Add to this; instant messages, conference calls, and meetings, meetings and more meetings, and we have a situation in which we are constantly distracted. Mindfulness can help to keep us focused and bring our attention back to what is important without being constantly distracted by the ‘noise’ of the workplace.
The expression there is no ‘me’ in teamwork comes to mind in emphasizing the importance of collaboration at work. Training is often based on learning new skills and understanding work processes, but very few employers provide training on the dynamics, roles, and nuances of team working. While mindfulness is very much based on understanding and developing ourselves, this improves our awareness and our ability to listen to and understand our colleagues. Mindfulness can break down the hidden mental barriers that prevent high performing teams from emerging.
Work and Mindfulness at a glance appear to be mutually exclusive, if this is true we should be worried. Perhaps its time to take a closer look at our work practices and try to imagine what Work would look like if it was truly Mindful.
Is your Work Mindful? What are your challenges and advantages?