Mindfulness is our inherent capacity to notice, in the present moment, all that we are experiencing with an open and non-judgemental attitude. John Kabat-Zinn who developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction approach defines it as: “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”
Mindfulness is a skill which can be nurtured through training and deliberate practice. The development of mindfulness in the workplace has gained momentum and traction in recent years and typically involves mental practices to help train the brain which are completely secular and outside of any religious context. These practices have their roots in ancient traditions and wisdom, but do not require any spiritual commitments.
Occasionally mindfulness and meditation are used interchangeably, so it is important to recognise the difference between the two concepts. For me, mindfulness is the destination. It is achieving a state of awareness in the present moment whilst meditation is an approach to developing the ability to achieve this state. There are several different type of meditation techniques in the same way that when you go to a gym, there are many different bits of equipment to develop your fitness and muscles within your body.
The mindfulness practices for the workplace help you develop a level of openness, curiousity and open awareness to each moment of our experience. After all, who you think about all we really have is “now.” It’s a shame not to enjoy each precious moment we have.
Through mindfulness we are not learning how to stop having thoughts. Instead it’s about acknowledging and becoming aware of our thought patterns and how we are distracted from our day to day activities. It is the constant process of recognising that our minds have become distracted and gently bringing our attention back to the focus of our attention, typically the breath, that enables us to improve our ability to direct and maintain our attention.
By improving our self-awareness we are in a better position to manage our emotions and self-regulation. This has enormous benefits for us not only in our workplaces but also in our personal lives as well. Its’ not just enhanced well-being and calmness from which we benefit, but also by “leaning into” our experiences, be they difficult or pleasant, we turn them into learning opportunities.
As Mindfulness practice has become more commonplace the empirical research and evidence base has grown. Whilst the research may not be complete and may not be perfect it does show that mindfulness training has been effective in many contexts. It is important to note though that its effectiveness varies from individual to individual – for some people it will have no beneficial impact whatsoever. And that’s fine too – we are all different.
It is important though that workplace courses encourage deep and meaningful engagement as part of a sustained practice which will deliver real benefits. If we only go to the gym infrequently and for short durations we don’t realise the health benefits and the same applies to workplace mindfulness interventions. Like any new skill, repetition and practice is essential in order to achieve competency and realise the benefits.
Investing in workplace mindfulness programmes is not only an important strand of a business’s well-being programme to support staff good health and ethically sound, it is also good business sense.