Mind over Manner
As organizations attempt to optimize their workforce, they are increasingly turning to practices connected to mindfulness, an intentional awareness of our present experience. Here, Darren Good (MA '02), assistant professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio School, shares exercises drawn from his specific research in workplace mindfulness to combat common daily stressors and improve employee performance, relationships, and well-being.
The Daily Grind
We often react automatically when a situation at work feels familiar. Without thinking, we simply do whatever worked well enough before.
Try this: Switch up your behaviors to avoid becoming comfortable in a familiar routine. Try to speak one level louder than usual, hold eye contact with someone a second or two longer than you usually would, or search for aspects of the physical space you may not have noticed before.
In organizations with meeting- heavy cultures, employees often move from one meeting directly into another. When this happens, we carry with us all of the unfinished business and interpersonal complexities from the previous meetings, leaving us less able to be fully present to the new ideas and people.
Try this: Engage in mindful walking as you travel from one meeting to another. Pair your breath with your footsteps, taking a stride with an inhale and another stride paired with the exhale. It is critical to do something to clear the mental decks before entering the next meeting.
While none of us particularly like to receive criticism about our behavior, it can sometimes feel crippling to our self-esteem.
Try this: Do a short, focused breathing meditation before entering the feedback session. Even a few minutes of meditation serves as a sort of “self-esteem shield” for people who receive negative feedback.
On good days, disagreements can provide diversity of viewpoints and the friction necessary to spark great ideas. But with differentiation comes the inevitability of conflict, which can make us feel ungrounded and lost as to how best to manage.
Try this: When feeling ungrounded, the simplest thing to do is notice what’s on the ground— your feet. Notice the contact they make with your shoes and the ground. Notice the distribution of weight. It seems strange, but in stressful situations, we need a simple action like this to keep ourselves grounded.
Email has become associated with taking on more work or managing difficult relationships. As a result battling your inbox can be one of the most stressful aspects of your workday or night.
Try this: Observe your physiological responses to email. Does your breathing become shallow or do you hold your breath when engaging with particularly difficult emails? These are signs of stress. This presents an opportunity to take several deep breaths as a way to relax and then re-engage in a more relaxed way.
Mindful Breathing Exercise
Find a comfortable seated position.
With your eyes open, take three breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each exhale notice how your body begins to settle.
On the third exhale bring your eyes to a close or take on a soft gaze. Now allow your breath to return to normal, taking an inhale through your nose and out through your nose.
Turn your attention to the experience of sitting, sensing the contact of your back and legs against the chair, and your feet on the ground. Then bring your attention to sensation of breathing. You may focus on the feeling of cool air entering your nostrils on an inhale and leaving on the exhale. Notice the experience of where the inhale seems to reside your body (could be your chest or stomach). Simply focus on the experience of this.
And now the important part: as your mind wanders away from the awareness of your breath, just gently steer it back to sensation of breathing. This wandering of the mind is good, as it provides the opportunity to return to the focus on the breathing. This returning to the breath is the important work and where mindfulness grows.