Hearing the term ‘mindfulness’ might conjure up a smiling guru sitting peacefully in a quiet, meditative posture. But mindfulness is no longer just for gurus. Mindfulness is a skill you can cultivate to help you be successful in your career.
A wide range of companies, including Intel, Google, Target, General Mills and Aetna, have embraced mindfulness programmes, believing the courses will have a positive impact on their employees and on their bottom line.
Universities are also encouraging the practice of mindfulness. David Mick is a marketing professor at the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce who teaches a ‘Wisdom and Well-Being’ course that equips business students with philosophical concepts and mindfulness practices that can improve their professional and personal lives. Each week, students apply readings on philosophy and mindfulness to business cases and to their lives.
Professor Mick defines mindfulness as a present-oriented, non-judgmental state of being. “Your mind is not running to the future or ruminating on the past. You are in the moment, present in whatever conversation you are having or activity you are doing,” he says. “Secondly, you are nonjudgmental, which is very hard because being judgmental is almost built evolutionarily into who we are.”
No matter where you work or your type of job, you can practise the concept of mindfulness. Here are three of Professor Mick’s techniques to help you cultivate mindfulness at work.
Identify stressful situations and analyze your responses. Think about the last few weeks and identify three stressful events. Now, study how you responded to each of those events. Did you get angry? Did you avoid dealing with the incident? Did you take a deep breath and go for a walk outside to clear your mind?
Consider which behaviours helped you cope better with the stress than others. “Study your body’s response, because we tend to respond physically to stressful events,” Mick says. “When you are mindful of that, you can recognize stress, mitigate certain automatic responses and have more choice in how you respond.”
Benefit: The better you become at recognizing stressful situations, the more control you’ll have to choose the best way to respond. Practise patience. There’s an old saying that ‘patience is a virtue’ but in today’s hyper-paced, technology-driven work environment, there is a tendency to want instant gratification, even in decision-making.
While you might think making instant decisions will provide a competitive advantage, it isn’t always the case. “Sometimes sitting with a decision, seeking more information and finding new points of view is important,” Mick warns.
How can you practise patience? Mick recommends using the acronym ‘STOP’ as a reminder – Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed.
Benefit: Practising patience will help you reframe situations to see the bigger picture and other viewpoints. You’ll make more informed decisions and give yourself time to analyze how your decisions will impact others before moving forward.
Professor Mick recommends reflecting on situations that have humbled you and distinguishing between what he calls ‘submissive humility’ and ‘self-assured humility’.
Mahatma Gandhi is an example Mick uses of an iconic figure who was renowned for his wisdom and who was self-assuredly humble. “Reflecting on times you were humbled reminds you not to be submissive, but simply to realize that what we do not know dwarfs what we know.”
Benefit: Practising humility will help you accept who you are along with all your strengths and weaknesses. Humility will help you see others for who they are without being judgmental and curb overconfidence and arrogance.