How to Be More Mindful at Work

Here is an excerpt from an article by David Gelles for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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Our jobs pay the bills, occupy many of our waking hours and can even give our lives meaning. They can also be a source of significant stress: tight deadlines, long days and difficult conversations. No matter what your job, work can be anxiety-provoking. Mindfulness can help. In recent years, many companies — from Google to General Mills — have started teaching mindfulness in the office. Whether or not your company does, there are simple ways to reduce the impact workplace stress can have on your mind and body. Here’s a guide to get you started.

What Is Mindfulness?

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.”

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