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Mindfulness: A self-discipline technique for your work and nonwork lives

Can you imagine a time when you could feel the stress piling on? Perhaps it felt like the weeks were blurring together and it was hard to remember where one day ended and the other began. Can you remember what strategies you used to deal with the hustle and bustle of life during a time like this? Before I started practicing mindfulness, I often found myself thinking about the past, and worrying about the future without spending much time in the present. Once I started practicing mindfulness, I was able to take a pause from my somewhat automatic cycle of thinking and move into a space where I could reflect on what is happening in life and bring to light what may need to be addressed. This blog hopes to open your eyes to the benefits of mindfulness, and how you can use it to improve your work and nonwork lives. 

What mindfulness is and what mindfulness isn’t

Mindfulness can be defined as a psychological state where one uses intentional focus on their current experiences [1]. When practicing mindfulness, the goal is to remain open and nonjudgmental about the feelings or thoughts that you are experiencing in the present moment [1] [2]. Through mindfulness, individuals can improve their emotional regulation and physiological response to negative events in their lives [3] [4]. Mindfulness is not tied to spiritual practice or tradition but can be incorporated with one. I prefer to think of practicing mindfulness as a way to practice self-discipline – setting aside time and energy to reflect and be present. 

Why mindfulness matters in your non work life

            Given that the benefits of mindfulness are far reaching, I believe it should be utilized by those who are looking to add low-cost strategy to their daily lives. Empirical research indicates that practicing mindfulness can improve:

  • Interpersonal relationships 
  • Life satisfaction
  • Reduce depression, anxiety and stress [5] [6]

It is not farfetched to say most people feel stress in their lives – mindfulness may be there to help! Research shows that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. In 2010, Hoffman et al.[7]conducted a meta-analysis and concluded that mindfulness is useful in altering the emotional  and cognitive processes that underlie multiple mental health issues.  

The findings above are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive emotions and decreases anxiety and negative emotions. In one study, participants randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group were compared with controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films [8]. The researchers found that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared with the control group. In addition, the fMRI data indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the films than the control group, and they displayed distinctly different neural responses while watching the films than they did before their mindfulness training. These findings indicate that mindfulness meditation helps people regulate emotions instead of reacting in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively.[8] [9].

Of course, mindfulness should never replace professional therapy for mental health issues, but should rather be used as part of your daily life practices to buffer against stress and help you realize what may be triggering your negative experiences. For example, if someone is dealing with a difficult manager or heavy workload, mindfulness is a great addition to life.  

Why mindfulness matters at work

I believe that mindfulness may be well suited in the workplace. Research suggests that practicing mindfulness strengthens cognitive flexibility and brain functioning [10] [11], which can improve job performance across a broad range of tasks. It may be true that mindfulness could influence job performance above and beyond work engagement [12]. I find mindfulness to be most helpful right before or after starting complex task, or attending an event or meeting that makes me feel a little nervous. 

Mindfulness in the workplace has been shown to enhance:

  • Task performance [12]
  • Judgement accuracy [13]
  • Insight-related problem solving [14]
  • Leader and follower performance [15]

Do you struggle to leave work at work, or psychologically disengage when you go home? Mindfulness may be able to help you stop thinking so much about work, providing space for you to rest and relax. Several studies have shown that mindfulness reduces rumination (i.e., worrying about worrying). In one study, for example, researchers asked 20 novice meditators to participate in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat [16]. After the retreat, the meditation group had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness and a decreased negative emotions compared with a control group. They also experienced fewer depressive symptoms and less rumination. In addition, the meditators had significantly better working memory capacity and were better able to sustain attention during a performance task compared with the control group.

So, how can you practice mindfulness? 

I suggest starting with small moments so that you can practice mindfulness during transition points throughout your day. These could be before you brush your teeth, when you first arrive at work and park your car, at the end of your lunch break. If you need help remembering to practice mindfulness set yourself a timer on your calendar, phone, or watch. 

  1. Breathe – slow and deep. It may help to place a hand on your stomach to ensure your stomach is rising and lowering as you breathe. 
  2. Consider – What is your body feeling? What can you sense (e.g., feet on the floor)? Remember to breathe deep. 
  3. Try to remain judgement free – Allow any feelings to arise and notice them. Do not judge yourself for feeling a certain way, try to rest, breathe deep, and recognize how you feel. If you feel yourself making judgements, consider why? 
  4. Stay in the moment – It may be challenging to resist the urge to think about your to-do list, or what is for dinner. Try to remain present in your current experiences, and refrain from thinking about the future or past. 
  5. Try to gently let go of any negative experiences or undesirable emotions.
  6. Do not judge your practice, allow yourself to do your best whatever that may be.
  7. Try writing down your thoughts/feelings, and reflecting on them to see how many were past, present or future focused. Use this reflection to see where stress or joys may be coming from, and if you need to take action to change anything in your environment. 

By: Kelsie Daigle

References

[1]  Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.  
[2]  Bishop, S. R., et. al. (2004). Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3).   
[3]  Lakey CE, Campbell WK, Brown KW and Goodie AS (2007). Dispositional mindfulness as a predictor of the severity of gambling outcomes. Personality and Individual Differences 43(7), 1698–1710. 
[4]  Papies EK, Barsalou LW and Custers R (2012). Mindful attention prevents mindless impulses. Social Psychological and Personality Science 3(3), 291–299. 
[5]  Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.  
[6]  Glomb TM, Duffy MK, Bono JE and Yang T (2011). Mindfulness at work. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 30, 115–157. 
[7]  Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology78(2), 169. 
[8]  Farb, N. A., Anderson, A. K., Mayberg, H., Bean, J., McKeon, D., & Segal, Z. V. (2010). Minding one’s emotions: mindfulness training alters the neural expression of sadness. Emotion10(1), 25. 
[9]Williams, J. M. G. (2010). Mindfulness and psychological process. Emotion10(1), 1. 
[10]  Moore A and Malinowski P (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and Cognition, 18(1), 176–186. 
[11]  Zeidan F, Johnson SK, Diamond BJ, David Z and Goolkasian P (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognitive functioning: Evidence of brief mental training.Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), 597–605. 
[12]  Dane, E., & Brummel, B.J. (2013). Examining workplace mindfulness and its relation to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations, 67(1), 105-128.  
[13]  Kiken LG and Shook NJ (2011). Looking up: Mindfulness increases positive judgments and reduces negativity bias. Social Psychological and Personality Science2(4): 425–431. 
[14]  Ostafin BD and Kassman KT (2012). Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition, 21(2), 1031–1036. 
[15]  Reb J, Narayanan J and Chaturvedi S (2012). Leading mindfully: Two studies on the influence of supervisor trait mindfulness on employee well-being and performance. Mindfulness. Available at: http://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/lkcsb_research/3320
[16]Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive therapy and research32(3), 303-322.