How to Be Mindful: Tips for Work, Life, and HappinessJan 10, 2024
The exercise of mindfulness has multiple benefits – from personal health to professional practice. It is a tool that has proven to reduce stress, increase resilience, and improve productivity in the workplace. Companies like Google who have increased mindfulness in the workplace have shown that it can also improve focus, thoughtfulness, and decision-making abilities.1 Given how prevalent stress is in the modern workplace, understanding mindfulness and its benefits can be an excellent tool for employees and employers in maintaining good mental health.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is considered a therapeutic technique where an individual focuses their awareness in the present moment. This awareness emerges when we pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.2
When people think of mindfulness, they often associate it with a calm, centered feeling and picture sitting in meditation. However, there are different forms of mindfulness that an individual can learn and practice, such as breathing exercises, yoga, body scans, and progressive relaxation. The idea of mindfulness is to be fully emerged in the present moment, attending to physical sensations, thoughts and the environment around us, and to anchor our attention. With continual practice, we can strengthen the ability to direct our attention willfully away from worries of the future or ruminations of the past. One of the best parts about mindfulness is that it can be done anywhere. Even the busiest employees can find a few minutes in the day to engage in mindfulness practice.
Potential Benefits of Mindfulness
By paying attention to the present moment, you may improve mood, better manage stress and decrease anxiety.
Many of us live life on autopilot, going through the motions of our day without really knowing what we are doing. Have you ever walked out your door in the morning without the knowledge of how you got from your bed to the door, let alone when you brushed your teeth or drank your coffee?
Our focus is rarely on what is happening in the present moment. Much of our lives are spent thinking about the future or the past. When we think about the future, we are often worrying, planning, or imagining the worst-case scenarios. Future-thinking is often accompanied by emotions such as fear, insecurity, or apprehension. When we think about the past, we are often inaccurately interpreting our experiences or judging something that we’ve said or done. Past-thinking is often accompanied by emotions of sadness, regret, guilt, or grief.
When you bring awareness to the present moment, you can temporarily shift your focus away from the future and past. You can notice all that is involved in the now – the sounds, sights, smells, physical sensations, and possibly even joy. By redirecting your attention in this way, you can reduce anxiety about the past or future.
By paying attention on purpose, you may increase focus and concentration.
Life is busy and full of distractions. We are rarely ever doing just one thing at a time. We have hundreds of applications on our phones, and our list of to-dos can seem never ending. Our own thoughts and internal dialogue make it difficult to focus on the present moment.
When you practice intentionally bringing your attention into the present moment, you strengthen your ability to hold, release and shift attention. Think of your brain as a muscle that is strengthened each time you practice mindfulness. Every time you engage in a mindfulness practice, you increase your ability to choose what you are focusing on.
By paying attention with openness, curiosity and non-judgement, you may improve your relationship with yourself and others.
It is so easy to react quickly or to judge ourselves and others. We don’t normally choose to do this. Our minds have the automatic tendency to judge, compare, react, and label experiences as good or bad. When we are open and curious about our experiences (thoughts, emotions, body sensations), there is less opportunity for hasty reactions. By practicing being with your experiences without judgement, you can relate to yourself and others in a more positive way. Instead of reacting, you can respond with intention, which can strengthen your relationships. When you are intentional about your actions, you can act in ways that align with your core values. Ultimately, you can learn to build the capacity to be compassionate to yourself and others.
How to Practice Mindfulness
You can practice mindfulness formally through meditation. Using an anchor for attention, bring awareness to the following sensations:
- Body sensations or a specific part of the body
- Any of your senses in your current environment – sounds, sights, taste
You can bring mindfulness into your day informally by using some of the following techniques:
- Mindfulness cues – reminding yourself to bring awareness into the present moment every time you walk through a door frame or check a notification on your phone.
- Mindful activities – bring attention to all your senses when completing a daily activity, such as eating, going for a walk, brushing your teeth, or washing the dishes. This can be especially helpful for activities that you don’t enjoy.
Quick Mindfulness Practice: NOWW
Try practicing the NOWW exercise three times per day. NOWW can be particularly helpful when experiencing a challenging emotion or thought.
Notice – Notice your thoughts, body sensations, and emotions in this moment. Are you feeling stressed? At ease? Calm? Energetic? Peaceful?
Observe – Bring your attention to observe the physical sensations of the breath at the level of the belly. Focus the attention on this area for one to two minutes. Feel the breath as it enters, fills, and leaves the body.
Widen – Expand the attention to include the entire body and your breath. Take note of the physical sensations that are present in the entire body and on the surface of the skin. Bring this increased sense of awareness into your next moments.
Wise Action – Now that you have taken time to tune into your internal environment and pause in the moment, what is the next best step for you to make?
What Can Employees Do?
- Don’t eat lunch while at your desk, reading emails, or scrolling social media.
- Try a mindful walk on your break.
- Listen to guided meditations to build a daily practice, such as Nicolette in the Now on YouTube or other applications such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.
- Try checking in with yourself three times a day to increase awareness of your inner environment – body, emotions, and thoughts.
- Focus on using mindfulness as a tool, not as the goal itself.
How Can Employers Help?
- Encourage employees to take their breaks and eat lunch away from their desk.
- Engage meditation teachers to provide mindfulness meetups for your staff.
- Start or end meetings with three minutes of breathing.
- Have a personal mindfulness practice to strengthen your own self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and empathy.
- Explore opportunities where mindfulness can fit into your organization’s culture.
- Find champions/ambassadors of mindfulness who can exemplify the benefits of mindfulness to the rest of the organization.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
Occupational Therapists are the ideal mental health professionals for supporting your employees. Our knowledge of the workplace allows us to help modify jobs and environments and give employees the tools to develop personal strategies. We are not just talk therapists—we are activity and strategy-based and we empower employees to take ownership of their function and productivity. We use strategies of work-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is an evidence-based approach to ensuring that employees can have better self-care and resiliency.
 Schaufenbuel, Kimberley. (2015, December, 28). Harvard Business Review. Why Google, Target, and General Mills Are Investing in Mindfulness. https://hbr.org/2015/12/why-google-target-and-general-mills-are-investing-in-mindfulness
 Mindful. (2017, January 11). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/