5 Tools To Practice Mindfulness At Work
Over the last several years of study with my teachers, I’ve learned a lot about the power of our thoughts. Specifically this: even when we think our thoughts can "solve" a problem at hand, the problem often lies in our thoughts. That's why we have to learn to leave our heads, and find our way to our hearts, to our intuition.
This is counterintuitive in business because we’re taught to out-think the competition and associate the heart with weakness. While the brain is a useful tool, it’s also a double-edged sword that can often be detrimental when it’s the only tool we know.
With that said, I’ve developed a toolbox to find my way home to my heart. Below, I've outlined them in a series of steps that you can use to stay mindful in meetings, and at work generally.
1. Turn off the "fight or flight" response.
How? With your breath. We've heard it time and time and again, but this one really works.
One of the first things that happens when we begin to feel stress or panic is that our breath shortens and the body enters a state of “fight or flight.” In this condition, much of our reasoning capability is overridden and we literally have only two options — battle or flee.
This genetic response is very useful if you’re a caveman confronted by a hungry predator or an angry warrior. But what was designed to keep us alive in the jungle can often result in the death of a meeting or our career in the boardroom (not to mention chronic stress).
Here is a breathing tool I've come up with to help you get into this practice:
- Slowly inhale to a count of five seconds and then exhale the same count for five seconds.
- Find a slow, steady, and comfortable rhythm.
- In a meeting we can’t use a timer, so I often keep pace by tapping my fingers on my knee or thigh. I place my hand on my leg and slowly inhale; beginning with my pinkie finger, I tap my fingers one by one until I get to the thumb, and then I repeat the process as I exhale.
2. Find something to look at.
Once the breath is under control, we can begin to reconnect to our core and heart center. We can return to the present moment by observing the actual place we are, as opposed to the projections of our thoughts.
Here is a suggestion for how to make observations part of your mindfulness practice:
- Find a few brightly colored items in the room and mindfully observe them while you breathe — a bright tie the man in front of you is wearing, the orange juice in the glass on the table, or the yellow highlighter on the desk are a few easy examples.
- As you acknowledge each object, take a breath: orange juice — breathe; blue tie — breathe; yellow marker — breathe …
3. Connect with another sense.
Having connected visually, we now have an invitation to add awareness around our sense of touch as well. My friend and meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, often talks about the meditation of pouring tea: touching the handle, slowly tilting it toward your cup, observing the steam rise, and so on. This can be done with anything from mindfully drinking from a glass of water to using the PowerPoint clicker in your hand.
Unsure of where to start? Try this:
- Connect both visually and via touch with something in your environment and exaggerate your awareness of it.
- I often do this while taking notes. I squeeze the pen and focus on the pressure generated as I press pen to paper; then I mindfully watch each pen stroke in the words I’m writing.
4. Recognize the myriad opportunities to identify with others.
Classic spiritual teaching tells us that we’re all connected, and that from a cosmic perspective, we’re all one. This may seem like a bit of “woo woo” spirituality with no place in business, but it’s not. So many unneeded issues in business are created because we turn ordinary human beings into “competitors,” “enemies,” and “the other guys.”
Once this happens we start the process of getting lost. Before long, we find ourselves worked up in a fearful and sometimes panicked state.
Here's one way to train ourselves out of this habit:
- Take a moment and ask yourself, “How is this person just like me?” The obvious similarities are that we all have parents, we all have loved ones, we may be married or in love, we might have children.
- But we can also imagine our shared desire to win, to be seen as successful, and to achieve a status of power. Even more common is our need to be loved.
5. Make connections, and cultivate them.
Long before I’d ever sat on a meditation cushion or met a spiritual guru, I was blessed with a business guru named Michael Rapino (the CEO of Live Nation). Michael taught me to get to know the people I did business with, to build trust by sharing, and actually caring about their needs.
Here's one way to start practicing the art of connection:
- Establish the tone of a meeting by connecting on a personal level. Share an experience or a story at the get-go.
- If you feel the meeting getting lost in the impersonal, ask a question that brings the room back to a more personal place.
- Sometimes a meeting is a competition; but often it’s a conversation that just requires a connection to make both sides feel successful.
I invite you to extend your mindfulness practice from the meditation cushion into your work life. Use your breath to create space and find your heart in a meeting. In this way mindfulness comes alive … and becomes the practice of real life.